Tuesday, June 12, 2012

5 Words Describing the Nacirema, Assignment 1 Part A and B

The Nacerima people are disillusioned in some of their beliefs, though that is not to say that their beliefs are wrong.  I simply say disillusioned due to their yearly mouth ritual where they go to the holy-mouth-man.  He’ll take out the decaying bits of tooth and fill them with magic substances, and if no decay is found then he puts holes in healthy teeth.  This is all in the hope to stop decay from occurring, and yet it still occurs, and the people still believe that he helps them and their mouths.  If it weren’t for the drilling holes in healthy teeth, then perhaps I would simply say slightly misguided.
They do not partake in daily rituals with other people but rather spend time in the shrine on their own with no one around them.  They also only perform bodily functions such as excretions in that room with no one around to witness in any way, not that our culture is any more open on this front.  They also don’t share their body with people, and they are even very confined when it comes to intercourse, having to schedule times to perform the act and limiting it to certain times of the month so as to avoid pregnancy.
Many of their sacred rites involve hurting the body in some way.  Even the holy men inflict pain and do so with sadist qualities.  Each and every day the people of this culture perform daily body rituals.  For the men this “includes scraping and lacerating the surface of the face with a sharp instrument.”    The author goes on to describe the less frequent women’s rituals as far more barbaric as they “bake their heads in small ovens for about an hour.”
The Nacirema go through daily rituals, as well as weekly, monthly, and yearly rituals because it is a part of their religion.  They believe whole heartedly that the magical concoctions will be able to help them with whatever ails them and that the medicine men will be able to make them better.  They are very intent on passing on their beliefs to their young ones and they go out of their way to mak,e sure that they can give it the reverence it deserves.  For example, the poor people try their hardest to make their shrines imitate those of the rich, something made of stone that is sturdy and able to withstand anything, even if their house is little more than a tiny hut.
The Nacirema people can be seen as being extremely hopeful, especially when looking at their practice of going to the temple for healing.  As the children put it the temple is where people go to die.  While there you are naked, which to them with their private culture this is a very vulnerable state to be in, lying on a bed in pain from the ablutions.  The ablutions can range from the rites from the holy-mouth-men to insertion of magic wands or needles.  “The fact that these temple ceremonies may not cure, and may even kill the neophyte, in no way decreases the people’s faith in the medicine men.”  No matter what they stay hopeful that they may be cured by the medicine-man.

Part B
1.  Well as an American I feel pretty bad to be honest. I was looking at this culture so harshly and basically laughed off their what I was viewing as silly rituals. It's pretty sad to look at but at the same time i can see the connections now, how we treat our bathrooms and our hospitals. I know it is totally hindsight bias but it's pretty clear now. Even living with my girlfriend we never spend our "rituals" together usually i go do my stuff privately before she does then we shoot off to work.

2.  Well a lot of my words were picked after my own  cultural bias, mentioning that they were disillusioned about how they put such blind faith was pretty much looking at myself how I would never put a "magical substance" into my healthy teeth. I was raised in a very open household so the privacy is not something I am to familiar  with so it was pretty foreign to see how we ourselves act. i suppose the only thing I said that was not bias would be devout because well they are and take so much pride in their bathroom shines.

3.  I suppose the only word that could become unbiased would be masochistic could be changed to committed.

4. Well obviously bias is bad in regards to any form of study. It  can easily corrupt what ever findings you have. If we can get past the bias we can actually look at the culture for what is it not what it is compared to us and begin to understand who we really are and who they really are as a people and what similarities and differences our cultures have rather that whats their culture lacks that our stunning example of a culture has.  An anthropologist is a professional at what they do so possibly they could remove some of their bias towards the culture and just open their mind to their research.  


  1. I appreciate your honesty in your first paragraph of Part B. Kind of a shock, isn't it?

    You focused on "masochistic" but there was also bias in your choice of "disillusioned", which is casting judgements on their beliefs. It is that issue of judgement anthropologists try to avoid, as we judge based upon our own experiences, which introduces the bias into the judgement. "Private" and "Devout" are fairly good. "Hopeful" has perhaps a positive bias? :-) Is that as dangerous as a negative bias?

    Your attempt to replace "masochistic" was interesting, as it highlighted your choice to focus on the painful nature of their practices. That choice in itself showed bias as different cultures have different attitudes toward different types of pain and discomfort and the reasons to endure them.

    Very good post. Interesting to read.

    1. With the initial response to the assignment I can say I really could not argue with the words you chose. Reflecting back to the reading I found myself picking up words that the author introduced i.e., masochistic and agreeing with the word. By this assignment it is teaching us as anthropoligists to step away from selected words also. I appreciated your choice of the word devout made me think about an aspect I did not consider. Very reflective assignment. Thanks