When John Active was a little boy growing up in Bethel, he used to listen to stories around his grandmother's table. Growing up with no TV or radio, Active, now 65, would sit and listen as his grandmother Maggie Lind and other elders would entertain each other for hours with stories of the supernatural.
Little people. Spirits. Bigfoot and yeti-like creatures. Ghouls.
“All kinds of creatures,” Active said.
He said as a youth he would tell scary stories with his friends, then run back home spooked.
“That was our entertainment,” he said.
Phyllis Morrow, anthropologist professor and dean emerita at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who studies myths, said it's complicated to figure out why exactly so many cultures tell scary stories. They can be entertaining or educational or they can be cautionary or metaphoric.
Often though, it comes down to lessons learned.
“People respond to a creepy story because there's a certain kind of thrill and awe to them about the things that are unknown in life,” Morrow said. “And they tell you something about being part of your people and being part of your group.”
Active agreed. He now goes around the state, to schools around Alaska, to share the stories he knows -- both spooky, and not -- in an effort to share the culture.
“It's about trying to pass on the information -- if they'll listen,” he said, “so we can continue to live the Yup'ik ways.”