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THE SERI INDIANS of Sonora Mexico

by Bernice Johnston


photo of woman with basket photo of woman with basket

Except for shoulder yokes carried by the men, baskets were almost the sole transport for everything not liquid. Women wore a head ring on which they placed large jar baskets or shallow trays. In the containers they carried almost everything, including wood, plant harvests, meat, and washing. Baskets were used for winnowing and storage. They served as suitcases, sand buckets, and refuse pails.

Seri baskets are quite heavy. Bundles of split torote, Jatropha cuneata, are wrapped with the inner bark of torote stems. Women use their teeth for splitting the torote. The rust-red decoration was discovered by Mary B. Moser to be from the root bark of species of Krameria, usually K. gray), commonly known as white ratany. Commercial dye has also been employed in recent years.

photo of woman with basket

W. J. McGee, the earliest ethnographer to record his observations of the Seri, wrote that these Indians did not decorate their baskets. McGee was with the Indians for only a short time in 1894-95 and might have missed seeing this phase of basketmaking. Seri may well have used decoration in the 19th century, but the great variety of designs probably resulted from the stimulation of sales to foreigners. The outside market brought forth the artistic capabilities of the women and they created very tasteful designs. Basketry, the only craft of note until ironwood carvings became popular, was always a woman's craft.

Seri had little use for these containers once they made the acquaintance of plastic, glass, metal, and other types. Consequently, the basket craft has declined. But as more people arrive in Seri villages to buy carvings, they note an occasional basket. These are finding buyers and it has spurred some women to continue production. There are about thirty basketmakers in the villages who can still produce. However, basketmaking is a hard tedious job. It takes much longer to produce a basket than it does a carving.

Seri basketry tradition has a respectable history. It does not deserve to be sacrificed to the upstart carving industry. It is to be hoped that buyers will recognize its value in time to save it.

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The University of Arizona Press, 4/2/97 2:31PM