American Culture in Body Rituals Among the Nacirema

In Body Rituals Among the Nacirema, Horace Miner comments on American culture and our medical/cosmetic obsession through a non subjective anthropological lens. He attempts to do so by writing about the “Nacirema” (Americans) using a classical anthropological voice. By writing in this manner, he is criticizing the way we comment and write about other cultures that appear as alien and function differently than ours. He focuses much of the piece on our obsession with oral hygiene and its implications in Nacirema social life.

He then breaks away from oral hygiene to talk about the way American culture values appearance as a whole, before transitioning to our obsession with health and the modern hospital. In all, the piece comes off as less of a commentary on American culture, and more ofjust a satire of classical anthropology. In Shakespeare in the Bush, Laura Bohannan describes her experience living with the Tiv tribe in West Africa. With her, she brings a copy of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

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The majority of the piece is a dialogue between her and the tribes elders, where she attempts to share and explain the classic tale, To her surprise, the cultural barrier between the Western literary world and the beliefs of the Tiv tribe leaves her unable to accurately explain the core themes in the story of Hamlet.

For example, the seemingly rudimentary idea of a ghost did not make sense to the tribe elders. In Tiv culture, it is absolutely absurd to even fathom a dead body alive in the tangible realm, and so to them, the idea was simply incorrect.

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Same went for basically every family relation and action in the story. To the Tiv tribe, basic Western family relations and beliefs did not make sense, rendering Hamlet foolish. Bohannan‘s experience with the Tiv prove the fact that their are no universal cultural norms; however, once the Tiv elders were able to translate the story to fit their societal beliefs. they were able to predict the end, asserting the belief that all humans share the same emotional functionality and motivation. In Steel Axes for Stone-Age Austral/ans, Lauriston Sharp theorizes that the introduction of Dutch steel axes into the Aboriginal Australian trade economy detrimentally affected the basic foundations of Aboriginal culture is drastic ways. it essentially gave a means for women and young men to empower themselves with a tool (the axe) that was formally only owned by men.

In our modern Western culture, the empowerment of women and children is typically a good thing; however, the patriarchal based Aboriginal society reacted very poorly to the introduction of this new empowerment. It essentially destroyed the age hierarchy system along with a very important ”kinship relation” among spouses All three of these articles are connected through a theme of blind cultural judgement, In Body Rituals Among the Nac/rema, Miner imitates a classical anthropological approach to American culture. He satirically alienates the culture and devalues its rituals, creating an image of a society without purpose. This manner of approaching cultural analysis makes it easy for the researcher and for the reader to judge the culture blindly and without insight and reason. In Shakespeare in the Bush, the Tiv tribe elders take on the role of the blind judger. They marked huge themes in Hamlet as simply incorrect, just because they did not make sense under their cultural lens. Finally, in Steel Axes for StoneeAge Australians, the Dutch did not predict the effects an easier obtainable axe would have on the Aboriginal people. Because of their blind cultural judgement, they changed the basic fundamentals of Aboriginal age and gender hierarchy.

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American Culture in Body Rituals Among the Nacirema. (2022, Jul 20). Retrieved from

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