In 1956 Horace Miner wrote Body Ritual Among the Nacirema and shared it with the Anthropology community. It had such an impact that it is still used today as a teaching tool in Cultural Anthropology classes.
Miner observed the Nacirema body rituals and described them to the reader. He told us that the main belief underlying these rituals was "that the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency is to debility and disease." The purpose of the rituals then is to delay or conceal these characteristics. Every domicile has at least one shrine, although these days two is becoming more and more common, devoted to this purpose. Because of the belief in the body's ugliness, the rituals aren't done as a family, but rather as personal ceremonies that are "private and secret."
The main portion of the shrine is a box that is hung onto the wall, or a cubby built into the wall. Inside of the box are a number of charms and potions, many of which have been in there for years. On occasion the people forget why they put them in there and fear reusing them, while at the same time fearing discarding the magical brews in case the bad spirits return in the form of horrible ailments. Under the box is a small font that is used by each family member daily. Each person goes into the room and bows their head before the charm-box and mingles different sorts of holy waters in the font. After this a small "rite of ablution" is performed. The holy waters that are used in this rite are considered tainted and are securely stored in the Water Temple where priests purify them once more.
The Nacirema are generally not able to create their own potions and charms, not having the necessary knowledge of herbs or the training. Instead they go to the medicine men in their villages for this purpose. The Nacirema will travel great distances to locate the right medicine man with the greatest skill at driving out the bad spirits. The medicine men do not always create the charms themselves, most often they decide what is needed and write the ingredients down in an ancient and secret language that only the local herbalist will understand. It is the herbalists who then provides the charm to the villager.
The Nacirema have a love hate relationship with their mouths. The condition of their mouth seems to have a direct influence on their social relationships. They believe that if they do not perform their mouth rituals daily "their teeth would fall out, their gums bleed, their jaws shrink, their friends desert them and their lovers reject them." There is also a belief that there is a link between "oral and moral characteristics", that if you do not perform these simple rituals for your mouth then how could your soul be pure either? To drive this moral behavior into their members, the Nacirema teach their children a ritual ablution for the mouth so that it will be ingrained in them as adults.
Despite the fact that every member of the Nacirema with "good moral standing" performs a mouth ritual as a part of their daily body ritual, the rite involves a practice which is considered revolting to outsiders. "A small bundle of hog hairs is inserted into the mouth, along with certain magical powders", and then is moved around in a series of intricate movements. In addition to performing this rite, the people "seek out a holy-mouth-man" who uses augers, awls, probes and prods to exorcise evils out of the mouth.
There are many other rituals and practices of the Nacirema
described in the article
, I highly recommend you read it and so I won't tell all of the details here. The point of the article is to abolish the sense of "I'm from a more civilized culture" that most students experience when observing another culture. It really hits home as well as entertains. Bindlenix
pointed out to me that it "also illustrates the ability to put personal interpretation
on what is supposed to be an objective observation
". This would then hopefully make the observer
less likely to judge portions of the culture
that their own culture might view as wrong, such as female circumcision
Body Ritual Among the Nacirema, http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~marton/Nacirema.html