Table of Contents
In “Body Ritual among the Nacirema”, the author tells about the North-American group of people who came from the east and who, according to their mythology, originate from their culture hero Notgnihsaw, known for his great feats of strength.
Although the culture of Nacirema is characterized by highly developed economic, the greater part of it is devoted to unique rituals. The distinctive feature of these rituals resides in the fact that the focal point of ritual activity is human body, the appearance and health of which serve as the most prioritized concern of Nacirema ethos. The reason of such concentration on the human body is explained by the belief that it is ugly and naturally tends to disease and debilitation, and the only way to avert these characteristics is to perform magical powerful body-related rituals. Every single house has a special shrine devoted to these rituals. The focal point of the shrine is the box which keeps lots of charms and potions, created by the demand of family by the special prestigious ceremonial people, which include medicine men who decide what ingredients to use and write them down for the herbalist in a specific language, known only to them. Below the medicine men in prestige are specialists called holy-mouth-men whose duty is to perform mouth-oriented rituals. The mouth is believed to supernaturally influence all the social relationships of the people of Nacirema, and its condition directly affects the quality of these relationships. The daily ritual performed by all the people includes a special mouth-rite, performed by putting the small bundle of hog hair with magical powders into the mouth and moving it in a special way.
Despite daily rituals, once or twice a year, people seek for the holy-mouth-man who performs the ritual of soul purification in a way that may be considered sadistic. With an impressive set of paraphernalia, holy-mouth-man opens the mouth of the patient, enlarges any holes created by the decay and puts magical substances inside. If no holes are spotted, then large sections of one or more teeth are removed in order to apply the magical substance.
Author describes gender-related rituals performed individually for men and women. Men’s daily rite includes scrapping and lacerating their face with a sharp instrument. Women perform their ritual only four times during each lunar month, but the increased interval is compensated by the cruelty. Women bake their heads in a small oven for an hour, as part of the ritual.
Despite necessary regular rituals, there is a set of rituals for very sick people, performed by the medicine men in a special temple called latipso. According to the author, these rituals are extremely cruel, and it is phenomenal that a tiny part of sick people entering the temple ever recover from it.
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Body Ritual among the Nacirema: Reaction Essay
Body-related rituals performed among the people of Nacirema may strike you by their barbarity and cruelty. Nevertheless, the basis of their belief system has a logical explanation. Human body suffers from the diseases, and its weakness inevitably leads to death; thus, it is natural to believe that performing special rituals on the weak shell they are incarcerated in may let them avoid the negative consequences of this incarceration, even though these rituals can lead to death. However the cruelty of the rituals and the desire of people to perform them repeatedly, regardless of how painful and injuring they may be, makes me think of a masochistic coloring of these rituals and the sadistic nature of prestigious holy-men performing these rituals.
The belief system appears to be deeply engraved on the mind of the Nacirema people. The need for body-related rituals created a special layer of prestigious people, each with their own set of privileges and functions. The model of this society in general appears to be equivalent to the modern society of developed countries in terms of basic characteristics; nevertheless, in detail, it differs from it in a bizarre way. Nacirema people tend to hide their bodies and all the processes related to them so as people in the developed countries do, despite the fact that Nacirema people hide because of the idea of body ugliness. The daily mouth ritual seems to be equivalent to the tooth cleaning procedure in developed societies, although the reasons of the actions differ. Philosophically, the idea that mouth directly influences the quality of social relationships is logical, what we say affects us and our surrounding; still, the approaches used to keep the mouth healthy are still brutal and involve magic due to the lack of substantial knowledge.
The holy-mouth-men appear to be the dentists of this society, but again, the belief lying beneath the existence of such privileged people is different. The presence of the special witch-doctor called listener in the latipso temple, who does nothing but listens to the patients and investigates the reasons of their problems, looks similar to a psychologist.
Any civilization in the very beginning of its development had specific belief system explaining the ongoing processes around. Although the presence of belief in magic and unique, extreme body rituals are unacceptable to the developed civilization, they serve as the first step of the process of acquaintance with the surrounding world.