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Body Ritual Among the Nacirema

What is the precise geographical location of this strange tribe, the Nacirema? The Nacirema is a North American group living in the territory between the Canadian Cree, the Yaqui and Tarahumara of Mexico, and the Carib and Arawak of the Antilles. Little is known of their origin, though tradition states that they came from the east. What are the private and secret shrines of the Nacirema? In the Nacirema, the belief is that the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency is to debility and disease. Therefore, every household has one or more shrines devoted to the hope that man’s body will be changed through the powerful influences of ritual and ceremony.

Each family has at least one such shrine; its rituals are not family ceremonies but are private and secret. The rites are normally only discussed with children, and then only when they are being initiated into these mysteries. The focal point of the shrine is a box or chest which is built into the wall. Many charms and magical potions without which no native believes he could live. A variety of specialized practitioners secures these preparations. The most powerful of these are the medicine men, whose assistance must be rewarded with substantial gifts.

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Who are the Nacirema’s holy-mouth-men? In the hierarchy of magical practitioners, and below the medicine men in prestige, are specialists whose designation is best translated as “holy-mouth-men.” The Nacirema have an almost pathological horror and fascination with the mouth, the condition of which is believed to have a supernatural influence on all social relationships. The Nacirema believe if they did not perform such rituals, their teeth would fall out, their gums bleed, their jaws shrink, their friends desert them, and their lovers reject them. Therefore, the Nacirema seek out a holy-mouth-man once or twice a year. The holy-mouth-man opens the client’s mouth and, using various augers, awls, probes, and prods, enlarges any holes that decay may have created in the teeth. Then, magical materials are put into these holes. The rite’s extremely sacred and traditional character is evident in that the natives return to the holy-mouth-men year after year, even though their teeth continue to decay.

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What is latipso used by Nacireman medicine men? The medicine men have an imposing temple, or latipso, in every community of any size. The latipso ceremonies are so harsh that it is phenomenal that a fair proportion of the really sick natives who enter the temple ever recover. Sick adults are not only willing but eager to undergo the protracted ritual purification if they can afford to do so. The daily ceremonies, like the rites of the holy-mouth-men, involve discomfort and torture. With ritual precision, the vestals awaken their miserable charges each dawn and roll them about on their beds of pain while performing ablutions, in the formal movements of which the maidens are highly trained. At other times they insert magic wands in the supplicant’s mouth or force him to eat substances that are supposed to be healing. The fact that these temple ceremonies may not cure, and may even kill the neophyte, in no way decreases the people’s faith in the medicine men.

Who is the witch-doctor “listener” who can cure bewitched people? Their remains on another kind of practitioner, known as a “listener.” This witch doctor has the power to exorcise the devils that lodge in the heads of people who have been bewitched. The Nacirema believe that parents bewitch their own children. The counter-magic of the witch-doctor is unusual in its lack of ritual. The patient tells the “listener” all his troubles and fears, beginning with the earliest difficulties he can remember. Is Miner’s interpretation of Nacirema body rituals ethnocentric? Why or why not? In my opinion, I feel that Horace Miner is ethnocentric. I believe that he is judging the Nacirema’s beliefs and rituals. Most of us see what we do as a culture as being normal. So for other cultures, they all believe in what they are taught. The Nacirema’s body rituals may seem very sadistic, but that is what they believe.

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Body Ritual Among the Nacirema. (2021, Aug 13). Retrieved July 7, 2022, from