‘Body Ritual among the Nacirema’ is an article by Horace Miner that generally focuses on how different body attitudes of different persons have different impacts on the societal institution. His core objective in this article is to show the reader how other cultures may view the American culture from outside. He begins by showing us where the Nacirema is located. “It is between the Canadian Cree, the Yaqui and Tarahumare of Mexico” (Miner, 1956). This is the exact location where America is located; between Mexico and Canada. He mainly focuses his attention on how the individuals of Nacirema conduct themselves and more particularly their culture. To him, individuals of Nacirema are committed to economic pursuit but still a portion of their day is spent on ritual activities; the activities of the body, appearances, and body health (Miner, 1956).
Rituals and ceremonies are the only ways through which individuals in Nacirema can avert some of the underlying beliefs of the fact that the human bodies are ugly and have a prone to diseases (Miner, 1956). Each household owns a shrine where the individual members hold their rituals secretly. For the rich, the walls of such shrines are made of stones, and the poor try to imitate the rich by applying pottery on these walls. In addition, there are boxes in these shrines where portions and magical charms are stored. Most of the things in these boxes and shrines are understood by the medicine men, and the herbalist who have special knowledge about them (Miner, 1956).
In Nacirema society, some rituals are performed on a daily basis, and such rituals are the mouth-rites. Individuals insert certain hog with hair into their mouth with some magical powder on it. Moreover, Nacirema individuals do seek a holy mouth-man twice a year for extraction of teeth or repair. Miner goes on to describe the activity of holy-mouth-man as torturous and despite this, individuals of Nacirema still consult him for his services. He further shows how the sick attend temples where ceremonies are conducted by the medicine men (Miner, 1956).
In Nacirema, there are also some other bodily rituals performed mostly by women to enlarge their breasts if small, and to make them smaller incase they are large. In addition, there are ritual feast to make thin individuals fat and the fat individuals thin. Women in Nacirema also do conduct visits to different villages, and let the natives observe them at a fee. This is the core reason for these women enlarging their breasts or making them smaller to have a good shape for better appearance (Miner, 1956).
Culture and Cultural Relativism
Miner describes the Nacirema culture as the one characterized by a developed economic market. He goes on to further describe all the behaviors in Nacirema culture ranging from how the different families here share family shrines to be able to maintain the state of their bodies, how different individuals also put hogs in their mouth on daily basis to be able to protect their teeth, how they bow to a box with water, how Nacirema women are seen baking their heads in ovens, and how sick people perform rituals and not forgetting the fat opposing their bodies (Miner, 1956). It is from this that he concludes that Nacirema people are ‘magic-ridden’.
His work shows the fact that we can base any given culture from rituals such that it is the culture that defines the behaviors acceptable in a given society and that authorities are chosen by the rituals undertaken. Rituals, therefore, help the members of the society to have knowledge concerning the society they thrive in. Different scholars have outlined that rituals involve beliefs shared, roles, and ones loyalty to his or her society. This is what binds people together since they are performed on a regular basis and repeated over time to become a part of their life. They also support societal social order and roles. They enhance the enforcement of societal values hence resulting in solidarity amongst members of the society. Therefore, there are certain rituals that make up the American society.
In the article, Miner also critically analyzes Nacirema society in terms of their beliefs, rituals, magic, and ceremonies. This makes us realize there is an association of a supernatural or some religious elements these people believe in. Later on, Miner brings about the issue of holy water and how individuals in Nacirema use the holy water from water temples of the community. Priests who conduct some ceremonies to achieve this (Miner, 1956), ritually purify the water. Beliefs, customs, and even ethics are relative to individuals in their own social context, and they are viewed as important by individuals based on their cultures. Certain acts are wrong to some individuals but not to others. Some scholars even go on to argue that there are no specific standards of morality that exist all over the world, and all cultures are equally important and have a similar value. The American culture is therefore dear to the American citizens.
Ethnocentrism and Qualitative Research Methodology
In the article, Miner comes out as an ethnocentric individual for he is judging the American culture from the behaviors he outlined in his article just as an outside person. He tends to explain these behaviors as if they only exist in the American society and nowhere else in the world. It is from this that other societies are rated. He shows how American individuals are proud of these behaviors and how much they value them. A research by Miner to gather knowledge regarding Nacirema society proves to be a qualitative research. Qualitative researches are used to explain the behaviors of individual persons. Miner attained his goal by elaborating on the behaviors of the American citizens.
Miner, H. (1956). “Body Rituals among the Nacirema”. American Anthropologist 58:3.