Number of speakers 650-1,000
[ ziix quih haasax haaptxö quih áno cöcacaaixaj ] one who strongly greetswith joy/peace/harmony
There is no greeting among the Seris akin to a handshake or wave. But Josué Robles Barnett demonstrates a gesture that used to be performed when arriving in a strange community to convey you meant no harm.
[ iquiisax hipi hacx caap ] spirit that exists alone
The Seris used to believe that when air spun into a whirlwind in the desert, it was the spirit of a dead person. Now most Seris are Christians and have moved away from a literal belief that ghosts are among them. In this El Desemboque cemetery Marcela Díaz Félix uses a scarf for shade as she visits her father’s grave.
[ Miixöni quih zó hant ano tiij? ] Where is your placenta buried?
This is how the Seris ask, Where are you from? Those who were born before hospital births know the exact spot where their afterbirth was placed in the ground, covered in sand and ash, and topped with rocks.
[ hant iiha cöhacomxoj ] ones who have been told the ancient things
She’s blind and nearly deaf, but Isabel Chavela Torres still passes on traditional knowledge. The Seri names for species in the Sonoran Desert and Gulf of California reveal behaviors scientists have only recently begun to discover.
[ hepem cöicooit ] one who dances like the white-tailed deer
Chavela’s grandson Jorge Luis Montaño Herrera shakes gourd rattles and assumes the identity of a deer. Just as his grandmother once sang him traditional melodies, he now wants to teach the deer dance to Seri children.
[ atcz | azaac ]
daughter of a parent’s younger sibling
daughter of a parent’s older sibling
The Seris have more than 50 terms for kinship relationships, such as between these two cousins, many specific to the gender and birth order of the relative. A woman uses a different word for father than a man does.
[ xeescl ]desert lavender
Knowledge of the plants of the Sonoran Desert, in Seri the “place of the plants,” has long been essential to Seri survival.
[ heeno cmaam ] woman from place of the plants
Herbalists like Juanita Herrera Casanova are greatly esteemed in the Seri community for their knowledge of herbal medicine and traditional ceremonies. Herrera searches out desert lavender, desert mistletoe, and desert senna and carries the bounty home on her
[ caahit ]to cause the fish to eat
When Seri fishermen like Juan Barnett Díaz catch a fish in the Gulf of California, they say they “encouraged the fish to eat”—a respectful, fish-centric way of describing their dependence on the sea’s bounty. Generations ago, Seris who worked along the shores of the gulf returned with abundant varieties of fish and sea turtles. Today competition from commercial boats means they must settle for puffer fish and skates.
[ ziix hacx tiij catax ]thing that moves on its own
As modern inventions like cars enter their world, the Seris tend to adapt their language rather than import Spanish words. Erica Barnett uses an abandoned car as a hothouse to grow mangroves to replenish an estuary.
[ caasipl ]the one who makes marks
Other Seris can’t understand why Lorenzo Herrera Casanova has chosen to be a writer, or “one who makes marks,” because it doesn’t earn him anything. But since linguists came to help the Seris create their first dictionary, he’s become obsessed with documenting everything his grandfather told him as a
[ hihipon ] my voice
Punta Chueca teenager Deborah Anabel Herrera Moreno has a rebellious streak. She’s trying to find her own voice by learning to write the Seri language, called Cmiique Iitom. Although she dropped out of school, she’s teaching herself to read and write in hopes of becoming a teacher someday.