Heritage, Volume 10, Number 2, Spring 1992 Page: 34
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People of the Desert and
the Sea: Ethnobotany of
the Seri Indians
RichardStephen Felger andMary BeckMoser,
University of Arizona Press, reprinted 1991.
Review by R. Ben Brown, Instituto Nacional
de Antropologia y Historia, Paquime, Casas
This book is a beautiful illustration of
the knowledge that is not ours. While
western society emphasizes technology and
sophisticated manufacturing systems that
isolate man from his environment, the Seri
not only rely on their knowledge of the
world that surrounds them, they are an
integral part of their environment.
The book is divided into three parts:
The People and the Setting; Biological
Ethnography - The Desert and Sea in Seri
Culture; and Plants in the Seri Culture.
The first two sentences set the tone of the
first part of the whole book: "The Seri are
gregarious, outgoing, and aggressive, and
have a sharp sense of humor. They tend to
be highly independent and non-conforming,
and quick to adjust for the sake of
convenience." Even so, they have maintained
a fair amount of linguistic purity
that may be due to their isolated location
on the Sonoran coast where they have
been living in short-term settlements for at
least 2,000 years.
While the Seri at the southernmost end
of their range adapted to the Spanish
settlement at Guaymas, the majority of
Seri groups were considered "intractable"
or "wild." But it was not until the mid 19th
century and the Encinas Wars that the Seri
were fully decimated.
Subsequent chapters of the Setting provide
excellent summaries of the plant resources
and the animate resources available
to the Seris. Part II, the Biological
Ethnography, presents an incredible series
of detailed vignettes of how the Seris use
their environments. There is something
for those who are interested in shamanism;
cacti, sea birds; dress; tattooing and makeup;
boat building; iron wood carvings, and,
above all, basket-making.
Part III, Plants in Seri Culture, is the
meat of the discussion. Plant-by-plant
discussions in this part make up half of the
book. This is an ethnobotanist's dream
that successfully competes with other major
contributions to the literature. For
example, the account of the Agave family
includes nine species some of which were
and were not eaten, as well as how they
were prepared, and how they were used for
medicine. In another description, we learn
that the wood from members of the Frankincense
family (Burseraceae) is not only
used to make practical items such as containers
and storage boxes, parts of headdresses,
and one-stringed violins, but it is
also used in cures for asthma. Since it was
the first plant created in the Seri origin
myth, it plays a role in the Seri cosmovision
and is a preferred wood for making fetishes.
This book is comprehensive, carefully
researched, and beautifully illustrated. Its
first publication in 1985 was well-received
by scholars and general readers. This new
edition in paperback will find a welcome
audience among enthusiasts of Northern
Inside Texas: Culture, Identity,
and Houses, 1878-1920
Cynthia A. Brandimarte. Texas Christian
University Press. Clothbound, $60.00.
Review by John Peterson, archaeologist and
book review editor of HERITAGE
If we lack the actual documentation, we
often invent our pasts. In the popular
imagination, life on the Texas frontier
ranged from ranch to mission styles, with
horn furniture and adobe benches. But the
real Texas of the frontier period was intimately
in touch with the rest of the nation
and the world. Historians and archaeolo
gists have begun to document the fact that
goods and styles from the Eastern United
States and even Europe were eagerly sought
and shipped into the state even in "rustic"
times. French perfume bottles, lineaments,
and table settings eventually found their
way into the privies or dumps that archaeologists
have prowled for evidence of historic
Now, with the publication of this fine
book by museologist and restoration authority
Cynthia Brandimarte, we have a
fresh glimpse into the homes of late 19th
and early 20th century Texas. What she
has found is that, just as the archaeological
and archival records have demonstrated,
Texans were in touch with a much larger
market and shared consciousness of style
with their cosmopolitan counterparts in
the Northeast. Rather than being collectors
of folk simplicity or Victorian excess
like antique decorators of today, Texan
furnishings were eclectic and current with
trends in the rest of the country.
Photographs have their own biases.
They are seldom shot to document. Rather,
they commemorate, enhance, or even
sometimes distort the "true" scene. Nonetheless,
they are an excellent tool for historians,
as Brandimarte ably demonstrates.
Interior photographs of houses, as she relates,
are exceedingly rare. Dim interiors
were difficult to photograph with the technology
of this emergent technique in the
late 19th century. In her exhaustive search
in archives and personal collections, she
found only one in 400 or 500 photographs
that showed house interiors.
What she presents in this book is an
excellent overview of what she found during
her search. After an introduction that
discusses style and sensibility in Texas
during the period, she divides her presentation
of interiors into chapters that focus on
specific themes. Occupation, family, ethnicity,
social group, region, class, style, and
architects and decorators are only a few of
the slices that she makes of Texas interiors.
This book will serve as the source book
for interior restoration and historical interpretation
of Texas houses. Where it may
not be specific enough for a local project, it
serves as an example of the right approach
34 HERITAGE * SPRING 1992
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 10, Number 2, Spring 1992, periodical, Spring 1992; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45420/m1/34/: accessed March 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.