Seri Indians of Sonora

May 9, 2016 by Rosarie Salerno

Seri IndiansSeri, is the name given to them by the Spanish. They are also known by several other names, including, Comcaac ‘the people’ also spelled Komcaac, among at least 10 other spellings and pronunciations, and Gente de La Arena ‘People of the Sand.’ Some of the Seri people are believed to have migrated to the peninsula of Baja California crossing the Sea of Cortez in balsas or reed boats. Primarily, the Comcaac settled on the east shore of the mainland extending from Guaymas to about 75 miles north of Tiburon Island in Kino Bay and as far inland as Hermosillo. At some point, it is believed, they were several thousand strong. Fishing, hunting and gathering provided their sustenance in the arid Sonoran desert, that only averages just over 2 inches of rainfall. At no time have the Seri been cultivators of crops. Fiercely independent, they have never truly integrated into Mexican society. Besides Spanish, they still speak their own native language, characterized by song-like intonation patterns and staccato delivery. The Comcaac language belongs to the Hokan language stock, however, since it is not closely related to any of the known languages, it is presently classified as a language isolate within that group.
The Seri are very proud of their heritage and have a strong love of bright colors, evident in the traditional full length skirts worn by the woman. Probably until sometime in the mid 20th century, the women wore delicate face paint and perhaps still do on special occasions. Traditionally, religion was the belief in the power of animals; today most Seri are members of the Mexican Christian Church.
Sometime in the late 17th century the Jesuit priests tried to confine the Seri to small agricultural developments around the missions, intent on converting and making them into good Christen citizens. Tragically, the Seri were not inclined to conform. They fled, abandoning their ancestral lands to avoid suffering the consequences of Spanish despotism. Fortunately, due to the lack of rainfall and the absence of rich mineral deposits in the area, the Spanish moved on to greener pastures. However, the population dwindled down to approximately 300 or less by the 1930s. Survivors were mostly concentrated on the Isla Tiburon. In 1965 the Mexican government established a protected game preserve on the Island; since then the Seri have not been allowed to hunt there. Presently, most Seri live north of Kino Bay in the villages of Punta Chueca and El Desemboque de Los Seris (not to be confused with Desemboque, located a short drive east of Puerto Peñasco.)
They have been credited with the knowledge of over 400 species of desert plants and their uses. They are the only known people in the world to have harvested grain from the sea (eelgrass) and eaten the nutritious seeds. As expert fishermen, they have contributed extensive knowledge to modern science on the sea turtle’s biology and behavior.
They are also known worldwide for their tightly coiled baskets, beautifully decorated with intricate patterns. For the basket making, the women use the branches of the Limberbush (Jatropha cuneata) separating them into long flexible fibers. The women are also credited with the making of beautiful multicolored necklaces from seashells, seeds, flowers, colored clay beads, and dyed vertebrae of snakes, birds, fish, and sharks.
The Seri are famous for their exquisite ironwood carvings. The artist uses a hatchet, a hacksaw, a wood chisel, and a wood rasp, shaping and filing the figure before finishing the piece by hand with different grades of sand paper, followed by polishing. Today, there are many non-Seri sculptures manufactured with modern electric tools. To be sure of their authenticity, the pieces should be purchased from reputable dealers or from the Seri artist himself or herself.
If you are interested in learning more about the Seri, you can find several books for sale at www.Amazon.com.

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