Worldwide, coastal communities' ethnomedicinal knowledge has been sporadically recorded and poorly understood. Based on the ethnomedicinal knowledge of the Seri people; a hunting-gathering and fishing society of Northwestern Mexico, this study assesses a) the biological richness of Seri ethnomedicinal knowledge, b) the fidelity level of Seri remedies, and c) the association between gender, age, years of formal schooling and Seri ethnomedicinal knowledge.
To assess the degree of ethnomedicinal knowledge proficiency, we conducted 75 open-ended semi-structured interviews collecting information on ethnomedicinal knowledge of marine and terrestrial organisms and the socio-demographic profile of each collaborator. With the support of primary collaborators, we collected the materials to be used as stimuli along our interviews. A correlation analysis was used to determine the relationship between gender, literacy and age with the ethnomedicinal knowledge proficiency. A paired t-test was used to determine differences in the number of remedies known by gender among members of the Seri community.
A total of 28 medicinal specimens were presented as stimuli material. Marine remedies (12 species), were represented by 4 algae, 3 mollusks, 3 echinoderms, on reptile, and one annelid. Terrestrial plants (13 species) were distributed in 12 families. About 40 % of marine preparations used the organism in whole. In contrast, 29 % of of the remedies involving plants made use of leafy branches. Stimuli materials are used against 17 ailments mainly, being diarrhea, colds, menstrual problems, and swelling the ailments against most organisms (44 %) are used for. Marine organisms presented higher fidelity level values overall, suggesting that lower fidelity levels in terrestrial plants reflect a process of continuous and ongoing experimentation with easily accessible biological materials. Highest fidelity level values were recorded for Atriplex barclayana (93.87 %) Batis maritima (84.37 %), and Turbo fluctuosus (84.21 %). Age moderately correlates to ethnomedicinal knowledge proficiency (r = 0.41). Conversely, years of formal schooling show a negative correlation with ethnomedicinal knowledge proficiency (r = -0.49). Significant differences (p <0.05) were observed on ethnomedicinal knowledge proficiency when gender groups were compared under a paired t-test.
This research contributes to describing the complex biodiversity present in the ethnomedicinal systems of coastal non-agricultural societies. In addition, our research improves our understanding of the role that gender plays in the intra-cultural distribution of ethnomedicinal knowledge among Seri. Our results broaden our understanding of human adaptations to coastal and xeric environments. This research can potentially benefit the development of proposals to improve coastal and marine resource management and conservation while strengthening ethnomedicinal knowledge systems in populations, such as the Seri, limited by precarious socio-economic conditions and inadequate health services.