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“Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” by Horace Miner (1956) is an ethnological account of the Nacirema, a tribe located in North America. According to Miner, the Nacirema culture presents a highly developed market economy but with the main focus on ritual activity which focuses on the human body and its appearance of health. The Nacirema believe the body to be ugly and detestable and seek to avoid its uncleanliness through ritual and ceremony.
The houses of the Nacirema culture according to Miner have shrines devoted to this purpose, which also feature status symbols.
Ceremonies are performed privately and are seldom discussed with the exception of being children that need to be socialized into the ritual. The Nacirema, according to Miner, have “charm-boxes” as the focal point of their shrines which are full of magical materials, distributed at the discretion of medicine men who use a secret old language. All materials are retained in the overflowing charm-boxer, and though the people of the Nacirema sometimes even forget their original purpose they still hang on to the materials, believing that they somehow protect them.
The Nacirema use their shrine daily for the purpose of ablution, with the aid of pure holy water coming from the Water Temple.
The Nacirema also have “holy-mouth-men” which rank below the medicine men in social status. The holy-mouth-men are entrusted with taking care of the mouth, which is an object of obsession for the Nacirema who believe that it has “a supernatural influence on all social relationships”. Miner also says that the Nacirema associate a healthy with moral characteristics.
This is why the children of the Nacirema are brought up on the “mouth-rite”, which Miner describes as inserting into the mouth a bundle of hog hairs along with magical powders and moving it around. The Nacirema also routinely seek the somewhat torturous practice of the mouth-men which exorcise their mouths using elaborate tools and supernatural substances.
The men of the Nacirema perform a daily ritual of scraping their faces with a sharp instrument. Women on the other hand bake their heads in small ovens four times a month.
The medicine men of the Nacirema have imposing temples called latipso in which elaborate ceremonies are being held for seriously seek people, with the help vestal maidens. Miner writes that the Nacirema are eager to undergo ceremonies at the latipso, believing that it would keep them alive. These ceremonies come at a hefty cost of gifts and include being naked in the presence of others, something the Nacirema never do elsewhere.
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