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Jonathan Roldan – BAJA BEAT

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018
No bad questions?


You’re invited! Spanish food on the menu!
A couple of columns back, I had written about some history I found in an old book detailing the issues the Spanish had in colonizing the area around La Paz where we live. Getting the especially belligerent tribes to submit took more than a century longer than other areas of Baja.

In that particular report, I had written how the tribesman had “gifted” the Spanish loaves of papaya bread. It was nothing like your Aunt Mary gives you for Christmas.


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The papaya bread was made from crushed papaya seeds AFTER the tribes had eaten the seeds; digested them; gathered up the droppings; THEN baked them up for the conquistadores and padres. Initially the naïve colonists accepted and ate them with glee.


Well… then, the masters found out! Gag! Choke! Spit!


Remember those Cub Scout cupcake sales as a kid? Ex-laxing those confections?


Well… Whether it was a genuine gift or simply the Indians pranking the Spaniards we’ll never know. The Europeans’ taste buds and culinary sensibilities were not amused in the slightest. They retaliated with violence against those dastardly locals. Complete buzz kill.


Recently, I again found myself pouring over some old Baja books in my collection. One was a copy of the book written by my venerable predecessor at Western Outdoor News, Ray Cannon. You never know when a gem might pop up.


His 1966 book published by Sunset entitled “The Sea of Cortez” is required reading for any Baja aficionado. If you can get your hands on a copy, it’s what Genesis is to the Bible for Baja fans.


Just looking at the black and white photos will give you a sense of what Baja was before it was really discovered. Indeed, many a Baja fan got their fires first kindled reading Ray Cannon’s book as well as his historic columns in Western Outdoor News.


Regretfully, I ashamedly have never read the entire edition, but I keep it handy in my library and it’s one of those books I pull down from time to time and always find a treasure.


Like my previous article, food comes into focus. But, in a different way this time.


One of Ray’s chapters is about the Midriff Islands appropriately located about half-way down the Sea of Cortez. It’s the narrowest part of the Sea and “Midriff” somewhat describes how the ocean is pinched like a woman’s waist in that area. The Midriff Islands somewhat form irregular stepping stones be­tween the Baja Peninsula and the mainland of Mexico.


On the far eastern edge lies the large island of Tiburon aka “Shark Island.” It sounds like the name of another reality show. It’s the largest island in the Sea of Cortez and encapsulates about 450 square miles.


Cannon described his earliest visit to the island, then inhabited by the nomadic Seri Indians. They put to shore in a small skiff off their larger vessel. Cannon remembers as they neared shore, about a dozen fierce men and women ran out to meet them. They were brandishing “deadly looking shark spears.” Ray and his companions quickly reversed course and paddled back.


It was later he was told by his Mexican crew why they did not want to accompany Cannon to visit the island.


Apparently, people had been disappearing on mysterious “Shark Island” for centuries. And “not just into thin air” as Cannon recounted. They dis­appeared into the soup pot. Or staked to the barbecue.


This included sailors, explorers, gold miners and others. Never heard from again although bits of pieces of people had been recovered over the years.


The Seri Indians never admitted it. Who me? Nah! Must be some other guys. Would never do that! Never saw the gringos you’re looking for.


But… The Spanish explorers had kept logs of it. Dating back to the Spanish days, shipwrecked sailors had washed up and found refuge on Tiburon’s rocky shores.


The forlorn sailors were grateful to be taken in kindly by the Seri inhabitants. They were treated and fed well. Like one of the family. They got fat and sassy. Living the dream on an island!


Until it came time for the big fiesta and finding out the Seri tribespeople were really into Spanish food. In fact, Spanish dishes were the main course.


Over the years, more mysterious “disappearances” fed the stories.


History reports that up until the late ’50s the Mexican government allowed the Seri to remain on Tiburon Island. By this time, the tribe, once estimated as large as 5,000, had been reduced to a handful by the usual culprits. Most notably, they fell victim to European disease.


The government had one caveat. No more cannibalism. Change your diet! Find a different source of protein.


Then some Mexican fishermen went missing.


This caused the government to ship the whole tribe of several hundred to the Mainland.


Today, the Tiburon Island is operated as a wildlife refuge and very few Seri remain where they are known for artistic basket weaving and those dark ironwood sculptures.


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