qetgauwartaasqaq allrani cungartaartuq. - A frog is sometimes green.
The Alutiiq words for toad and frog are the same- qetgauwartaasqaq. This word literally means “thing always jumping.” Amphibians are rare in Alaska. The state’s naturally occurring herpetofauna includes just 6 species: two types of salamanders, one newt, two frogs, and one toad. Of these animals, only the wood frog (Rana sylvatica) and the western toad (Bufo boreas) occur in the Alutiiq world. The brown, smoothed-skinned, wood frog can be found on the Alaska and Kenai peninsulas, and the green, wart-covered, western toad occurs in Prince William Sound.
Although frogs and toads are not indigenous to the Kodiak region, they were known. A ceremonial drum collected from the island features a handle with a stocky, grey-green carving that resembles a toad. This animal forms half of the decorative top of the drum’s handle, appearing behind a small mask. The toad faces the inside of the drum, where it is nearly hidden from view. This rare animal carving, paired with the humanlike face, may indicate a spiritual relationship. The mask may represent the spirit of the toad.
A legend from Prince William Sound tells of a qetgauwartaasqaq appearing in human form. There was once a village where the people teased a man who was different than others. Each morning, upon waking, the man would walk over people, sometimes stepping on them. The villagers made a song that mocked the man for his clumsiness. To their surprise, the man turned out to be a qetgauwartaasqaq, who couldn’t help the way he walked. Angry for being teased, he sucked one villager’s mouth to the side of his face. When the community plotted to kill the qetgauwartaasqaq, he sucked them all up and fled to the ocean. The entire village disappeared. This story reminds people not to make fun of others.
Photo: Child holding a Western Toad from Southeast Alaska.