In this paper I discuss what point Horace Miner was trying to make is his paper titled “Body Ritual among the Nacirema”. Horace’s paper is about America but in the perspective that America is a tribe of third world country or such. I go through the individual topics, which mostly make fun of American’s vanity, and I describe what he is really talking about. I try to summaries Horace’s paper and put it in “American” terms.
Nacirema: The American Tribe
Here in America we view ourselves as one of the most, if not the most, advanced societies in the world. Most of us feel that we are just the best, but if you really look at a lot of the aspects of our society in the eyes that Horace Miner provides in his paper “Body Ritual among the Nacirema” you may begin to think otherwise. In Horace’s paper he shows the reader how the United States of America could be viewed from the perspective of a more advance, or more developed country. You could think of it as what aliens might view us. I guess you could even say a that an underdeveloped country would view us in this way too, but by the tone it seems that its meant to be a view of America by someone that views America how Americans see other cultures such as an African tribe or third world country or cultures of that sort. The main topics he covers are on the vanity of Americans, but he also covers doctors, dentist, therapists, hospitals, and a few others things.
Horace starts out by discussing the Nacirema shrine. The shrine is where the Nacirema worship themselves. This is obviously a bathroom. Since this is poking fun at Americans vanity, wherever people focus their time on cleaning and grooming and pampering themselves would be their shrine. How many shrines you have, and how nice your shrine is, is determined by how much money you have. Every Nacireman at least has one though. The Nacireman’s think the body is ugly and disease and dies if they don’t take care of it so performing these “ceremonies” are important and dire to survival and acceptance.
Now two parts of the shrine that are most important are this charm box or chest that is built into the wall, and the font that is under this charm box/chest. We know these things as a medicine cabinet and the sink that is underneath. Our water supposedly comes from some magical water temple where a priest makes it pure with ceremonies, which as we know our water is provided by our local water company who cleanse and treats it to make it full of chemical or pure by American standards.
Now in this charm box I mentioned before are tons of charms and potions and things, which Nacirema believe they can’t live without, and they have so many that they don’t even know what all of them are for anymore. Well since the charm box is a medicine cabinet then we can safely assume that these charms are medicines, specifically prescription medicine. We know they are prescription medicines because they get them from the medicine men. Medicine men are just simply doctors. We must pay our doctors to get medicine and their services. In the paper he describes this as giving the medicine men gifts. In real life I hear all the time that you cannot read doctors writing especially on prescriptions and its comical that Horace writes that they write in a secret language that only the pharmacist can read, well, the herbalist as he puts it.
As I said before he also writes about dentist and therapist, or what he calls “the holy-mouth-men” and “the listeners”. Since oral hygiene is something that is crucial in the Nacirema the holy-mouth-men are very important. Their ceremony described sound like a scene from the movie “Saw” but in all reality it is nothing more than getting a cavity filled. When he talks about the therepist he talks about how they expel the demons from your head but in reality they help get rid of your bad thoughts. The way he puts it though it makes it seem like they just listen and that’s it, that they serve no real purpose.
Horace then goes on to describe several other things that ill describe briefly. He calls hospital, “Latipso”, and he talks about how crazy it is that the Nacireman even their people there because how horrible the care is. He makes some decent points but for the most part is just more crazy tribal exaggeration. He writes again how the Nacirema just basically hate their bodies, and if their fat then they don’t eat and eat a bunch if they are skinny. He talks about boobs how they are either too big or too small and how girls get implants. He also says that some girls with implants show them off to make a good living, a.k.a strippers. Then the last topic he talks about is sex and how were not supposed to talk about it and we try to prevent it but conception is still high (I mean that’s totally true.weve all seen teen mom).
“It is hard to understand how they have managed to exist so long under the burdens which they have imposed upon themselves. But even such exotic customs as these take on real meaning when they are viewed with the insight provided by Malinowski when he wrote “Looking from far and above, from our high places of safety in the developed civilization, it is easy to see all the crudity and irrelevance of magic. But without its power and guidance early man could not have mastered his practical difficulties as he has done, nor could man have advanced to the higher stages of civilization.””(Miner) This part of the paper is what the whole paper is making fun of. This piece of satire is how americans view other cultures. We often say the same, that it a surprise that they’ve made it this far. I think America has made a little too complex in some aspect and parts of our life’s are burdens. Our lives here in America are not perfect and our customs defenatly aren’t either, so to judge another culture that is at least mildly surviving is wrong. We cannot sit back and judge cultures that use “magic” because as the quote says, it is from these cultures that Americans came from.
Miner, H. (1956, June). “Body Ritual among the Nacirema” Retrieved from https://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/miner.html#anchor876436