This chapter is
totally consecrated to the Séris of SONORA.
THE COMCÁACS, SERIS INDIANS- ISLA TIBURON, PUNTA CHUECA,
Their name is Comcáac : it means « people » in
their language, « the one who runs fast » in "Opata"
language and « the men of the sand » in Yaqui language.
They live in the northwestern part of Sonora State,
by the Sea of Cortez, mainly in front of Tiburon Island that they
Several centuries ago, several groups emigrated from Asia crossing
what is now called Bering Strait. They slowly moved to the south
towards the North American continent and specially the Mexican Republic.
One of these groups was called Comcáac. It is not sure when
they exactly came.
They kayaked from island to island. Later, the Spanish called them
Step by step, they took up residence on these lands, including Tiburon
Island. Some evidences show the presence of other ethnic people
before them. They slowly made this island their own as well as San
They were parted in 6 ethnic groups but the wars and fights for
territories (up to the nineties) as well as epidemics caused the
extinction of two groups with similar dialects.
In 1930, the Comcáacs were only 160. Today, they are more
than 600 mainly living in the villages of El Desemboque and Punta
Chueca, at the north-east of Bahia de Kino by the sea of Cortez.
their nomad life, the group built temporary houses. The "chozas"
were grouped in small cores which were the center of their fishing
and hunting activities. When they had no more resources, they moved
to another place.
The habitations were built in an informal way. They used the thorn-
free ocotillos for the armature. Then, they covered it with branches
and turtle shells. Or they used a cactus Pitahaya and, using mud,
made a room from each arm of the cactus.
The photo represents the dirt road to their village
(from 35 to 40 min from Bahia de Kino to Punta Chueca). They don’t
have a paved road but they have recently had an electric line installed.
They don’t have water. The village supplies them with tank-trunks.
Years ago, these habitations were built to protect
them from bad weather. Now, they start to live in modern habitations
built with bricks, cement and sheet metal. Due to the lack of rain,
the Comcáacs developed natural tendencies for fishing and
hunting to the detriment of cultures. The desert, hostile to the
neophytes, finally welcomed them and even bewitched this people
who succeeded in understanding it. Despite the times where they
suffered from the lack of food and water, the luxurious vegetation
and the abundance of sea and land animals nourished them. The plants,
the animals and fish revealed their secrets to this people. In return,
they incorporated plants and animals in their religion, medicine,
songs and even their dietary habits. The scientific world discovered
recently the names and diverse uses given by the Comcáac
to more than 425 species of desert plants.
This includes medicines derived from about 106 species and food
derived from 94 species.
The Comcáacs are tall and handsome.
According to some specialists, the Séris belong to the Yumano
group from the Sioux-Hokana-Jokana family. They are proud of their
heritage and they walk with grace and dignity. When you see them
in their desert and marine habitat, you think that they belong to
the nature itself.
Since years, men and women have been wearing long hair. The singles
used to have it braided. The men used to wear a kind of apron above
their pants. Today, most of the men don’t have a braid or
an apron anymore. The women still wear long skirts and long sleeve
are unique because of the bright colors on their
«pangas» (boats) as well as on their clothes. It contrasts
with the blue of the sea and the ochre of the desert. Until a few
years ago, they also had discrete paintings on the face in blue,
red or white.
The "lanchas" allowed them to go fishing
and to go to Tiburon Island (in the background). This island is
the biggest one in the sea of Cortez.
In order to know the Comcáacs, you need
to watch them in their own environment. It is a unique experience.
They are unique in their capacity to make the strangers accept their
point of view. They also think that the tourists are raring to buy
their craft : small braided baskets, wooden collars and sculptures
made of « palofierro » (desert tree whose wood is black
and hard) and shell jewelry.
You might have heard that the Comcáacs are cannibal. It is
wrong. Even if they were fierce warriors in the past, they are,
like everyone, repelled by the idea of cannibalism.
The colorful atmosphere of this village grows with their surprising
language. This language is characterized by a variation of sounds
that look like a song. You will be fascinated the first time you
It is believed that the Comcáac language belongs to the Jokana
language. However, it was classified as an isolated dialect because
it is not really linked to one of these Jokana languages. There
are other languages belonging to this group, especially in California.
It has a verbal morphology that embraces a complex internal structure.
