The last five days of the course we camped on Tiburon Island with Ben Wilder’s class of Seri students. Ben had previously worked with Humberto, a Seri elder, to identify all of the plants on the Midrift Islands and had returned to teach a class that would allow him to give back to the Seri community and share what he had learned. As the final part of the class, Ben and his students joined up with us to spend time exploring several areas in the region, giving us the chance to learn about the cultural significance of the area, and allowing us all to participate in activities appreciating and learning about the region.
Though we were only exposed to Seri culture for a short period of time, and only touched on a scattering of aspects, I loved having the chance to learn about a lifestyle and a worldview so different from my own. The group of Seri students included people of all ages, from both Seri villages. As a result, we got to meet people who were living very different lives, but who all cared about preserving their culture and the natural environment that has played such a large part in it.
On a hike to Xapij, a water hole on Tiburon Island, we learned from Humberto about the importance of various plants that grew on the island, such as ironwood, a slow-growing plant that has the densest wood in the world, and pino salado, an invasive reed. We also learned about how important the water hole was historically for the Seri during times when the community needed refuge from Spanish and Mexican adversaries. This dual approach to many of the things we saw helped me to better understand the value of the places we visited.
And being able to spend so much time with the Seri gave me a much deeper understanding of everything from their traditions to their language to their conservation work. By the end of the trip, we had gotten to know the Seri better than we had been able to know almost any of the other people we had met during the course.
On the last night, people got together a fire and we all gathered round to warm ourselves and hide from the chilly breeze. Standing around that fire, it finally clicked for me exactly how special the last few weeks have been.
Manuel, one of the elders in the Seri community, started to sing songs in Ciimque Iitom, the Seri language. After a couple of songs, Paco, another Seri, started to alternate with Manuel, also singing songs in Ciimque Iitom, but usually with his own artistic twist on the original. It was the perfect way to spend the final night of the camping trip.
The next day, we met for a last class meeting with Xavier, from the Seri village of Punta Chueca, so he could show us written materials being produced in Ciimque Iitom. He had told us earlier about efforts to teach the younger generation to read and write Ciimque Iitom in order to help preserve the language. He showed us several booklets identifying birds, reptiles, and insects written in Ciimque Iitom, designed for younger children. There was also a book containing Seri legends and a book of anecdotes collected from the elders of the Seri community.
Many of the songs we heard during the trip related to the natural environment and many of the booklets Xavier showed us involved teaching children about local plants and animals in Ciimque Iitom. It was interesting how much nature came up in cultural experiences with the Seri. In addition, we were reminded again and again how key the islands, in particular Tiburon Island, have been for the Seri throughout history. It was amazing to get to experience this camping trip and to actually visit and learn from the Seri and our professors the value of the places, and the corresponding motivations that spur on efforts for their conservation.