Tuonela is a distant land of death beyond three forests and three roads paved with swords and axes. It is an island separated from the mainland by the River of Tuonela. On the banks of the river, the daughters of Tuoni are washing laundry and weaving iron nets with their iron fingers and iron fingernails. The Daughter of Death (Tuonen tyttö or Tuonen tytti) is called to bring a boat.
“Bring a boat, Tuoni’s daughter,
Bring a ferry-boat, O maiden,
That may bear me o’er this channel,
O’er this black and fatal river.”
The Daughter of Tuoni acts as a gatekeeper between the world of the living and the world of the dead. She brings the dead with her boat to the island of Tuonela.
The Daughter of Death appears in poems about the god-mage Väinämöinen’s journey to the land of the dead. Väinämöinen is looking for missing words to his spell, and he makes a trip to Tuonela to get the words from mighty, dead wizards.
Since living people are not allowed into Tuonela, Väinämöinen must try to fool the Daughter of Death into thinking he is dead. He makes up causes of death saying he was drowned or killed or burnt, but the girl is not fooled; she says in that case Väinämöinen would be bloody, or his clothes would be wet, or his beard would be burnt.
In some versions of the poems, the girl agrees to bring Väinämöinen to Tuonela on her boat, but usually she refuses, in which case Väinämöinen is forced to transform into a snake and swim secretly into the river.