Horace Miner, an anthropologist, wrote an article in 1958 about a North American group called the Nacirema, American spelled backward, and do extensive body rituals taking place in their homes with specific shrines. When Professor Linton introduced the Nacirema culture to anthropologists, many people didn’t understand their beliefs or know where they came from. The Nacirema live in sections of the Canadian Cree, the Yaqui and Tarahumara Mexico, and the Carib and Arawak of the Antilles. Because of their traditions and customs, they represent how beyond human behavior can go.
This article shows how people shouldn’t judge other cultures just because of their differences of what they believe in or their way of life.
The culture is described as a high market economy but is mostly focus on ritual activities of health appearance and the human body itself. They believe that the human body is ugly and it tends to catch illnesses. To avoid the ugly and weak features of the natural body, they go through rituals and ceremonies.
Due to their beliefs, everyone owns at least one or two shrines in their house and the rich and powerful have multiple shrines and hold many ritual centers. The number of shrines is a symbol of status to them. The rituals are private and are usually discussed and reveal secrets to children. A box or chest that keeps charms and magical potions is the main treasure to them in which they cannot live without. The most important people who specialize and assistance in the rituals medicine men decide on what someone can take writes it down in a confidential and old language that only they can understand, and are then given rewards.
The charm is then stored in the overflowing box where people forget its purpose but still keep them because they believe that it protects them. Every family member then mixes the box with holy water from the Water Temple every day. “Holy-mouth-men”, a group of magical practitioners, are in charge of aiding the Nacirema mouth, who has an obsession and fascination with the mouth and is believed to have a hidden impact on their social lives. Not to mention the belief of how it holds a relationship between oral and moral qualities.
A mouth-rite, a practice that a bundle of hog hairs is implanted in their mouths along with magical powers and moves the bundle around, is performed on a daily in the body ritual. They also meet a holy-mouth-man once or twice a year, in and he exorcizes a person’s mouth with paraphernalia objects, attracting friends but causing a torturous pain and teeth decaying. However, some parts of the body rituals are done by men and some done by women. For instance, in the daily ritual men scrape their faces with a sharp tool. Women, though, have to bake their heads in small ovens for about an hour four times a month. The latipso, an imposing temple that the medicine men own, only perform ceremonies for people who are extremely ill and are attended and helped by vestal maidens who wear headdresses and unique costumes. Unfortunately, young children are sent to the latipso to die due to the not completed indoctrination.
Nevertheless, the Nacirema believe that if they experience it they can survive, but only if they can afford it with an expensive gift. They have to be naked, something they try to avoid doing on a daily basis and can be miserable and painful. The last practitioner, witchdoctors also called the “listeners” has the ability to exorcise demons from people who are bewitched. The Nacirema believe that the parents, specifically the mothers, bewitched their own children during educating them on the secret body rituals. They take care of the people by listening to talking about their lives, mainly about their problems and fears. There are practices in the daily ritual that involve their natural bodies and their functions. For example, fasts that make overweight people make them lose weight and ceremonial feasts for people who are skinny to make them gain more weight; making sex look like a bad thing and are scheduled when they can do it, women hiding their pregnancies and fixing their breasts size.
In conclusion, the Nacirema culture makes its people presented as magical-ridden people. The body rituals of the Nacirema culture shows how different, fascinating, and unique cultures and beliefs can be. And not judging but understanding other cultures with its traditions, customs, and ideas. Including, how people survived and are determined on doing anything for their beliefs and culture.