Seri - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Seri religion entailed belief in a large number of malevolent spirits who were placated by appropriate ritual. Most ritual is individual and often private. Seri religion as an integrated system no longer functions, although many rituals are followed out of custom. Spanish missionary efforts had no lasting effect on the Seri. Mexican evangelical Protestants, who arrived in 1953, have had some influence on most Seri and have won a number of genuine converts.

Religious Practitioners. Shamans controlled forces of both good and evil. Although they could place curses, their primary role was healing and the prevention of sickness and misfortune. Healing was accomplished solely through their influence over the spirits; any medicinal cures were administered by ordinary individuals. Anthropomorphic figurines were carved by shamans and rented to clients as fetishes. Some influence over the spirits was thought to come naturally with age. Individuals aspiring to shamanism, however, sought direct contact with the spirits during a four-day vision quest. Shamans were paid for their services.

Supernaturais. In addition to individual spirits, the Seri recognize certain more general supernatural forces. One, called Icor, controls the spirit of each plant, and its power can be tapped by shamans. Another is Hant caai, responsible for creating much of the world. He is thought to be male and is vaguely associated with the sun. Although Hant caai seems to be indigenous, the Seri say he is the same deity the Mexicans call Dios.

Ceremonies. The festive tone of Seri group ceremonies is intended to placate potentially malevolent spirits. Today the only regularly performed ceremony is the four-day girls' puberty fiesta. While the girl is secluded and subject to several taboos, the community engages in festive singing, Pascola dancing on a foot drum, betting games, and feasting. A puberty fiesta for boys was last held about 1923. The rare capture of a leatherback turtle prompts a similar ceremony. Completion of a giant basket also necessitated a fiesta to pacify the basket's spirit. The scalp dance has not been performed since warfare with the Europeans ended.

Arts. Face painting, especially of females, was a major art form but is rarely evident today. Much visual art now takes the form of basketry design and ironwood carving. The only dancing that survives today is the solo Pascola. Neither men's nor women's circle dances have been performed since the early 1900s. Music, especially singing, is still important. Despite exposure to Mexican popular music, many people prefer traditional Seri music; it is commonplace to record and listen to traditional songs on battery-powered tape recorders.

Medicine. Shamans cured serious illness supernaturally, but ordinary Seri treated lesser maladies with medicinal preparations. These were often simple teas, but the pharmacopoeia included more than 100 species of plants and animals. Clinics and commercial medicines have largely replaced traditional remedies.

Death and Afterlife.

Traditional burials were performed by a hamac of the deceased, without public ceremony.Today, funerals are increasingly common. The name of the deceased is not spoken. Ideally, the person is forgotten fairly quickly, although female relatives may wail for as long as a year. The afterlife, which transpires in the sky near the setting sun, is a replica of the present world but contains only good things. Virtuous Seri arrive there after four days, whereas evildoers are permanently stranded in one of several hells along the way.


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