Seri people

This article is about the Mexican ethnic group. For other uses, see Seri (disambiguation).
Total population
(Slightly below 1,000 (2006)[1]
800 (2000)[2]
215 (1951)[2])
Regions with significant populations
Mexico (Sonora)
Seri, Spanish
traditionally animists, currently primarily Christian

The Seris are an indigenous group of the Mexican state of Sonora. The majority reside on the Seri communal property (Spanish, ejido), in the towns of Punta Chueca (Seri Socaaix or Socaaix hac) and El Desemboque (Seri Haxöl Iihom) on the mainland coast of the Gulf of California. Tiburón Island (Tahejöc, Tahejöc himquij or Tahejöc quij) and San Esteban Island (Cofteecöl, Cofteecöl hipcap and sometimes Hast) were part of their traditional territory, but some Seris also lived in various places on the mainland. They were historically seminomadic hunter-gatherers who maintained an intimate relationship with both the sea and the land. It is one of the ethnic groups of Mexico that has most strongly maintained its language and culture during the years after contact with Spanish and Mexican cultures.

The Seri people are not related culturally or linguistically to other groups that have lived in the area, such as the Opata, Yaqui (sg.: Yequim, pl.: Yectz), O'odham (sg.: Hapaay), or Cochimí. The Seri language is distinct from all others in the region and is considered a language isolate.[3]

Beside the Apache (sg.: Hapats, pl.: Hapatsoj) and Yaqui, the Seri are best known as fierce warriors for their stubborn resistance against subjugation by the Spanish (sg.: Casopin) and later Mexicans (sg./pl.: Cocsar).

The name Seri is an exonym of uncertain origin. (Claims that it is from Opata or from Yaqui were nineteenth-century speculations based on similarity to words in those languages and not with clear evidence.)[3] Their name for themselves is Comcaac (phonemically /kom'kɑːk/, phonetically [koŋˈkɑːk]); singular: Cmiique (phonemically /'kmiːkɛ/), phonetically [ˈkw̃ĩːkːɛ]).[4]


Seri woman's dress for everyday wear on display at the Museo de Arte Popular, Mexico City

The Seri were formerly divided into six bands. They were:

Three of the bands were further subdivided. Relations between bands were not always friendly, and internal fights sometimes occurred.

Some Bands were also living on Baja California peninsula (Hant Ihiin), they were called Hant Ihiini comcaac.[5]

It has been said that these groups spoke three distinct but mutually intelligible dialects. It is thought that the first dialect was spoken by the Xiica hai iic coii, Xiica xnaai iic coii, Tahejöc comcaac and Heeno comcaac Bands and presently this variant is the only dialect spoken and is the ancestor of modern-day Seri. The second dialect was spoken by the Xnaamotat Band, but it is currently extinct and there was very little data collected regarding this dialect. The third dialect is also extinct and was spoken by the Xiica hast ano coii Band; it was described as sounding musical, as if speakers were singing instead of speaking (Moser 1963). Speakers sometimes make remarks regarding certain expressions being characteristic of particular Bands, especially of the Xiica hast ano coii Band. These communication differences were thought to have kept the groups from having much social interaction with each other.[6]

After the Seri population was greatly reduced by conflicts with the Mexican government and the O'odham, and epidemics of smallpox and measles, the remaining Seris grouped together and the band divisions were lost.


The autoethnonym of the Seri people, Comcaac, was first recorded by United States Boundary Commissioner John Russell Bartlett, who was in the area for a short visit in early 1852.[7] The word was included in the list of approximately 180 words that Bartlett archived in the Bureau of American Ethnology (now part of the National Anthropological Archive, housed at the Smithsonian). He recorded the word as "komkak", which reflected the pronunciation of the word at that time (although he missed the vowel length and did not indicate stress). Other word lists, obtained by other people during the last half of the nineteenth century, confirm that pronunciation. The phonetic rule by which the consonant /m/ is pronounced as a velar nasal in this context (after an unstressed vowel and preceding a velar consonant) may not have come about until sometime in the early twentieth century or researchers may have encountered slow-speech deliberate pronunciations for which the assimilation was held in abeyance. The singular form, Cmiique, was first recorded by French explorer and philologist Alphonse Pinart in 1879.[8] He recorded the word as "kmike", which must have reflected the pronunciation of the word at that time (although he also missed the vowel length). The phonetic rule by which the consonant /m/ is pronounced as a nasalized velar approximant in this context (after a velar stop) may not have come about until sometime in the mid twentieth century.

