You are on page 1of 5


Students read a short story about the bodyrelated rituals of a cultural group called the Nacirema (American spelled backward). Students write their own short stories about rituals of the Nacirema using the same literary de ice as the original story! and they discuss cultural awareness! assumptions! and world iew.


NCY " N#SS* +! ,! -! .! / " NS'S* 0 " N%S* 1

" "
#ultural awareness and assumptions $orld iew

" " " "
Social studies %eography &anguage arts 'n ironmental studies


(andout Body Ritual Among the Nacirema! by (orace 2iner! + copy per student

3ead the short story Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.


(ow does our cultural world iew influence and inform our perception of people from other cultures) " (ow can we be aware of and change our assumptions) " (ow can we benefit from understanding our own cultural world iew and how it affects our relationships with other cultures)

(a e students brainstorm a list of what we know about a specific cultural group! focusing on cultural practices. (#hoose a cultural group that is in the news today or one that the students will ha e some knowledge of.) , (a e the class read aloud the short story Body Ritual Among the Nacirema. (4o not tell them that it is a fictional account.) After reading the first few paragraphs! stop and ask students if they are familiar with the cultural group described in the article. Ask those who are familiar to not re eal what they know about the Nacirema until the class has finished reading. After reading! ask how many students now know who the Nacirema are. $hat made it hard to identify who they are) (ow does 2inor5s description of the Nacirema affect our ability to identify them) $hat are the techni6ues 2inor uses to describe the Nacirema) ((e uses a distincti ely anthropological form of obser ation and writing called ethnography. 7t is as if he is from another

Students will*


I !"#$%& and $'()'' a specific cultural group described in an anthropological study. " W*$#! their own anthropological study on the same cultural group. " D$'()'' cultural world iew and how it informs different cultural perception and understanding of each other.

planet and is merely reporting what he obser es without the benefit of any understanding of the culture he describes.)

about others! and how can we a oid this)


" (a e students research and write about a particular practice or ritual from their own cultural background and present it to the class.

8rainstorm other rituals of the Nacirema that might seem odd to someone from another culture or e en from another planet. (0or e9ample! playing a particular sport! preparing and eating food! watching :;! shopping! going to a party! sitting in a classroom! et cetera.) , (a e the students write a paragraph or two describing another ritual of the Nacirema! either from the brainstorm list or one they think of on their own! using the same techni6ues 2inor uses in his story. (a e students read their paragraphs to the class and ha e the class identify the ritual described.


(a e the class write a play based on their paragraphs about the Nacirema and perform it to other classes. " Students can research a particular culture focusing on the practices that might seem odd to someone from

<se the following 6uestions and prompts to lead a class discussion about the acti ity* +. $ere you surprised when you figured out who the Nacirema were) '9plain why or why not. ,. (ow does Body Ritual Among the Nacirema help us understand our own iew of other cultures and how we are iewed by other cultures) -. $hy do some of the practices and rituals of other cultures seem odd or foreign to us) (ow do our own cultural norms affect our understanding and perception of other cultures)

another culture and e9ploring how assumptions dri e our iews and beliefs about that culture.

$hat assumptions do we make about other cultures) $hat are some e9amples of practices in other cultures that we find odd and hard to understand) (0or e9ample! arranged marriages! eating and preparing unusual foods! ritual body piercing! rites of passage.) , %o back to the brainstorm list created earlier about a specific cultural group. $hat are the listed assumptions based on) (ow does our own cultural world iew affect how we percei e this specific group) $hat techni6ues can we use to notice when we are making assumptions


