Body Ritual Among the Nacirema
Sandra Bullard November 27, 2011 Body Ritual Among the Nacirema Dr. Chan Body Ritual Among the Nacirema The Nacirema 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. According to the Nacirema mythology, their nation was originated by a culture hero, Notgnihsaw, who otherwise known for two great fears of strength- the throwing of a piece of wampum across the river Pa-To-Mac and the choppin down of a cherry tree in which the Spirit of Truth resided.
The focus of the Nacirema culture is the activity of the human body, appearance and the health of which loom as a dominant concern in the culture of the people. The belief underlying the whole system appears to be that the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency is to debility and disease. In the hierarchy of magical practitioners in the Nacirema culture, second in the lineup are the holy-mouth-men.
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The Nacirema have a pathological horror of and fascination with the mouth, the condition of which is believed dto have a supernatural influence on all social relationships.
If it weren’t for the rituals of the mouth, they believe that their teeth would fall out, their gums bleed, their jaws shrink, their friends desert them, and their lovers would reject them. People seek out a holy-mouth-man once or twice a year. Holy-mouth-men have an impressive set of paraphernalia, consisting of a variety of augers, awls, probes, and prods. The use of these objects are for the exorcism of the evils of the mouth. The holy-mouth-man opens the client’s mouth and, using the above tools, enlarges any holes which decay may have created in the teeth.
If there are no naturally occurring holes in the teeth, large sections of one or more teeth are gouged out so that the supernatural substance can be applied. In the client’s view, the purpose of these ministrations is to arrest decay and to draw friends. The natives return to the holy-mouth-men year after year in order to keep sacred and traditional character of the rite. The medicine-men of the Nacirema community have an imposing temple, also called latipso. The latipso is a very elaborate ceremony that is required to treat very sick patients only.
These ceremonies are so harsh that it is amazing that the sick natives who enter the temple ever recover. When the supplicant first enters the temple, they are first stripped of all off his or her clothes. In every-day life the Nacirema avoid exposure of his body and its natural functions. Once in the latipso, the body secrecy is lost and the man finds himself naked and assisted by a vestal maiden in which he then performs his natural functions into a secret vessel.
These procedures are necessitated by the fact that the excreta are used by a diviner to ascertain the course and nature of the client’s sickness. Female clients who enter the lapitso, find their naked bodies are subjected to the scrutiny, manipulation and prodding of the medicine men. One way that these people address wealth is with shrines. Every household has one or more shrines. The most powerful individuals in society have several shrines in their houses. The shrine rooms of the more wealthy are walled with stone.
Poorer families imitate the rich by applying pottery plaques to their shrine walls. Another way I think wealth is defined in their community is the gifts that are given to guardians of temples. The lapitso’s guardian for example, will not admit a client if he cannot give a rich gift to the custodian. And once a client is admitted, they must be able to give the custodian another rich gift before being let out. Cultural relativism is demonstrated by Horace Miner and his capability of understanding and gaining trust of the individual’s culture.
The individuals of the Nacirema community opened up to Miner and let him see their sacred and traditional rituals. It was his willingness and openness that let the Nacirema community to trust him. It’s hard for me not to display ethnocentrism towards their community and rituals because it’s completely different from what I have learned and grown up with. None of their rituals that they perform make any sense to me. For example, the women putting their heads in the oven and letting them bake for an hour is hard for me to understand and conceptualize.
So, it’s hard for me to say that I think that they’re strange, because that’s their culture and that’s the only think they have ever known. When I put it in perspective and think about their opinions on our culture, they wouldn’t know why we do the things we do within our community. It is very interesting to read about people who once lived in North America and maybe still do live in North America that perform these types of ritual.