In media


  1. Marlett (2006).
  2. 1 2 Ethnologue (2005).
  3. 1 2 Marlett (2011).
  4. Marlett, Moreno & Herrera (2005).
  5. Seri Names
  7. McGee 1898:96ff.
  8. Alphonse Pinart. 1879. [Vocabulary of the Seri]. Manuscript. Bureau of American Ethnology collection, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.


  • Bowen, Thomas (1983). "Seri". Handbook of North American Indians, William C. Sturtevant, general editor. Southwest. Alfonso Ortiz, volume editor. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: 230–249. 
  • Bowen, Thomas; Mary Beck Moser (1995). "Seri". Encyclopedia of world cultures, David Levinson, editor in chief. Middle America and the Caribbean. James W. Dow (volume editor) & Robert V. Kemper (associate volume editor). Boston: G. K. Hall.: 232–235. 
  • Bowen, Thomas (2001). Unknown Island: Seri Indians, Europeans, and San Esteban Island in the Gulf of California. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 
  • Davis, Edward H.; Dawson, E. Yale (March 1945). "The Savage Seris of Sonora—I". The Scientific Monthly. 60 (3): 193–202. 
  • Davis, Edward H.; Dawson, E. Yale (April 1945). "The Savage Seris of Sonora—II". The Scientific Monthly. 60 (4): 261–268. 
  • Johnston, Bernice (1980) [1970]. The Seri Indians of Sonora Mexico. Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press. 
  • Felger, Richard; Mary Beck Moser (July 1973). "Eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) in the Gulf of California: Discovery of Its Nutritional Value by the Seri Indians". Science. 181 (4097): 355–356. doi:10.1126/science.181.4097.355. PMID 17832031. 
  • Felger, Richard; Mary B. Moser. (1985). People of the desert and sea: ethnobotany of the Seri Indians. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. 
  • Ives, Ronald L. (July 1962). "The Legend of the "White Queen" of the Seri". Western Folklore. Western States Folklore Society. 21 (3): 161–164. doi:10.2307/1496954. JSTOR 1496954. 
  • Marlett, Cathy Moser (2014). Shells on a desert shore: Mollusks in the Seri world. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. 
  • Marlett, Stephen A. (2011). "The Seris and the Comcaac: Sifting fact from fiction about the names and relationships". Work Papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of North Dakota Session. #51: 1–20 . 
  • Marlett, Stephen A. (2006). "La situación sociolingüística de la lengua seri en 2006" (PDF). Situaciones sociolingüísticas de lenguas amerindias. Lima: SIL International and Universidad Ricardo Palma. 
  • Marlett, Stephen A.; F. Xavier Moreno Herrera; Genaro G. Herrera Astorga (2005). "Illustrations of the IPA: Seri" (PDF). Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 35 (1): 117–121. doi:10.1017/S0025100305001933. 
  • Moser, Edward W. (1963). "Seri Bands". The Kiva. 28 (3): 14–27.  (online Spanish version)
  • Moser, Mary B.; Stephen A. Marlett (2005). Comcáac quih yaza quih hant ihíip hac: Diccionario seri-español-inglés (PDF) (in Spanish and English). Hermosillo, Sonora: Universidad de Sonora and Plaza y Valdés Editores. 
  • McGee, W. J. (March 1896). "Expedition to Papagueria and Seriland: A Preliminary Note". American Anthropologist. 9 (3): 93–98. doi:10.1525/aa.1896.9.3.02a00010. 
  • McGee, W. J. (April 1896). "Expedition to Seriland". Science. 3 (66): 493–505. doi:10.1126/science.3.66.493. PMID 17751332. 
  • McGee, W. J. (1898). The Seri Indians: Seventeenth annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Washington, D.C. 
  • Nabhan, Gary (2003). Singing the Turtles to Sea: The Comcáac (Seri) Art and Science of Reptiles. University of California Press. 
  • Spicer, Edward H. (1986) [1962]. Cycles of Conquest . The Impact of Spain, Mexico and the United States on the Indians of the Southwest, 1533 - 1960 publisher: The University of Arizona Press, Tucson. 
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