There is nothing strange about worrying that one’schild might be kidnapped. It is almost certainly afear that is as old as parenting itself, evidencedeven in troupes of lower primates, such as baboons orchimpanzees.
Watch any such primates long enough and you willnotice that baby stealing is all too common. Maleprimates steal suckling young for use as livingshields against the aggression of other troupemembers. Female primates steal the young of otherfemales out of jealousy, wanting the social attentionand importance attached to having an infant.Sometimes, the goal is simply to deprive a new motherof the same. Thus, it is through such fundamentaldeprivation that one female punishes another.
Unfortunately, humans are not much different intheir essential primate behaviour. If they were, well,they would probably be able to leave their babiessafely unattended in a mall for an hour. But such isnot the case. Today, more than ever, an unattendedchild is in danger of being snatched up by apedophile, perhaps even someone with ransom in mind.And it is not at all uncommon for a child to be stolenby a woman who cannot have children of her own.
Since pedophiles rely upon secrecy for theiraberrations, they were not a common issue amongtraditional Inuit, who lived in close-knitencampments, with all eyes upon each other. Notedpedophiles were quickly rooted out and dealt withharshly.
Baby-snatching, especially by women, was muchharder to deal with. As stated before, Inuit used tolive in distinct camps, collections of interrelatedfamilies. Families that left a given camp would oftenstumble across other encampments in their travels,those of strangers or little-known relations.
Since the women were constantly mingling with eachother and the children, there was the very real dangerof a strange woman — perhaps an old mad-woman or one who could not have children of her own — simplystealing a baby or young child. The proper way to dealwith such a situation, today, would be to notify thepolice. The situation is a criminal justice issue.
But in pre-colonial times, there were no suchinstitutions to depend upon. If a strange woman simplyfled the camp with your baby, you had to make your ownjustice, or there was none at all. Too often, therewas none at all.
Over the centuries, the very real threat ofbaby-theft found its way into numerous Inuit stories,and the female baby-thief became epitomized in asingular type of folkloric monster.
The Netsilingmiut people, having especiallydetailed and vividly textured monsters, called thiscreature amajursuk, or one who carries in anamouti. The amajursuk is a giant, ghastly hag,who snatches unattended children and steals them awayin her exceptionally large amouti (a traditionalfemale top, engineered for nursing, having anoversized hood for piggybacking infants).
Other Inuit peoples knew the creature asamoutalik, or one with an amouti, and it wasgenerally implied that it was a sort of malevolentspirit.
But whether giant or spirit, all Inuit peoples seemto have agreed that this creature is female, hag-like,dangerous, and a baby-thief. It is also implied, insome versions of the tales about these beings, thatthe creature does not actually have an amouti, butrather a hollow, fleshy hump that resembles an amoutihood — an imaginative touch that nicely amplifies thething’s horror factor.
As with most monsters of Inuit lore, it is unclearas to whether there is supposed to be one or many ofthe creatures. We have no way of knowing whether thetales refer to The Amoutalik, or to a supernaturalspecies.
But since the amajursuk and amoutalik(I shall use the latter term, hereafter, to denoteboth) are most likely folkloric representations of themad, baby-snatching crone in her most severe form, thecreatures were probably thought of as many.
A clue to the idea that the amoutalik isinspired by true madness is that amoutalikstories all depict the creature as being easilybefuddled, prone to confusion. Her victims do notescape through extreme cunning, as in most Inuittales, but simply by confusing the amoutalik —often with magic. And if we take a look at anarchetypal amoutalik story, despite its wildshamanistic content, we can spot the probable realitythat inspired it.
(Concluded in part three)