Don Chapito, The Seri Medicine Man

His eyes reflect a mysterious state of consciousness that makes one wonder if these are the eyes of a wise sage or of an innocent child. His body seems agile and elastic, in spite of the fact that it is a body that is around 85 years old (in reality, no one knows exactly what his age is). His presence feels strong, yet at the same time it feels light. These elements are what makes Don Francisco Barnett, better known as Chapo or Chapito, a person who almost inevitably ends up transforming those who come into contact and have the chance to interact with him.

Don Chapito is the medicine man of the Seri People and this is due to the fact that he is the direct heir to a purely preserved lineage that dates centuries back, to the times when the first Seri settlers came to the coast of the Sonoran Desert. He is the one who preserves and guards those centenarian traditions that include sacred chants, profound knowledge on herbalism (healing plants), and other types of natural medicine that not only improve physical health, but also spiritual health.

As we were going through one of our toughest moments during the adventure of AL-01, after having run 40 miles and while facing uphill slopes several miles long, Chapito was there to use his sacred chants to give our worn out bodies a much needed injection of strength and power. The truth is that his vivacious energy was one of the factors that pushed us forward to reach the goal at the Sea by Bahía de Kino.

Don Chapito has intimate access to the rich variety of chants that have been passed on to him by previous generations of Seri elders, and these chants have been used for centuries to honor the surrounding elements that they deem sacred: the Sea, the Wind, the Desert, the Sun, the Moon, among others. Others chants that Chapito routinely uses include words that heal and words that seek to connect those who listen to them with the energy of the Great Creator Spirit.

His role as a guardian of the Seri tradition has taken him on journeys to far away countries in Europe, South and Central America, where he cheerfully shares his luminous chants and music with an interested audience of various nationalities. He also commonly participates in Elder Councils where different indigenous cultures and traditions are represented, his Seri People proudly present through him in such circles. This is a legacy that Don Chapito has passed on to his own sons, most notably Raymundo and Francisco "Pancho" Barnett, and it will be them who eventually continue to preserve the cultural gems of these unique people.

Chapito is an old man with a very young spirit and he was born and raised in Punta Chueca, one of the two main Seri communities on the coast of Sonora, in the northwest of Mexico. As a young man, he was a boxer, a fisherman and he eventually moved on to occupations that have more to do with feeding the spirit. He is an utterly fascinating person, one whom we hope you have the fortunate opportunity to meet some day.

Post written by Manuel Morato.

Photos by Daniel Almazán Klinckwort.

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