It also has consonants that don’t exist in Spanish as well
as complex sequences of consonants and long vowels. So it is not
motivating to try to learn this language.
The Comcáacs can speak Spanish but they are more or less
fluent. Usually, men have more opportunities than women to learn
and use it.
They still use their dialect to communicate between them.
Such as most of the small size groups, the Comcáacs don’t
have a formal political structure.
The unique known leaders were the war chefs whose influence was
limited due to the duration of the conflict.
In other cases, the direct family members had the main power even
if the « curandero » had a certain social and political
control due to his position.
As a result of the nomad life with no governmental control, the
men as well as the women developed a strong independent mind that
is still visible.
The extended family is the center of social life. In this system
of family relationship, there are several mandatory customs that
control every member of the family.
One of this customs consists in having every family member to share
any food or material commodities with the others.
The women have a greater responsibility because they have to share
many essential things, including the meat. This custom is at the
origin of the constant distribution of goods and food.
The accumulation of wealth would have been considerate as a sin
that nobody wants to feel guilty of.
Another custom is the use of not talking to some family members.
Everybody has a list of people he is not allowed to talk. The men
have more restrictions than the women.
For example a man can’t directly talk to his father, uncles,
brothers and children after they reach puberty, neither to his parents-in-law
or his political parents.
Years ago, they had special ceremonies to celebrate several everyday
facts. The most common of these rituals was the puberty ritual,
a celebration for both sexes. It lasted four days and included the
dance of the « pascola », games of chance with dice
and shared diners.
Nowadays, the ritual is only for the girls.
Their respective godmothers paint their faces with traditional designs.
They remain isolated. They have to stay awake the whole last night
of the celebration and not eat meat. Before sunrise, the family
women bring them to the beach where they are purified in a ceremonial
way, washing their hair with sea-water. This ceremony means that
they are old enough to be married.
Among the Comcáacs, it is forbidden to marry between members
of a family, even cousins. Usually, the parents arrange the marriage
of their children. Years ago, they even asked advice from the curandero.
When the proposition is accepted, there is a 6 months to one year
period when the young man and his family offer gifts to the young
girl family. The gifts are very diverse from carved wood, baskets
and food to a car.
The marriage is celebrated in the local church when the girl family
The young couple still lives, like before, in a
room attached to the man family’s house. The newly man has
to take care of his in-laws until their death.
The divorces are extremely rare. The local church is also a place
for practices associated with death.
Until recently, the funeral was organized by a deceased’s
godfather. They painted their hands in black to avoid them to be
soiled by the manipulation of the cadaver.
They buried some goods belonging to the deceased. His house, often
made of « ocotillos » (kind of cactus) and soil, was
burnt. The remaining of his belongings was given to the godfather
who gave them to the deceased’s family in turn.
This exchange eliminated the possibilities of “contamination”
of the deceased’s mind from the time of him leaving Earth.
Recently, the Mexican federal school system also affected the life
of the Comcáacs. Every child, Indigenous or not, receives
a formal education. Years ago, the education was transmitted through
the activities of the family and the group. The old people used
to tell stories for hours. During the Puberty ceremony, some boys
received special advises about how to live in peace with others.
Their God, Antaái, is the Creator of Heaven and Earth.
Today, most of them are part of the Mexican Christian Church. A
missionary taught them the word of Jésus in 1956. Their traditional
religion was administrated by the nature, referring to many spirits
whose power was sought by every people during a vision quest.
If there were results, the involved person could convert itself
into a curandero and use spiritual powers to cure the sick, throw
a curse and predict the future. There was no religious hierarchy.
They worshiped the sun as their God’s eye. The contact with
the spirits ended privately in an individual way.
They celebrate some events in order to communicate with the spirits
linked to these events. They thought that the spirits power was
associated to animals, some objects, happy everyday events, individual
practices as well as natural phenomenon.
Many of the old songs of the Comcáacs were linked to the
Many tourists are attracted by the special artistic work of this
people. Such as the Eskimos are known for their ice sculptures,
the Comcaács are known for the magnificent wood sculptures
made of palofierro, a hard and black wood from the desert.
They represent sea-lions, dolphins, eagles, cactus, turtles and
other animals. They are made every day in both main villages and
in Bahia de Kino.
