It is a bit difficult to write about Horace Miner’s The Body Ritual among the Nacirema, without detailing what occurs in the text. Normally, in an anthropology text, this should not be the problem, but in fact it is, and just reading the text you can understand.The text addresses how we relate to cultures that are different from ours and how our gaze is directed towards aspects that seemingly can be judged as magical, irrational and even grotesque.
They are a North American group living in the territory between the Canadian Cree, the Yaqui and Tarahumare of Mexico, and the Carib and Arawak of the Antilles. Little is known of their origin, although tradition states that they came from the east….According to Horace Minner “Ritual Body among the Nacirema” philosophically addresses the lifestyle of this North American group obsessed with magic and with unusual beliefs. According to him, care for health and appearance is a hallmark of the culture of this people, to care for their bodies Nacirema perform rituals and ceremonies with masochistic tendencies.
Horace describes the ceremonial aspects of this tribe, according to him much of the day of these people is occupied by magical rituals. In all the houses there is a sanctuary, in it there are a great number of magical potions and spells, that are obtained by professionals of the area. In this space secret and private rituals are practiced. Daily family members perform a brief rite of ablution in the sacred waters found in such space. In the daily ritual of the body, men scratch and lacerate their own faces. Women bake their heads in ovens for an average of thirty minutes.
The anthropologist also describes the care with the mouth, which is a constant concern for this society. To prevent rotting teeth and attract friends, members are subjected to torture rituals annually. The “sacred-mouthmen” – experts in the field – use tools such as drills, probes, and needles. With them they widen any holes in your teeth and deposit magical materials in the.
It is also important to note that the author cites the latipsoh. When they get sick, the natives look for this place where extremely violent ceremonies are held in exchange for rich gifts to the janitor. But strange as it may seem, adults wait anxiously for such ritual purification; which leaves even more visible to the masochistic tendency of the group.
Horace Minner (1912 – 1993) was a respected American anthropologist with a PhD from the University of Chicago. Author of books such as “Culture and Agriculture”, “City in Modern Africa”, among others.When reading the text, a modern man may find the culture of the Nacirema disgusting or crazy. But I do not agree with the position of the actor, which he is describing are American customs, in other words. The sanctuaries are the restrooms, the “sacred-mouthmen” are dentists and the latipsoh the hospital. The Nacirema are, in fact, the Americans. And if all the practices of bodily rites – so weird – are our own practices
The key to understanding the text is to invert the words. Just as American is the opposite, we have Notgnihsaw – Washington; latipsoh is hospital. The rites described and the magical substances are the ones we use in the bathroom and in the hospitals. The rites of daily care of the body, the way people have relationships or how women stop are our ways …
One of the aspects explored is the idea that in some cultures there are actions and procedures that can be recognized as the fruit of science and technical development, whereas in other communities decisions about how to deal with the body are completely devoid of common sense and purpose. However, much of what is present in the text is the question of the other’s gaze and how we do not know how to relate to the differences and peculiarities of each society – including our own.
The belief that things are as they are and that we simply must accept the inevitability of our beliefs is in some ways contrary to the reasonableness with which we believe to treat our own existence and our decisions about how we relate to our bodies. However, the irony of the text is precisely to show how we are more contradictory, incoherent and naive than we imagine.
Observing a society as if we were not part of it can make it full of “rituals” related to the human body. They are practices that present a very usual aspect to those who coadulate it in a routine. Which, however, for outsiders looking at from the top seem extreme attitudes, one has wondered how far human behavior can go.
The way the author makes it very clear that most of these everyday rituals of a people show us an air of extremism and at the same time an approximation and similarity in such practices that makes us reflect on our whole behavioral routine.
The author makes it very clear that most of these rituals are sustained and based on the search for a healthier and more beautiful body. And to achieve such a goal population shows masochistic tendency as the example described by the author of the act of sebarbear in the case of men. And as good examples of this well-defined masochistic tendency are people who spend hours and hours in a bodybuilding academy and others who undergo plastic surgeries.
We conclude that our daily bodily attitudes leave us so obsessed that we do not perceive the rudeness and irrelevance of the relentless search for a beautiful and healthy body.