Janice Boekhoff


The Nacirema Tribe

In June of 1956, Horace Miner, an anthropologist, published a paper in the journal American Anthropologist about a North American tribe with strange rituals. This tribe, called the Nacirema, used horse hair brushes in their mouths, scraped their faces with sharp ritualized instruments, and visited holy mouth-men in the hopes of drawing people to them. The Nacirema believe the body is ugly and through these daily rituals they can bring satisfaction and beauty.

Shortly, after writing the essay, Miner exposed it as a satire on the American culture (Nacirema is American spelled backward). The examples given in his essay above are of brushing teeth, shaving and visiting the dentist. While most of these rituals are not considered obsessive in our culture, merely hygienic, his point was to make us examine our relationship with our bodies.

Miner’s essay seems even more relevant today. Our obsession with beauty and perfection (at least perfection as we see it) often leads to a lifetime of self-hate. Perhaps we should heed Miner’s warning and not take ourselves/our looks/our status too seriously.

Although this might stretch the limit of a hoax because he did it just to make a point and not for money, I thought his ideas were so fun I had to include this here. Why not make up a North American Tribe just for fun? Sounds like something a crazy author like me might do. But seriously, what do we have if we can’t look at ourselves and the strange things we do with humor?


References: http://www.academia.edu/5378614/Body_Ritual_Among_the_Nacirema_Summary, http://prezi.com/wthiqnj5jqty/copy-of-the-nacirema/

Photo Credit: ID 23605419 © John Roman | Dreamstime.com

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