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The Nacirema

An excerpt from Horace Miner's Body Ritual Among the Nacirema American Anthropologist 58!" #une
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Nacirema culture is characteri'ed (y a highly de)eloped mar*et economy +hich has e)ol)ed in a rich natural
ha(itat, -hile much of the people's time is de)oted to economic pursuits" a large part of the fruits of these
la(ors and a considera(le portion of the day are spent in ritual acti)ity, .he focus of this acti)ity is the human
(ody" the appearance and health of +hich loom as a dominant concern in the ethos of the people, -hile such
a concern is certainly not unusual" its ceremonial aspects and associated philosophy are uni/ue,


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.he fundamental (elief underlying the +hole system appears to (e that the human (ody is ugly and that its
natural tendency is to de(ility and disease, 0ncarcerated in such a (ody" man's only hope is to a)ert these
characteristics through the use of ritual and ceremony, 1)ery household has one or more shrines de)oted to
this purpose, .he more po+erful indi)iduals in the society ha)e se)eral shrines in their houses and" in fact"
the opulence of a house is often referred to in terms of the num(er of such ritual centers it possesses, Most
houses are of +attle and dau( construction" (ut the shrine rooms of the more +ealthy are +alled +ith stone,
2oorer families imitate the rich (y applying pottery pla/ues to their shrine +alls
.he focal point of the shrine is a (ox or chest +hich is (uilt into the +all, 0n this chest are *ept the many
charms and magical potions +ithout +hich no nati)e (elie)es he could li)e, .hese preparations are secured
from a )ariety of speciali'ed practitioners, .he most po+erful of these are the medicine men" +hose assistance
must (e re+arded +ith su(stantial gifts, Ho+e)er" the medicine men do not pro)ide the curati)e potions for
their clients" (ut decide +hat the ingredients should (e and then +rite them do+n in an ancient and secret
language, .his +riting is understood only (y the medicine men and (y the her(alists +ho" for another gift"
pro)ide the re/uired charm,
Beneath the charm3(ox is a small font, 1ach day e)ery mem(er of the family" in succession" enters the shrine
room" (o+s his head (efore the charm3(ox" mingles different sorts of holy +ater in the font" and proceeds +ith
a (rief rite of a(lution,.he holy +aters are secured from the -ater .emple of the community" +here the priests
conduct ela(orate ceremonies to ma*e the li/uid ritually pure,
.he daily (ody ritual performed (y e)eryone includes a mouth3rite, 4espite the fact that these people are so
punctilious a(out care of the mouth" this rite in)ol)es a practice +hich stri*es the uninitiated stranger as
re)olting, 0t +as reported to me that the ritual consists of inserting a small (undle of hog hairs into the mouth"
along +ith certain magical po+ders" and then mo)ing the (undle in a highly formali'ed series of gestures,