Palraiyiit (singular palraiyuk) are sea monsters from Yupik folklore. They are usually described as ferocious beasts that lurked in swamps and marshes until they were hunted to extinction. Depictions most often show them as serpentine creatures with six legs and three stomachs, the latter of which are transparent.
Often thought to be a crocodile or dinosaur by Europeans, the palraiyuk is a long, serpentine being with spines or fins along its back. It has six legs and three stomachs in most renditions, though it can occasionally be found with eight and four respectively. In some myths, they had any combination of a long tongue; thick, fine fur; short horns; two heads; two tails; a sharp spinal ridge; and a flipper at the end of the tail. Some legends go into further detail about the nature of their legs, stating that the back were very long, the front were very short, and the middle were small and vestigial. The actual size of it varies, with some accounts saying that its head alone was seven feet, but others claiming it reared seven feet out of the water.
A few oral descriptions simply describe it as a large land otter, with no mention of extra legs, stomachs, or spines. However, these are near ubiquitous in paintings and carvings of them.
Interpretations of this beast include a seal, a sturgeon, a musk ox, a viper, or perhaps a likeness of an Eastern dragon from trade with Asia.
At a time when the Bering Strait was warmer and wetter, palraiyiit lurked the rivers and swamps and ambushed anyone who came near. It was often depicted with hollow spaces where its stomachs would be, inside which were representations of human body parts. While it was thought to be hunted to extinction by humans, it was still a tradition to paint the creature's likeness on the bottoms of kayaks and umiaks in order to ward it away, and it was also depicted on harpoons, charms, and other objects as a symbol of strength and hunting prowess. It was thought to be able to sneak up on its prey so efficiently that it could snatch people on land without their notice until it was too late. People could summon it by tapping on the bottoms of boats or on wooden piers.
While they are usually described as aquatic, they are occasionally merged with the amikuk myth and swim through the earth rather than the sea. People would start to sink into the earth while they were in the vicinity, and sometimes even rise from it. They were also attracted to caagnitellrianun, a word for people experiencing "puberty, death, childbirth, [and] miscarriage", among other things. The palraiyiit would swim all over their bodies before entering and, eventually, killing them. They may, in fact, become amikuk, but the process for this is not clear.
Related myths Edit
In one legend, a palraiyuk could rest on the tips of plants without bending the stems, but when it was killed, it was so heavy it could sink through the earth as though it were water. To prevent this, people placed logs under its corpse.
In an iteration of a Yupik creation myth, the folk hero Raven informs the first human of the dangers of these creatures. They are only mentioned in passing, however.