The Hypothetical Case of the Nacirema Essay

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The Nacirema occupy a broad and diverse geographic zone between Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Their highly developed market economy belies, or perhaps informs, the evolution of elaborate body rituals. The body rituals of the Nacirema are diverse and usually gendered. The underlying assumptions of the Nacirema body rituals are that the human form in its natural, unadulterated or unadorned state, is inherently profane, impure, and aesthetically unpleasing. Therefore, the Nacirema set up shrines in their home. The shrines contain magical serums, lotions, and potions with mysterious properties. Wealthy Nacirema may have several shrines, elaborately designed, and many set aside special shrines for individual members of the family. Less well-to-do Nacirema may have only one body ritual shrine in the home, shared among all family members. Nacirema also have public body ritual shrines located in important areas of social or political importance, including the places in the hubs of their elaborate market economy.

Children are gradually introduced to the Nacirema body rituals. However, there are a few rites of passage that determine when children can perform major body rituals on their own and without assistance from their parents. Body rituals are gendered. Although men and women usually perform different body rituals, there are several body rituals that are universal and transcend social class status or gender in the Nacirema society.
For example, the mouth-rite is one of the central Nacirema body rituals: “The daily body ritual performed by everyone includes a mouth-rite,” (para. 10). Each member of the household, including children who are old enough to do so on their own, perform the mouth-rite. In fact, the Nacirema have specialized oral priests the American Anthropological Association (1956) refers to as “holy mouth men,” (para. 9). Visits to the holy mouth men take place several times a year or more, if special petitions to preserve the sanctity of the mouth are required.

According to the American Anthropological Association (1956), there are two main types of mouth rites: the private mouth rites that take place in the home and the mouth rites that only take place in the presence of the holy mouth men. It is presumed that in some Nacirema villages or communities, women can also perform the holy mouth rituals as high priestesses of the mouth cult. Therefore, there are holy mouth women and holy mouth men. Gender is not a factor in determining….....

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American Anthropological Association (1956). Body ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist 58(3).

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