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Body Ritual among the Nacirema Descriptive Essay

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Updated: Dec 27th, 2018

The concepts of culture, cultural relativism, ethnocentrism, and qualitative research methodology are essential components in the study of sociology. Culture is generally the way of life of any social group. This sociological perspective touches on the ways social groups think, ways they act and parameters that shapes their ways of life. According to Edward B. Tylor, culture entails morals, customs, beliefs, knowledge, symbols, and other habits that one is able to acquire as a member of a given society.

Cultural relativism as a concept believes that the cultural practices of a person are relative to his/her own social affiliation. Anthropologists believe that no cultural practice is superior to the other as per its own circumstance. For that matter, no moral belief is considered wrong or right and does not supersede any other belief of a different social group. On the other hand, ethnocentrism is a sociological concept where a person views the entire world with reference to his/her social group.

Here, one believes that his/her ethnic group is more important than other cultural groups in the world and measurement of one’s culture is done relative to his/her own ethnic group. Lastly, qualitative research methodology is a field research method that aims at bringing out the understanding of concepts of social life. The whole concept tries to answer questions of ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘what’ of any aspect.

For instance, the research by Professor Linton is qualitative in the aspect that it tries to unearth the cultural practices and belief system of the Nacirema people. This essay analyzes the concepts of culture, cultural relativism, ethnocentrism, and qualitative research methodology from a sociological point of view in light to the body rituals among the Nacirema. In addition, the essay will focus on the qualitative research methodology as used by Professor Linton in acquiring the beliefs and practices of the Nacirema people.

Horace Miner’s article, “Body Ritual among the Nacirema”, reveals the rituals, habits and beliefs of the people of Nacirema. It discloses the whole life experience of man in that society. They believed that Notgnihsaw founded the nation. Notably, they practiced the culture of economic pursuits and mostly used the produces in ritual activities.

The ritual activities centered on the human body that they believed was ugly hence individuals were to prevent the features through the influence of rituals and ceremony. Nacirema devoted shrines to assist in this process. So significant was the shrines that all families had to own one or two in their houses. On the shrine’s wall, Nacirema built a box where they kept charms that protected their lives.

Nacirema had medicine men that were extremely powerful hence highly respected. The medicine men were given extensive gifts for prescribing curative potions to sick people. Notably, even the poor had to give gifts to the wealthy medicine men since the community believed and respected their culture. Sociologically, they argued that such actions were right and all members of the society had to adhere to them irrespective of their economic status.

Nacirema believed that used charms were not to be disposed, but had to be placed in the charm box. These magical potions could spill over to the floor. Each family member had to enter the shrine room, bow his/her head before the charm box and proceed to mingle different forms of holy water to perform rites of ablution. The priests had the role of purifying the water.

Clearly, members of the Nacirema community practiced these rites since they believed that their culture was the best in the whole world. Then there was the “holy-mouth men” who were second in command to the medicine men. These people were conducting mouth pathology in a horrified way. For instance, they used prods and awls to gouge out a client’s teeth in order to create a hole for inserting magical materials.

The purpose of this activity was to arrest teeth decay, build strong relationship with friends and lovers, and improve moral fiber among children. A holy-mouth man jabs an awl into the nerves of the jawbone. Even though this practice was extremely crude, cruel and did not meet its objective of preventing teeth decay, individuals continued to seek out the activities of a holy-mouth man at least once in a year. There is also the private mouth rite where magical powders and bundles of smog hairs are inserted into the mouth.

In the context of cultural relativism, there is no judgment that the culture of the Nacirema was bad since they continued to practice it amid the horrific encounters in the process. The whole process inflicts pain into the jawbones and cannot be condoned in the present society. For example, some African communities that practices female circumcision have come under pressure from the international community and local governments to stop the process.

Additionally, there is the temple where medicine men perform ceremonies like treating the sick. According to Professor Linton, the ceremony is always harsh such that rarely do extremely sick patients come out alive. However, sick adults continue to undergo the protracted ritual purification.

Sadly, temple guardians cannot admit a client before giving a rich gift no matter the level of illness. Out rightly, these acts show lack of moral values for the sick people. They compare properties to life of human beings. This cultural practice is quite unethical. Markedly, the sick were stripped off all their clothes and forced to perform natural functions into a sacred vessel. The medicine men could manipulate, scrutinize, and prod naked bodies of sick females.

Nevertheless, they continued to practice it in order to enhance societal unity and even believed that it was superior to other cultures in the world. The societal members were ethnocentric, as they did not reject attempts by maidens to strip them naked and allow medicine men to manipulate their bodies. Nacirema also believed that mothers could put curses on their children and only ‘listeners’ could conduct rituals to exorcise the devils.

Moreover, women with large breasts could move from village to village to make money by allowing natives to view them. The culture of the Nacirema reveals the ethnocentric nature of the community. They had persevered the harsh, painful, and crude practices with the aim of fulfilling their societal demands. In their context, these practices were not termed evil since truth is never objective.

The research methodology that Professor Linton used to collect the cultural practices of the Nacirema is qualitative given that it tried to answer questions on why and how the community behaved the way they did. It disclosed the Nacirema’s belief systems, experiences, and perspectives from the historical point of view.

The whole concept helped anthropologists to understand how and why the Nacirema were behaving the way, they did. For instance, the research exposed why the Nacirema paid due attention to ritual activities albeit the fruits of their economic engagements. In essence, communities hold their cultures irrespective of the consequences that they undergo due to the ethnocentric nature and cultural relativism in the entire world.

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"Body Ritual among the Nacirema." IvyPanda, 27 Dec. 2018, ivypanda.com/essays/body-ritual-among-the-nacirema-2/.

1. IvyPanda. "Body Ritual among the Nacirema." December 27, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/body-ritual-among-the-nacirema-2/.


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IvyPanda. 2018. "Body Ritual among the Nacirema." December 27, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/body-ritual-among-the-nacirema-2/.


IvyPanda. (2018) 'Body Ritual among the Nacirema'. 27 December.

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