She is tall…bigger than Sasquatch, and her body is covered with long, black, greasy hair. Her eyes are large like an owl’s, and her fingers are tipped with sharp claws. Her lips are formed in the eternal pucker of an eerie whistle, and children are told if they don’t listen to their elders, she will come to them at night and suck their brains out of their ears. She is called At’at’lia, Dash-Kayah, Tsonoquah, and names whispered when the time is right, and not for publication. Children are warned not to take food that she offers. If she catches you, she’ll throw you inside the basket she carries on her back. Her basket is so large she can fit 10 children in it…and that’s her favorite meal—10 children. She is a cannibal…she eats human flesh.
Long Time Ago…there was a young boy, named after the Silver Salmon. He woke up early in the morning and the warmth of the rising sun felt good on his face. He sang a song to thank the sun. The boy went out to go fishing but he went so far he realized he wouldn’t be able to return home before the sun went down, so he decided to camp where he was.
It was late at night and the moon was full. Now White people tell us there’s a man in the moon, but our old people tell us it’s really a frog. And so it was , the frog in the moon was looking down at him when clouds covered the moon and everything was dark.
Suddenly he heard a strange whistling, and the clouds blew away from the moon and he could see a monster standing in the darkness.
“Don’t be afraid,” she called out to him—“People make up terrible stories about me, but I’m really a very nice person. In fact,” she said, holding out her hand, “I’m a very nice person. I have some berries for you…I know you must be hungry. Children are always hungry.” And in her claw like hand he saw a pile of berries.
When he reached to take some of the berries, she took her other hand from behind her back. It was smeared with sticky sap from the trees. She slapped him with her hand and his eyes were glued shut! He was blind! She grabbed him up and stuffed him into her basket and ran through the woods whistling.
She was so proud of herself, that she was going to have such a fine meal of young children, she started to sing and dance around the fire.
The boy was afraid, because he knew he would be eaten. He wished he could start his day over again. He thought of how his day had begun, with the warmth of the sun on his face. The warmth of the fire reminded him of the warmth of the sun. Just so, he leaned closer to the fire. The heat of the fire began to melt the sticky stuff on his eyes, and he could see again. As the Cannibal Woman continued to dance, he got an idea and whispered this idea to the girl next to him, who whispered it to the boy next to her…and so it went around the circle of the children.
When she finished, the monster was so tired she could hardly stand up…and that’s when the boy shouted, “NOW!” And all the children jumped up and pushed her into the fire. She began to burn…but she didn’t burn like ordinary things burn.
That was the end of At’at’lia …but she had three sisters…and those sisters are still around. And that’s why we teach our children “you must never whistle at night…because you don’t want to call those spirit beings to you!”
Retold by CoyoteCooks
I thought I’d share the At’at’lia legend as a celebration of Halloween. A number of years ago, I first met the Medical Director of the clinic where I would work at a Halloween Party for Medical Residents. He was wearing a tuxedo and a gorilla mask. My mentor, Carolyn Attneave was a scarecrow, and I had on an articulated skull mask and a button blanket I had made. I had been cast earlier in the play Raven, based on NW Coastal legends, and was playing “Shadowman” which explained my costume decision.
The Medical Director was from Belgium, and I asked him about Halloween customs in his own country. He said he was shocked the first year in the United States, when children suddenly knocked on his door demanding candy. To my own surprise, he shared Jackolanterns in Belgium were made from turnips instead of pumpkins. In retrospect, I suppose this makes sense, given the reality pumpkins are Native America in origin—they’re a type of squash. Pumpkin seeds dating back to at least 8,000 years ago have been found in Mexico. In fact, the word “pumpkin” in Europe refers to what would be called “winter squash” in the United States. In a quick search, carved turnips and other root vegetables used as a jackolantern were well known in Ireland and the British Isles, but there’s not a lot written about Halloween customs in Belgium.
(Traditional Irish Jackolantern)
While it was certainly traditional to use fire to celebrate the harvest time, apparently jackolanterns are a relatively late addition. Nathaniel Hawthorne is reportedly the first to mention them in 1837 in his Twice-Told Tales, making reference to making a jackolantern, and a magazine article from 1885 is the first to mention Americans introduced the idea of carving pumpkins into jackolanterns—much easier than carving a turnip.
For dinner, I took a small sugar pie pumpkin, and did the standard scoop and clean, saving the seeds for planting and roasting. I washed out the inside and rubbed in butter, with a sprinkling of garlic, ground black pepper, and salt. I put the “lid” top back on and microwaved it for four minutes to cut off time in the oven. Let’s face it, when you live in Arizona and it’s still hovering in the 90’s, you really don’t want your regular oven on any longer than necessary. This is also something I often do with other squash. I then took four slices of bacon and cut them into smaller pieces. Plopping them into a skillet, they provided the grease to sauté chopped onion, carrots, and celery. I also took out one of the sweet Italian sausages I’ve been enjoying, and sliced it up to add with the rest. I seasoned the mixture with Italian herbs, and a few sprinkles of Worcestershire sauce. When the veggies had softened and the meats were done, I added breadcrumbs, a handful of parmesan cheese, and enough water to have a soft consistency dressing. (btw–in re-reading, I should mention I’m not giving specific measurements, because I was “eye-balling” what would fit into the pumpkin, and that would vary based on the size of pumpkin you might use. Since I’m always thinking a meal or two ahead, the leftover stuffing I had went into a freezer bag to be used to stuff portabella mushrooms in the next couple of weeks.) I stuffed the little pumpkin with the dressing, placed the top back back on and wrapped it tightly with aluminum foil and placed it on a cookie sheet in a 350degree oven. This results in a pumpkin softened to the point you can eat everything (Hey—in my family, we were raised to eat the skin of the salmon and the “outside” of a lot of vegetables) and the dressing is extremely moist. I had also prepared chicken kabobs, and after spending about an hour in the oven, I removed the pumpkin and then used the oven to grill the kabobs. A knife piercing the pumpkin let me know it was done, but it was easy to just look at it and know it was ready.
Incidentally, there’s an interesting recent study in China on the use of pumpkin extract which shows it may regenerate pancreatic cells. This could have a potential beneficial impact on pre-diabetics, although American researchers stress it’s too early to know if the animal study can be directly applied to humans. Apparently, however, pumpkin is traditionally used in Asia in alternative medicine for the treatment of diabetes. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSCOL06164820070710
Update: I had some leftover stuffed pumpkin, and on a whim, I prepared some angelhair pasta, and microwaved the pumpkin (cut into cubes) with the bacon/sausage dressing, and a few tablespoons of leftover fresh salsa, since I didn’t have any tomato sauce. When tossed with the angel hair, this was so good I think next time that’s how I’ll serve it–as the entree, rather than using it as a side dish.