Body Ritual Among the Nacirema Analysis
Miner’s article describes the Nacirema culture as one that pays special attention to economy, wealth, and body-focused rituals performed to keep oneself looking aesthetically pleasing, not unlike our own American culture. Found between Canada and Mexico, the people of the Nacirema tribe perform these rituals to keep death and disease at bay, while also improving the looks and social life of the worshipper. Common practices mentioned in the article include washing themselves with purified water, visiting multiple physicians to improve the state of the mouth and body, and fasting to make oneself appear thinner.
Another interesting ritual is the one where the female’s breasts are either augmented or decreased, scathingly identical to the very same ritual known to occur in America. This entire article is a satire on American culture disguised as a North American tribe. Upon reading the article for a first time, I only caught a few similarities such as the rituals in pure water, the use of charms to fight disease, and the means of having a “listener” to exorcise curses or demons. However, I had more of a religious view on the rituals instead of a cultural one. I originally linked those rites to baptism, crucifix symbols, and a priest at confession.
Only once I read the article a second time could I clearly observe the parallels between America and the Nacirema description. Miner’s article is clever and witty to portray American culture with the lack of a “true” observation in order to portray how ethnocentrism can affect one’s judgement of another culture. The Nacirema are slightly scrutinized for being believers in these magic rituals regardless of whether they make a difference in the life of the patient or not. In particular, the practice of visiting the holy-mouth-man or dentist is associated with better social interaction with peers.
The article points out how crazy it is to return to the dentist or doctor at a latipso, or hospital, after enduring an unbearable amount of pain. The latipso are described as places where extensive ceremonies are performed and are often torturous and unsuccessful, yet this does not stop the people from believing in the powers of the medicine man. This mocks the American lifestyle of being dependent on the commercial medicine system. The practitioners, otherwise portrayed as witch-doctors, are actually the doctors, dentists, and psychiatrists of American society.
They are described as those who will help cure the people only after obtaining hefty rewards or gifts. The mouth-men are even further characterized as sadistic to be able to jab into the mouths of other people. Even the example of the listener pokes fun at the psychiatrist or therapist of American society in saying that they do not perform actual procedures in order to cure their patients. What made me realize draw the correlation between the Nacirema and American society was mention of “ritual fasts” and “hypermammary development. Diets are used to make people thinner or larger while other things are done to augment a woman’s breasts for the sake of making her more appealing, therefore improving her quality of life. The section of the article on looks was a perfect match to that of America today. This article makes American culture look exotic and strange when disguising a developed society as one which believes magic and rituals. It makes one stop and think because the parallels drawn exhibit exactly how strange a culture looks from a different perspective and how one must not judge another culture by believing theirs is the ultimate, highest, or the best.