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Body Ritual Among the Nacirema Essay

This article written by, Horace Miner, was my first read in where I was shocked to discover such barbaric rituals from other areas of life. I took the time to re-read this article several times. I have learned of many different cultures in where people do things that seem out of the ordinary; however the beliefs and practices of the Nacirema people just seem outlandish. According to, Professor Linton, who brought the ritual of the Nacirema to the attention of anthropologists twenty years ago, claims the culture of these people are very poorly understood (Miner, n.d.). Miner proceeds to give many representations in which the Naciremas people have beliefs and rituals in which they perform on their body. He describes these customs and beliefs as being exotic, magical and extreme. When I first read into this article; as any other Americans, I would assume they would have the same sort of reaction as I first did. After re-reading I am convinced that Miner was indeed writing a satire.

My first indication of this was the name Nacirema. When this word is looked at several times its apparent it is simply American spelt backwards. After realizing the true meaning of the name; I reread the article with keeping the American culture in mind. When Minor describes the Nacirema mythology, he notes that the nation was originated by a culture hero, named Notgnihsaw. He proceeds to tell us how this man was responsible for two great feats of strength-the throwing of a piece of wampum across the river Pa-To-Mac and the chopping down of a cherry tree in which the Spirit of Truth resided (Miner, n.d.). Clearly, we are discussing George Washington. I feel as if Miner is leading his audience to believe that the Nacirema hold Notgnihaw as a hero for simply being an honest person. All Americans are taught from early on that George Washington is indeed a hero; not just because he was an honest person but because he was one of our Forefathers, as well as our first president. Another example of Miner work that leads me to believe he is in fact describing Americans is how he describes the Nacirema people and their use of a “shrine”.

The Nacirema people believe that their bodies are ugly and that its natural tendency is to debility and disease (Miner, n.d.). They use a “box or chest”which is built into the wall and filled with magical potions which are given by specialized practitioners. My first outlook on this is definitely viewing Americans and how we indeed are concerned with our bodies. Miner describes a “bathroom” as a shrine in which other cultures would view it as a place to worship ourselves. We have doctors whom issue a variety of medicines that are supposedly healing us of age, weight, depression and or other diseases. Cultural relativism is completely evident here within this article. To use the “shrine” as an example; other cultures do not look at medicine in a way which American culture does. We have doctors whom use scientific methods and use synthetic medications in order to heal. Amish culture believes everything should be on natural healing. Native Americans have a medicine man which believed in a combination of herbs and rituals that would heal the sick. It’s quite apparent that Miner is using his writing to show that cultures from all over could definitely look at the American culture and view us as barbaric for several things; such as the use of our medicines and doctors! In conclusion to this article; I am still unsure how I feel about Miners writing. At first, I felt offended as if maybe he was making fun of Americans.

However, in his defense our culture does and can be seen as extreme. With the cultures and the multitude of people and their beliefs we all are viewed as different, weird even. I find myself often disgusted by cultures and the things in which they believe. If I look at this from a different aspect; I can open my mind to understanding that we are all taught different things from early on. This is where our tradition and beliefs are formed. We can’t change what we are taught; we can only grow with knowledge throughout life. Towards the end of this article Miner discusses the Nacermia people and their use of a practitioner that is responsible for exorcism; known as the “listener”. Obviously we are referring to the “psychiatrist”. I studied several different cultures and the use of what is considered as a “listener”; and learned it is not as strange to others. Clearly, it’s a used belief all over; but looked at and named something different. There are a few things in which I had difficulty understanding within this writing such as where Miner states that mothers place a curse upon their child. My only understanding is possibly he is using the fact that mothers have such a huge influential impact upon a child; it can be seen as a curse. After reading this;

I can use sociological imagination andplace myself outside of the American culture and look in. We as Americans do take extreme measures to change the appearance of our bodies to make it look better. We use procedures as pulling hair off our face; and go even as far as using a laser to completely burn the hair follicle where it never returns. American people conduct drastic procedures such as putting toxic chemicals in their hair which could possibly be fatal; if miss handled. I feel as if the American people can be viewed as prideful people. We use our appearance as a high standard in society. We work alongside doctors to incorporate differences that we can make to feel better, look better or seem better. Other cultures could definitely see this as extreme. Our bodies are the highest symbol of our pride; as Miner I feel is trying to state. Americans have a tendency to place more pride in themselves than their accomplishments. Miner’s drastic and sarcastic satire writing is an amusing way for him to get his point across. It shows that the American culture is just as exotic as the cultures in which they criticize. Americans are quick to judge other cultures for their actions and beliefs, but many fail to take a step back and see the many downfalls our own culture has! References

Miner, Horance. (n.d.) Body Ritual among the Nacirema. Retrieved from
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1525/aa.1956.58.3.02a00080/pdf


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