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A kushtaka is a fairy creature in the folklore of the Tlingit and Tsimshian Indians of Southeastern Alaska.

Etymology

Loosely translated, kushtaka means, "land otter man".


Family

They are similar to the Nat'ina of the Dan'aina Indians of South Central Alaska, and the Urayuli of the Eskimos in Northern Alaska.


Description/Morphology

Physically, kushtaka are shape-shifters capable of assuming either human form or the form of an otter, usually around the size of a man. In some accounts, a kushtaka is able to assume the form of any species of otter whereas in some others they are limited to one


Behavior

Kushtakas are usually known to be malevolent, always at war with a village's shaman, but there are a few tales where they were actually beneficial to the Tlingits. In many stories, the kushtaka save the lost individual by distracting them with curiously otter-like illusions of their family and friends as they transform their subject into a fellow kushtaka, thus allowing him to survive in the cold.

In some legends it is said the kushtaka will imitate the cries of a baby or the screams of a woman to lure victims to the river. Once there, the kushtaka either kills the person and tears them to shreds or will turn them into another kushtaka.

Kushtakas are known for kidnapping human babies. Once they have a human baby for a long time, the baby will become a kushtaka, too. The function was probably used by Tlingit mothers to keep their children from wandering close to the ocean by themselves.


Art/Fiction

Kushtaka's appear in Pamela Rae Huteson's Legends in Wood, Stories of the Totems in the legend 'War with the Land Otter Men', as well as Pamela Rae Huteson's Transformation Masks with the 'Kushtaka Den'; and Garth Stein's Raven Stole the Moon. Harry D. Colp describes a miner's encounter with the kushtaka, published as The Strangest Story Ever Told.



See also


Sources

  • Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.