Between Two Worlds
by Dani B. -- April 18th, 2012
Spending two days with the Seri was an enlightening experience concerning the cultural transitions they are undergoing. On the first day, we entered the village built by the Mexican government for the indigenous group in the 1970s. There is a centralized “Spanish” style courtyard with stray dogs running free and trash littering the landscape. The town was never fully finished with such necessities as running water, meaning a truck must deliver water to the village daily. It was obvious that there are not many economic prospects for the Seri within their “modern” village which was designed without any consideration for the Seri culture. Across the channel, a military post keeps watch over the Seri to ensure that no uprisings against the government occur, as indigenous groups are often marginalized by the Mexican government leading to historical unrest in many parts of the country.
Upon our arrival in the Seri community, we quickly boarded small fishing boats that took us to Tiburon Island, the historical territory the Seri once wandered. The island territory is to this day recognized as belonging to the Seri but they no longer inhabit the island. It is hypothesized that they left their nomadic lifestyle behind in pursuit of modern luxuries such as processed foods. The waters surrounding the island also belong to the Seri, supporting a small artisanal pen shell fishery. We explored the region by boat and by foot, with the Seri elders sharing their traditional ecological knowledge with us. They told us about the medicinal properties of local vegetation on land, while identifying many useful treasures from the sea washed up on the shore.
It was beautiful to see the Seri in their natural element, outside of the constructed world they live in on the main land. As a culture they are stuck between the nomadic life they once lived and the sedentary town they now inhabit. On the one hand, life in the town is nice as they have access to many modern amenities and food that does not require extensive time to find and prepare. On the other hand, while exploring Tiburon Island with them, it was easy to tell that they missed the natural beauty of their nomadic days. One of the young Seri women accompanying us on a nature walk led by one of the elders was furiously taking notes about what we were being taught as she hopes to be able to preserve the traditional knowledge that is slowly fading from their culture. Life in town may be easier but their nomadic life gave them purpose, they knew their place in the world. Now the Seri are trapped between the nomadic history that defined them and the sedentary present that leaves their culture adrift in a world of modernity.