Glimpse Of SBC’s Past: Not Ascared In San Bernardino County

By Ruth Musser-Lopez
It’s funny how I think of my Aunt Miriam and Aunt Pauline whenever I hear someone use the word “ascared.” I always liked that word…”ascared.” To me, it means both “afraid” and “scared” so it gives the feeling of really being frightened…I must have heard that word from my mother. But, when I was just a little girl, my aunts (my mother’s sisters) fresh back from the African mission field where they had worked side by side with real English people from the UK told me that to use that word “ascared” would be IMPROPER…an improper use of the English language and would make me sound uneducated. “Ain’t” was another of these “forbidden” words that they concerned themselves with and corrected me for.
Now later on in my life, as an anthropologist, I rather enjoy hearing the use of this American slang. I also love the very recent new wave of “stateside” regrouping of words to form new words like Disney’s “imagineering,” one I heard on Family Feud, “fish-cation” and the one that is on my husband’s manly Old Spice deodorant “Believe in your Smellf.” I think of variations, new accents and dialects as “tracers” of cultural movement either by migration (people moving) or diffusion (ideas moving).
My mother’s younger sisters who followed in her footsteps and left the family farm in the midwest, also migrated to California on Route 66 during the 1940s from the southern Kansas/Oklahoma area. Both sisters went to Upland College, a “Brethren in Christ” church college that is no more but did once occupy the complex that does now still exist on the southeast and southwest corner of San Antonio and Arrow Highway in Upland. Both of the younger sisters became English teachers, and then went “abroad” to Africa for five or ten years to teach English at the Matopo “Brethren in Christ” mission in a country that was then called Rhodesia.
I was a young girl in the 1950s when my aunts returned. Later I understood them to say that the English were turned out of the newly reformed country that eventually became known as “Zimbabwe” with governance returned to its native people. Nonetheless, there were apparently an abundance of Brits in Africa at the time Pauline and Miriam were there, from whom they could learn very proper English.
Both found teaching positions at schools in the Upland area when they returned and were quite successful. Pauline, passed away last year. She had taught school in the Ontario-Upland School District and her only child, a daughter, Marjeanne, is also a grade school teacher today. The other aunt, Miriam, now retired from teaching, is living in an assisted care facility in the Upland area.
I haven’t heard the word “ascared” for years but this week, we had a guest in our home and I was pleased to hear him using the word “ascared.” He used that word to describe his little doggy’s reaction when she had obviously become spooked by some dolls with big eyes sitting on a little chair in the corner of my kitchen. Later in the conversation, the young man told me that he was from Oklahoma—near the southern region of Kansas where my mother and her sisters were from.
This all makes sense from an anthropological “glottochronology” perspective. Anthropologists who specialize in linguistics, will take a word like “ascared” to track and connect cultural groups and to make inferences about movement of cultural groups through time. This is called glotto for “tongue” or “language” and chronology for “time” and involves lexicostatistics dealing with the chronological relationship between languages–language changes over time.
You might wonder what all of this has to do with rock art in San Bernardino County. The study of language connections and changes through time, glottochronology, is important to understanding who made the prehistoric rock art not just in San Bernardino but in other places in the world.
For example, we have an “archaic” style of rock art in San Bernardino County that no one really knows who made. Yet this archaic style and the abstract art that characterizes it is found broadly dispersed throughout the west, often underlying newer art motifs. We also have a linguistic family, the Hokan, that appears to be one of the oldest if not the oldest language families in California and western states.
The Voegelin & Voegelin (1965) Native American language classification was the result of a conference of Americanist linguists held at Indiana University in 1964. This classification identifies 16 main genetic units of which Hokan is one. There’s been some variations on this idea, but depending if you are a lumper or splitter, it is generally agreed that the Hokan language family includes ten or fifteen “phylums” one of which is the Yuman language which is used by the tribes on the lower Colorado River including our San Bernardino County Pipa Aha Macav or “Mojave.” Linguistically, the Yuman-Cochimi are related to other Hokan speakers in northern and coastal California, including the Pomoan, Washo, Shastan, Salinan, Karuk, Himariko, Palaihnihan, Yana, and Esselen. South of the Yuman-Cochimi are the Seri.
Coincidentally, a young visitor accent engaged me in an intellectual conversation that got me thinking again about what glottochronology and lexicostatistics can tell us about who made the rock art here in San Bernardino County.
Since we are both interested in the prehistory of the East Mojave Desert, we were discussing the possible direction of migration of the Yuman speakers who lived along the lower Colorado River, including the Mojaves. He was of the opinion that glottochronology would prove that the tribes would have moved up the river from the ocean, the Bay of California, and that the oldest branch would be the ones living closest to the ocean, down the river from Needles to the south near the border of Mexico—that would be the Seri. My friend’s supposition could be shown if the southernmost tribes shared the most root words common with other related phylum dialects.
