The Nacirema Vs American People: Body Ritual

When I started reading the Body Ritual Among the Nacirema people, I initially thought they had some interesting rituals. The Nacirema people are found in North America between Canada and Mexico. The first thing that struck me to be familiar with was throwing wampum across Pa To Mac River and chopping down a cherry tree. This reminded me of George Washington. The legend holds that Washington threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River and chopped down a cherry tree. The Nacirema peoples were originated by a cultural hero, Notgnihsaw, which is Washington spelled backward.

As I kept reading the presentation, more and more sounded very familiar to today’s cultures. As stated by Miner, “The focus of this activity is the human body, the appearance, and health of which loom as a dominant concern in the ethos of the people.” The statement reference that the American people are concerned about their health, wellbeing, and appearance.

The article goes on to describe shrines, a charm box, and a small font that is filled with water. Many religions have shrines, for instance, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and more. My earliest thought was that the shrine was a place of worship for healing, the charm box kept the healing medicine, and the font was also used for religious purposes, like blessings.

The more I read the article, I realized that Miner’s article is about the American people’s routines, care for their bodies, like keeping in shape and visiting the doctor for health preventative or problems. The shires that Minor refers to are the bathrooms in our houses. He also refers to the wealthy people who have more shrines than a person on a fixed income. The description he makes about the materials used for the bathroom, from stone to pottery plaques (ceramic tiles), is used to decorate our bathroom walls. Our daily cleaning routines are rituals we do daily, for example, shaving and brushing our teeth, etc. The charm box that Minor refers to in his article are the medicine cabinets that most bathrooms have, and they are the central focus because we look into them every day. The last thing mentioned is the water fonts or sinks.

I enjoyed the unique and humorous way Minor described the American rituals and the descriptions used for doctors, dentists, psychologists, nurses, pharmacists, and hospitals. I especially like the way he talked about the “holy-mouth-men” being obsessed with the mouth. The Nacirema people use a mouth-rite (toothbrush) made of hog hair, placed on the hair is magical powders placed in the mouth and move the mouth-rite in a highly formalized series of gestures or brush strokes.

Not being a fan of the holy-mouth-men, I cringed when I read about the holy-mouth-men tools consisting of augers, awls, probes, and prods. This statement alone makes me not like the holy-mouth-men: “The use of these items in the exorcism of the evils of the mouth involves almost unbelievable ritual torture of the client. First, the holy-mouth-man opens the client’s mouth and, using the tools mentioned earlier, enlarges any holes that decay may have created in the teeth.

The way that Miner describes the American people can be perceived by what foreigners may think of the traditions, culture, and habits of these people. I was 100% convinced that the Nacirema tribe referred to the American people, and I confirmed my beliefs with an article by It came to me that Nacirema is, in fact, America spelled backward. The article continues to make innuendos of the American culture, rituals, and habits.

Works cited

  1. Body Ritual Among the Nacirema. (n.d.).
  2. “Body Ritual among the Nacirema” by Horace Miner
07 July 2022
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