Revised from Body Ritual Among the Nacirema by Horace Miner, American Anthropologist Magazine 58(3), 1956, pp. 5037

he ritual of the Nacirema was first brought to the attention of anthropologists twenty years ago! but the culture of this people is still ery poorly understood. :hey are a North American group li ing in the territory between the #anadian #ree! the =a6ui and :arahumara of 2e9ico! and the #arib and Arawak of the Antilles. &ittle is known of their origin! although tradition states that they came from the east. Nacirema culture is characteri>ed by a highly de eloped market economy! which has e ol ed in a rich natural habitat. $hile much of the people5s time is de oted to economic pursuits! a considerable portion of their day is spent in ritual acti ity. :he focus of this acti ity is the human body! the appearance and health of which appear as a ma?or concern in the people5s belief. $hile such a concern is certainly not unusual! its ceremonial aspects and associated philosophy are uni6ue. :he main belief underlying this ritual acti ity appears to be that the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency is to weakness and disease. #apti e in such a body! man5s only hope to a ert these characteristics is through the use of ritual and ceremony. ' ery household has one or more shrines de oted to this purpose. :he more powerful indi iduals in the society ha e se eral shrines in their houses and! in fact! the grandeur of a house is often referred to in terms of the number of such ritual centers it possesses. :he focal point of the shrine is a bo9 or chest! which is built into the wall. 7n this chest are kept the many charms and magical potions without which no nati e belie es he or she could li e. :hese preparations are obtained from a ariety of speciali>ed practitioners. :he most powerful of these are the medicine men! whose help must be rewarded with large gifts. (owe er! the medicine men do not pro ide the potions for their clients! but decide what the ingredients should be and then write them down in an ancient and secret language. :his writing is understood only by the medicine men and by the herbalists who! for another gift! pro ide the re6uired charm. 8eneath the charm-bo9 is a small font. 'ach day e ery member of the family enters the shrine room! bows his or her head before the charm-bo9! mingles different sorts of holy water in the font! and proceeds with a brief rite of cleansing. :he holy waters are secured from the $ater :emple of the community! where the priests conduct elaborate ceremonies to make the li6uid ritually pure. :he medicine men ha e an imposing temple! or latipso! in e ery community of any si>e. :he more elaborate ceremonies re6uired to treat ery sick patients can only be performed at this temple.

:hese ceremonies in ol e not only the miracleworker! but also a group of assistants who mo e 6uietly about the temple chambers in distincti e costume and headdress. :he latipso ceremonies are so harsh that a fair proportion of the really sick nati es who enter the temple ne er reco er. 4espite this fact! sick adults are not only willing! but eager to undergo the long and drawn-out ritual purification! if they can afford to do so. No matter how ill or how gra e the emergency! the guardians of many temples will not admit a client if he or she cannot offer a rich gift. :he Nacirema ha e an unrealistic horror of and fascination with the mouth! the condition of which is belie ed to ha e a supernatural influence on all social relationships. $ere it not for the rituals of the mouth! they belie e that their teeth would fall out! their gums bleed! their ?aws shrink! and their friends desert them. :hey also belie e that there is a strong relationship between oral and moral characteristics. 0or e9ample! there is a ritual cleansing of the mouth for children! which is supposed to impro e their moral character. :he daily body ritual includes a mouth-rite. :his rite in ol es a practice which strikes the unfamiliar stranger as re olting. 7t was reported to me that the ritual consists of inserting a small bundle of hog hairs into the mouth! along with certain magical pastes! and then mo ing the bundle in a highly formali>ed series of gestures. 7n addition to the pri ate mouth-rite! the people seek out a holy-mouth-man once or twice a year. :hese practitioners ha e an impressi e set of tools! consisting of a ariety of augers! awls! probes! and prods. :he use of these items in remo ing the e ils of the mouth in ol es almost unbelie able ritual torture of the client. :he holymouth-man opens the client5s mouth and! using the abo e-mentioned tools! enlarges any holes which decay may ha e created in the teeth. 2agical materials are put into these holes. 7f 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. 7n the Nacirema5s iew! the purpose of these religious functions is to arrest decay and to draw friends. @ur re iew of the ritual life of the Nacirema has certainly shown them to be a magic-ridden people. 7t is hard to understand how they ha e managed to e9ist so long under the burdens which they ha e imposed upon themsel es.