I suggested that, on the contrary, lexicostatistics indicate that the pattern of movement was overland for the Hokan speakers who I asserted were the likely occupants of the western pluvial lakes of the Mojave Desert and Great Basin during the archaic period and that I believed that the Needles area would be shown to have the most root words in common with all of the other tribes along the river since the Hokan speakers entered the Colorado River area from inland. I suggested that they would have subsisted off of the pluvial lake resources after the ice age and wound up on the lower Colorado River as warming and dessication of the desert lakes continued. I suggested to him what the late Dr. Clement Meighan, founder of UCLA’s Archaeological Survey, who studied under the great anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber, said to me: the Needles area/Mohave Valley is the cultural hearth for the river tribes of Yuman-Hokan speakers.
Theoretically, the Hokan speakers (lime color on map) that include the Mojave of San Bernardino County, were much more widespread in the archaic period but were split apart after waves of Penutian tribes (Yokuts, etc.) (peach color on map, Figure 8) from the north and Uto-Aztekan tribes (Shoshonean/Paiute) (plum color on map from Mesoamerica to the south moved into the area. In my “Who made the Archaic Rock Art” theory, this split would account for the blanket of older archaic rock art, which the Hokan are responsible for, underlying newer imagery throughout the California and Great Basin area. On the Lower Colorado River however, the stronghold of Yuman-Hokan speakers, like the Pipa Aha Macav (Mojave), there is archaic art but a lack of the type of representational rock art motifs and images that are linked with these later groups, such as bighorn sheep imagery and blanket people. There are other stylistic clues as well which I do not have room to expound upon here.
Similarly, style patterns, changes and differences in prehistoric rock art are used by anthropologists all over the world to make determinations as to authorship: Who made it?
The American Rock Art Research Association (ARARA) will be meeting to discuss topics surrounding rock art and report new findings. The conference will be held just beyond the easternmost edge of San Bernardino County, in Laughlin, Nevada, at the Colorado Belle Resort and Casino on May 22 – 25, 2015. I intend to present findings with regard to stylistic clues that suggest the ancestral Pipa Aha Macav (Mojave) should be credited with the archaic rock art predominant throughout the desert area.
Coincidentally to my “African Aunts” story above, one of the Archaeologists/Rock Art researchers to be making a presentation at the conference is Archaeologist Anne Stoll who, along with her husband George, conducted research in 2013 at Nanke Cave, in the Matopo Hills National Park, western Zimbabwe not far from where my aunts had taught 50 years prior.
Anne provided the Sentinel with a preview of her upcoming presentation (See Figures 2 – 6). She writes “The rock art in the shelters in the Matopo Hills (See Figure 2) was painted by the San people perhaps thousands of years ago and it has faded with time. George and I use a method of photographic enhancement called “DStretch” on all painted sites because it brings out important interpretive details which are often otherwise virtually invisible.
“The image in Figure 3 is the ‘normal’ color. To make the faint paint visible DStretch was used and you are able to see the result in Figure 4, an enhanced, brightly colored panel with imagery and motifs that were not readily visible before. Note the copious over painting and the many giraffes and kudu. The strange tube-like shape in the art work is called a ‘formling’ — just because no one really knows what these represent. There has been some good research done recently with the idea they are beehives or termite nests.”
“Formling?” –now there’s another new combo word to track.
Anne is very eager to freely pass on the DStretch technology. “Honestly, if we could get people to use Jon Harmon’s DStretch more, we’d feel very good about our message ( ). It’s FREE and easy to use and replaces tracing or (horrors!) wetting a surface to bring out an image (widely done in Africa, for tourists). We’re well aware that not everyone can travel to Africa but there are many interesting painted sites closer to home that would benefit from photographic enhancement, permitting faint details to be seen, and it does work on some petroglyphs where the patina has a reddish cast as well.
“For example, the before and after DStretch of the curious motif from Los Coyotes, Baja, Mexico.”
Both Southern Californians are officially retired now from professional careers in teaching archaeology and engineering. For many years Anne and George photographed painted sites across the western US and now in over sixteen countries. The last four years the team has focused on the San painted art of southern Africa – specifically South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
San Bernardino County is very fortunate to have such high caliber rock art experts like the Stolls coming to see rock art in our county’s East Mojave. The Stolls presence elevates the ARARA conference to be held here over Memorial Day weekend which may awaken the attention of the local community as to the important work we have here at home that attracts visitors from around the world. The Stolls appearance at the conference lifts the status of rock art in the local region and lends credibility to the importance of protecting rock art on and along the Lower Colorado River.
Theirs is a “vision” for our youth which by-the-way, ARARA is now promoting a “rock art” poster contest for young people, with cash prizes. Categories are 1) new imaginative imagery/motifs and 2) site etiquette/respect. The deadline for entry is April 15. Winners will be recognized at the conference on the evening of May 23. Learn more about the ARARA conference and the contest at

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