The paper “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” is about extreme rituals people hold in Nacirema. It brings out the idea that what the community does is only meant to improve the looks which are essentially unnecessary. This society is obsessed with the preservation and maintenance of their bodies through many rituals carried out in private or by the assistance of a knowledgeable personality. They focus much on appearance rather than any other cultural activity. The purpose of writing the article was to show how extreme human behavior can become and how an outside perception affects the observation of alien culture (Marten 1997, p. 49). Nacirema’s culture without the insight knowledge of specific beliefs and values seem bizarre and incomprehensible. It is eminent that without proper understanding of any society, great cultural misunderstanding tends to occur.
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From anthropologist outlook, it becomes interesting and intriguing to highlight a cultural analysis of primitive society and provide a biased viewpoint on a different culture (Clifford 1998, p. 34). It is visible that rituals occur in privacy of the “shrines.” The human body and natural functions are veiled and only unveiled to witch doctors and medicine men. The society allows medicine men and “holy-mouth-men” to carry out excoriating practices on them in order to prevent inevitable decay of mouths and body. Although Miner does not use the word America, it is from the content and the examples used that reflect American society. Actually the word Nacirema when reversed would mean American. The writer uses events that are trivial and those that happen in every day lives of American society. For example, he talks about “rituals” and that the society tends to spend so much time to get ready in the morning.
Miner highlights that Nacirema only does things to pretend but only care about their looks. This is true because American people have large cabinets full of medication for treatment but never use most of them. People are afraid of sickness and that is why a lot of medicine is stored in the cabins. He writes “Still other rites are used to make women’s breasts large if they are small, and smaller if they are large” (Miner 1956, p. 10). In the society at the moment people concentrate in plastic surgery and this is an example of “people concentrating so much on their looks.” When reading about Nacirema, one cannot help but think how odd the community’s rituals are when in fact they practice the same rituals as explained by Miner.
Sociological standpoint on culture is that culture is based on rituals and it defines its reality by choosing authorities and acceptable behavior through rituals (Mitchell 2010, p. 67). The rituals enable the society to discover knowledge because the rituals are the authority and those who follow it are said to know the truth as the society defines it (Pierre & Loic 1992, p. 50). According to sociologists, rituals are what community does on a regular basis. It is what holds the society together. In Nacirema, ceremonies performed at the Latipo are the weirdest practices of the society. One cannot understand why people willingly go to temples where so many of them die.
Like hospital with the medicine men being doctors, American people consider hospitals a place of healing. Vestal maidens in Latipo represent nurses who care for the sick. To an outsider, hospitals may be a place of death but from within American civilization, hospitals cure the sick. From human perspective, it is natural to consider own culture best and from this point of view we are able to see a negative aspect of Nacirema culture. The practices of this community seem strange when in fact we are members of Nacirema. The writer was demonstrating people’s ethnocentric ideologies by writing about Nacirema when indeed he meant America. From the time a person is young, they learn norms of their society which they use to judge other social groups.
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