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  HOME | Mexico

Shaman Preserves Traditions of Mexico’s Seri Indians

MEXICO CITY – He received his occult, supernatural powers as gifts from the spirits of nature at age 9, and with them has spent a lifetime curing the sick by means of medicinal plants, stones and power chants.

He is Francisco Barnett Astorga, 80, a shaman for members of the Seri ethnicity in the Hermosillo municipality in the northern Mexican state of Sonora, who with his native lore keeps alive the traditions of that isolated community, which has survived as an example of Mexico’s indigenous cultures.

Nicknamed “Chapito” or “Chapo Barnett,” the shaman has been honored by the Mexican government with the National Arts and Sciences Prize awarded by the Culture and Public Education Secretariats.

As Diana Reyes, representative of the Fuego Divina (Divine Fire) civil association that promotes the Seri culture, told EFE: “The Seris possess a vast lore involving spirituality, nature and energy, which has attracted researchers in Mexico as well as from the US and other countries to study its “power chants” that the shaman of this community uses to sing away disease.

“At age 9, Francisco received the gift of happiness and since then he began to sing the praises of nature and use its plants to cure the sick,” said Carlos Ogarrio, spokesman for the 800 members of the Seri people.

The Seris live in a desert region considered “Heritage of Humanity and Reserve of the Biosphere,” some 60 kilometers (37 miles) from a beach known as Punta Chueca on the Gulf of California.

The Seri culture is characterized by a series of ceremonies that include, for example, the ritual of puberty, where girls having their first menstruation are must fast throughout a four-day fiesta, at which “people get together for traditional games, while the older women give their sage advice to the girls on how to live happily with their future husbands and their families.”

In another traditional ceremony the Seris climb a mountain to find “their vision,” and for four days and four nights pray for their “mental state to reach a level where they can feel the energy of nature,” and in that way receive a gift that will transform them into a good fisherman, a good craftsman, a good singer or a good dancer.

Unlike other members of the culture, Francisco Barnett received his gifts by lying down on a rectangle of stones from the desert, where he had a series of visions and was contacted by the spirits of nature.

“Francisco can cure a person with his chants,” Ogarrio said about the gifts of Chapito, who by means of his songs of praise for nature, harmonizes people’s emotional, psychic, mental and spiritual levels.


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