Many of these small statues have an undulating grace that shows
the skills of their creators. Some of these statues are fervently
searched by collectors.
Even if the Comcaács traditionally carved some objects from
the palofierro, the idea of carving life forms in order
to sell them developed only during the sixties.
At this time, Jose Astorga started to carve dolphins and turtles.
Step by step, he sold more and more of these models and he even
got some orders for other models.
It improved the quality of his figures. He sold
more and more of them. In little time, other Comcáacs, men
and women, started to carve and the art of making sculptures in
palofierro became family businesses. They even might replace fishing
by carving for a living.
These sculptures are copied and sold in souvenir shops all over
However, you will be sure of buying an original sculpture of the
Comcáacs only in the villages of Desemboque and Punta Chueca.
The fabrication of baskets is another type of their craft that began
a business too. The Comcáacs have been making these small
baskets since the late seventeenth century.
They used to exchange them for other products in Hermosillo, Sonora
and in neighboring ranches during the nineteenth century and at
the beginning of the twentieth century.
Until very recently, these baskets were used for their everyday
needs. They were plain and made of braided fibers. With the arrival
of metal and plastic as well as the need of decoration, they stopped
making the plain baskets and are making baskets for sale. They are
skillfully sewn with flexible wooden fibers from the torote tree
(Jatropha cuneata). They are usually rounds. It takes a
long time to make them, from one month for a small size to one or
two years to a huge basket. When they finish a piece, there is a
special ceremony. They are expensive and usually reserved to foreign
The Comcaacs succeed in making complex designs using natural dyes.
The Comcáacs also make collar and jewelry
with shells, seeds as well as shark and snake vertebras. These objects
were once for their personal use but they are now made for sale.
According to the Seri philosophy, part of themselves is transferred
to the object if they touch it. So they don’t throw away anything.
As many Indigenous people in Mexico, the Comcáacs
love music. They learned many songs from their ancestors. These
songs tell of the sea and the desert as only they know it. The birds,
turtles, mezquites, whales inspired the Comcáacs’
songs. The instrumental music was as popular as the vocal music.
Their instruments are the one string violin, the musical bow, different
kinds of flutes and the rasping stick. Today, they are almost not
Until recently, the essential incomes were brought by fishing. Now,
even if fishing is still the way of living for some families, most
of them live on the sale of their special art.
In some places, pollution diminishes the number of some sea animals,
including the turtle. Years ago the green sea turtle was the unique
important resources of the Comcaác. Many of the older people
knew how to live from the desert and sea, without counting on the
conveniences of the stores.
In Tiburon Island, they also breed Cimarrones, wound horned rams,
and they developed a system of controlled hunting. In 1975, they
had only 17 animals; they have now 997.
The Comcáacs of our time chose to have their place in the
Text prepared by Marie Resplandy, founder and manager of the French-Mexican Association AFG AC, official correspondent in Sonora for France
Expatriate and consular delegate for the General Consulate France in Mexico, living always in the state of Sonora since more than 10 years.
Link Asociacion French-Mexican AFG AC : www.lsiaug.net/afg/
French General Consulate in Mexico : www.consulfrance-mexico.org/
and Yaquis are the two most difficult and controversial ethnic groups
Sonora is the second state in Mexico by the surface.
It is attractive for its nice sand beaches, coves and strong tides.
The lovers of snorkeling will be seduced by splendid rock fish.
The Guyamas pit (1500 m or 4921 ft) attracts more than 700 marine
species. The state offers many desert beaches along a 965 km (600
mi) coast. It is a nice quiet state without any tourist inconvenience.
Fishing and diving are the main activities. It is an excellent point
of departure for excursions in El Pinacate Park.
The access is either by road from Tucson, either via the ferry Santa
Rosalia from Baja California to Guaymas or via the airports of Hermosillo
Look also at the website of the Tourist Office of Sonora state :
NEW YEAR (late June)
dance for 3 days. The wise Don Antonio sings and tells old stories.
The women cook a shared diner.
It was taken under the protection of the Séris. It will be
sacrificed on July 1st according to their rituals. It will be prepared
according to their traditions to feed every people and guest in
The group of the Séris is legally the only
one authorized to go fishing for turtles (or Cahuama).
On the evening, everyone wants to be different.
They are all dressed up and wear jewels made of sharp bones and
tree or plant seeds.
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