Alaska: The Land of the Dead

This story is part of the Alaskan Legends unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of Alaska, edited by Katharine Berry Judson (1911).

The Land of the Dead
Eskimo (Lower Yukon)


A YOUNG woman on the Lower Yukon died. When she died she went to sleep for a while. Then someone shook her arm and said, "Get up. Do not sleep. You are dead."

Then she saw she was in her grave box and the shade of her grandfather was shaking her. Then she went with her grandfather back to the village, but the country she knew had disappeared. In its place was a strange village which reached as far as the eye could see.

As she entered the village, the old man told her to go into one of the houses. As soon as she entered it, a woman picked up a stick of wood and raised it to strike her. The woman said, "What do you want here?"

So the young woman ran out, crying to her grandfather. He said, "This is the village of the dog shades. Now you see how living dogs feel when beaten by people."

They came to another village. Here she saw a man lying on the ground with grass growing up through his joints. He could move, but he could not rise. The grandfather said this shade was punished for pulling up and chewing grass stems when he was on earth. Then the grandfather suddenly disappeared.

The girl followed a trail to another village, but she came to a swift river. This river was made up of the tears of people who on earth weep for the dead. When the girl saw she could not cross the river, she began to weep. At once a mass of straw floated down the river to her. Upon this, as a bridge, she crossed the stream.

Before she reached the village the shades smelled her. They crowded around her, saying, "Who is she? Where does she come from?" They looked for the totem marks on her clothing. Someone said, "Where is she? Where is she?" and her grandfather came toward her.

He led her into a house nearby and there was her grandmother. The old woman asked her if she were thirsty. The girl looked about and saw only one water vessel made like those of her own village. This had in it their own Yukon water. It had been given them at the festival of the dead by the girl's father. The other tubs had only the water of the village of the shades. The old woman gave the girl a piece of deer fat. This, too, had been given at the festival of the dead. Then the grandmother explained that the guide had been the grandfather because the last person thought of by a dying person hurries away to show the road to the new shade. Thoughts are heard in the land of the shades.

(illustration from Judson's book)

(500 words)

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