The Disturbing Customs and Rituals of the Nacirema

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If Miner’s piece is considered literally, the vivid images created by his writing seem to give way to quite an unsettling way of life lived by the Nacirema. Their behaviors towards magical materials and intense, callous rituals seem to portray them as religious and desperate to be ‘exorcised’ and free from all evil. Their blind faith towards these rituals is quite unusual in that they keep on following them despite several evidences proving that they rarely have any impact. The example mentioned in this regard is the continued decay of teeth despite the holy-mouth-man’s efforts with all his magical materials, which highlights the significance of tradition. It is almost as if these rituals are a shield; a shield to protect themselves from misfortunes and enable them to survive. Not to mention, the brutality with which Miner describes the rites suggests that the tribe engages in these seemingly excruciating activities with a high tolerance for pain and immense courage. This further seems to amplify their faith in these processes. 

However, while Miner’s research talks about a new tribe called, Nacirema, in actuality, it seems that he may be talking about Americans during the 1950s, as American spelled backwards is – Nacirema. He seems to describe the American civilization during the primitive times from an outsider’s perspective to imply that foreign cultures from afar may seem quite unusual but in reality, are quite normal if the historical backgrounds are considered. Hence, if this piece is scrutinized and analysed figuratively, the behaviors of the people will not seem as unnatural and cruel as it does in the beginning. The mouth-rite is actually the simple process of brushing teeth, the scraping and lacerating part of the body ritual is the act of shaving and the daily body ritual includes washing, bathing etc. In today’s time, the holy-mouth-man is known as the dentist, the herbalist as the pharmacist and the medicine man as the doctor. Considering the time this piece was set in, technology was not that advanced and hence, gouging out parts of teeth seemed to be the only way to prevent teeth decay, explaining all the ‘rituals’ quite simply.

He lays still in his cold, hard bed, not moving for hours, not making a single sound. Hours pass by and deafening silence slowly conquers. In the other room, lurked a green-eyed monster howling for his precious pearls. That cry reaches him at dusk and he is forced to drag his feet towards the monster. He grabs the box from the top of the tall, navy sky and shakes it violently onto the ground. The pearls keep crashing. One after the other. The monster pierces him with his sharp glare and his marble teeth. As soon as he returns the box, the creature butchers the pearls until they disappear and he returns to his magical pillow. If a stranger was watching me with no background knowledge, this routine may seem unusual in the way that my cat does not have a scheduled time to eat yet.

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