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The state of Sonora
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
 
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This chapter is totally consecrated to the Séris of SONORA.

THE COMCÁACS, SERIS INDIANS- ISLA TIBURON, PUNTA CHUECA, EL DESEMBOQUE

Tiburon Island and Sonora State 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.


     Right picture : Tiburon Island and Sonora State

They live in the northwestern part of Sonora State, by the Sea of Cortez, mainly in front of Tiburon Island that they own.
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 Séris.
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 Estéban Island.
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.
logo with the turtle, emblem of the Comcáac

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.


Left picture : logo with the turtle, emblem of the Comcáac

 

 

 

 

 


Desert Nomads

Dirt road from Bahia de Kino to Punta ChuecaDuring 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.

   Right picture : Dirt road from Bahia de Kino to Punta Chueca

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 people
the "pangas" or "lanchas"


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 blouses.






the "pangas" or "lanchas"They 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.

     Photos : the "pangas" or "lanchas"

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 language
Sign at the entrance of the "Seri" territory
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 hear it.
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.


Left picture : Sign at the entrance of the "Seri" territory

They still use their dialect to communicate between them.



Social organization
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.
a Comcáac woman 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.

     Right picture : a Comcáac woman

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.
a Comcáac woman
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 authorizes it.

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.


     Above picture : a Comcáac woman


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.




Religion
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 spirits power.

Their Art
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.
shell jewelry 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.

     Right picture : shell jewelry

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 Sonora.
However, you will be sure of buying an original sculpture of the Comcáacs only in the villages of Desemboque and Punta Chueca.


young Seri Indian
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 collectors.
The Comcaacs succeed in making complex designs using natural dyes.

Left picture : young Seri Indian

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.


Their music
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 played anymore.

Their economy
"welcome trees"
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.

Left picture : "welcome trees"

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 modern world.




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/


Séri child with make up for the Seri New YearSéris and Yaquis are the two most difficult and controversial ethnic groups in Sonora.


   Right picture : Séri child with make up for the Seri New Year

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 and Guaymas.

Look also at the website of the Tourist Office of Sonora state :


SERI NEW YEAR (late June)

A sea turtle, emblem of the SerisThey dance for 3 days. The wise Don Antonio sings and tells old stories.

The women cook a shared diner.

Left picture : A sea turtle, emblem of the Seris


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 village.

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.
   


    Right picture : Séris preparing the Séri New Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jewels made by Seri indians

 

 

Left picture : jewels made by Seri indians

 

 

 

 

 






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