Oil painting on Archival Canvas in a Black Metal Floater Frame.
This painting is part of my Ecological Landscape series.
An old friend and I left our wives and families behind and drove from Denver to Mexico, in my old 4-Runner. We crossed through Arizona into the Sonoran Desert to the Mexican border into Hermosillo, moving on to Kino Bay and deep into the Seri Indian Reservation where my friend had spent time teaching.
About The Seri Indians
The Seri Indians are known to have lived in the same area for at least five hundred years. In the early times Seri territory extended on the Sea of Cortez from Guaymas Bay to about seventy-five miles north of Tiburón Island, and inland almost to Hermosillo. It is part of the Sonoran Desert where rainfall does not normally exceed two inches annually.
In the 1600’s there were six known bands and the Seri population was estimated at the time to be around 5,000. Because the Seri looked to the sea for their major sustenance, they made many of their camps on its shores. To hunt or obtain fresh water they traveled inland for great distances.
The tribe was composed of ferocious fighters and when engaged in hand battles with enemies they were vicious. If the situation was desperate enough they fought with tooth and nail. Exaggerated stories are told of their raking the flesh from a man's arm. These led to many erroneous accounts cannibalism. The tales survived and received much press coverage in the early days of this century when various people disappeared in Seri Indian Territory.
Pursuits by the Mexican military began the history of Seri and Spanish conflicts. The Indians were forced to change camps often and flee. Consequently, much of their territory was abandoned altogether and they were forced to the water's edge. Their numbers decreased due to introduced foreign diseases, war, and starvation. Many of them were also poisoned by arsenic laced flour provided by the Mexican government as part of one of many “peace” settlements.
By the 1930s the Seri population had decreased to three hundred. Today there are 800 people living on the reservation but only 200 of those are pure blood Seri. Most Seri speak a working Spanish in addition to their native Hokam tongue. Their use of Spanish goes back to the early years of the Jesuit missions, around 1680 and the first persecutions.
Most of the tribe is now concentrated in the Seri villages of Punta Hokan and El Desemboque north of Kino Bay. From persecution to poverty, the Seri are, above all, survivors. They are tough and aggressive as those who venture over the 60 miles of axle-hammering dirt roads to visit their villages can attest. An unknown vehicle driving into the village is instantly mobbed and surrounded by Seri aggressively offering craft items to trade for clothing and household goods.
The Seri way of life and culture teeters on the brink of extinction, with a few Seri steadfastly refusing to adopt the ways and beliefs of the dominant culture. Most modern Seri say they no longer practice the nature-based religion of their ancestors. The Catholic Church is a presence in both Seri villages and many consider themselves to be Christian. However, secretly, many admit to honoring old spiritual practices and beliefs. Fortunately they have also kept alive some of their ancient stories and legends.