New book explores the traditional knowledge of a coastal people

The sea is the lifeblood of the Seri people—it is a bond unbroken, forged through a long history of dependence on its very rich resources. My own tie was formed early, as our small whitewashed adobe house was only steps away from a constantly changing and limitless seashore world, where waves deposited a remarkable supply of ocean treasures at the high tide line.

-From the preface by Cathy Moser Marlett

(July 2014) Shells on a Desert Shore, a remarkable new book by SIL’s Cathy Moser Marlett, combines detailed studies of the landscape and wildlife with intimate portraits of the Seri culture. One of the last hunter-gatherer groups in North America, the Seris (also known by their autonym, Comcaac), have resided along Mexico’s Sonoran coast for many centuries.

While the language continues to be actively spoken within the community, changes in access to land and other factors have led to lifestyle changes, leaving traditional knowledge at risk of being lost. Shells on a Desert Shore: Mollusks in the Seri World documents that knowledge for the benefit of the Seri community and for outsiders who value the world’s traditional cultures. The book was published in June by the University of Arizona Press.

Marlett brings a unique perspective to the project—raised in a Seri village by linguist parents Ed and Mary Beck Moser, she spent her childhood exploring the desert and seashore landscape of the Sonoran coast, learning about plants and sea creatures along with the other children from the village of Desemboque. Her fascination with the beauty of nature led her to study art, biology and scientific illustration.

Cathy Moser Marlett and her husband, Dr. Stephen Marlett, a linguist, continue to be involved in language development and research with the Seri community. In 2010 they completed a trilingual Seri-Spanish-English dictionary, a project begun by the Mosers which reflects more than fifty years of research. Cathy Moser Marlett has provided illustrations for local literacy materials.

Shells on a Desert Shore: Mollusks in the Seri World can be purchased from University of Arizona Press.

Related links