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Body Ritual Among the Nacirema Essay

In Horace Miner’s essay on the tribe of Nacirema, it takes little effort to determine that Nacirema is a depiction of a typical American’s health habits. This essay is important for two reasons: It teaches principles about our own culture and it makes us assess the value/downfall of looking at other cultures with an etic approach. Without a doubt, this essay personalizes the study of cultures and its respective peoples.

Regarding the view of North American people, Miner clearly thinks we live with a level of vanity. We view the “human body [as] ugly” and we use “ritual and ceremony” to avert the unattractive characteristics. It takes extra focus to understand Miner’s terminology. But it becomes clear that he is pontificated on the use of the medical system, including dentists, psychiatrics, and hospitals. As a ritual, we spend extensive time and money on the idealistic notion of being disease-free. It is interesting that from our perspective, we view these efforts as improving the quality of our life. He, as a person looking in on our society, views these efforts as of entire self-interest. It is almost as if he respects more of a communal culture, rather than one of more singularity with some elements of communality. But it definitely makes me think about who is the corrupted one. In the end, he seems impressed by how advanced this particular civilization has become. Without being inside the culture, he appears to have missed how much we rely on each other, and how our cultural teamwork has created the car industry and computer empire—to name only a few.

As hinted in the paragraph above, what this essay demonstrated was the uniqueness of looking at a culture from the outside. Inherently, the scientific approach is taken with upmost respect. It is seen as a view without bias. In bench work, this approach is vital. But when studying societies, too many variables can obfuscate the entire interpretation. Minor sees our rituals as defining our sense of truth. To that, he has a great point. We only have to looking introspectively to see how much work we exert toward the valueless—cars, houses, toys, etc. We sometimes do not put enough time in those of more value—family, friends, spiritually. That is precisely why Minor is so critical. But what Minor misses by not being “in” our society is that he is inherently “blinded.” He cannot deduct the subtleties of the society. For example, those with obnoxious behaviors of greed (e.g., Donald Trump) are often shunned. In the end, it takes balance between the emic and etic views to make more accurate judgment of how “tribes” work.

This essay certainly forced me to reflect on my personal rituals. It made me assess how much effort I make toward personal beauty. But it also made me think that we do these rituals for a purpose—to be healthy and to progenate. Thus, I accept these rituals. But now I do them with the full knowledge that they are cultural norms and my choice of doing them seems much less voluntary.


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