Three days on Tiburon
by Catherine Chen -- April 26th, 2016
We’ve just returned from a three day camping trip on Tiburon Island, where we went with members of the Lopez and Torres families from the Seri community of Punta Chueca. We camped near the northern point of the island, where the south-western wind blew in our faces and threatened to sail our tents away, where there were almost no man-made lights to be seen at night, and near sites that demonstrated parts of the history of the island, both natural (e.g., cool rock formations) and anthropological.
One band of the Seri originally led a hunter-gatherer lifestyle on Tiburon, before all of the bands became sedentary in the early 20th century. Traces of that past were visible in the form of shell middens, where people had dumped trash and bivalves/mollusks after consumption, as well as in a wide open area near our campsite. We weren’t allowed to camp in it, because the Seri had previously used it as a gat hering point to rally and perform ceremonies before going off to fight with other tribes. Scattered among and between these historical remnants was modern trash. This juxtaposition was jarring – we were standing in a beautiful desert landscape, looking at remnants of a lifestyle that no longer exists, and then we spot a plastic soda bottle – and another, and another. It’s a reminder that no matter how far away you think you’re getting from “civilization”, human impacts are pervasive. It’s also rather sad, because the Seri consume extremely high quantities of sugar and fat (a problem globally, but especially common in indigenous/native communities), and the presence of so many soda bottles on this island only served as a testimony to that fact.
One of my favorite memories from the trip was going clamming on the morning of the last day. The day before, the Seri had managed to find clams on the point right where we were camping, and had evidently had a most delicious dinner (complete with a bonus octopus that they’d caught in the waters nearby and freshly made tortillas). Sam and I were determined to at least recreate the clamming part of that. We headed over when the tide was nearing its lowest point, exposing a wide expanse of the muddy surface that had previously been submerged, armed with a container that turned out to be woefully insufficient. We’d been digging g around in the mud with moderate success for a few minutes when we were joined by Rosa, one of the Seri woman who’d come with us, and Monse, her 5 year-old grandmother. Mesa donated a few clams that she’d found on the way over to our cause, and then her and Rosa walked to the sand bank nearby and began raking it with their hands. When we joined them there, we found that the clams were literally falling out of the sand with every pass we made, and that their method was much more efficient than ours had been.
Soon, other members of the group, both Seri and non-Seri, joined us out on the flats. There was something special about that moment – the spontaneity of the interaction, the ease with which it occurred, the awareness of the fact that this was probably the only time in my life in which I would be harvesting shellfish alongside the Seri on their traditional land, and the joy and satisfaction shared by everyone at a job well done. Eventually, we reluctantly cut ourselves off when the number of clams collected was becoming excessive (total tally: >200 clams, 10 chocolate clams, 1 pen shell), and prepared ourselves to go back to camp and start heading back to the station.