If you’ve already read “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” by Horace Minor, then I assure you, you have an opinion about the matter. Let’s have the other’s give it a try shall we? Before reading my breakdown of the two cultures, make sure you read the article featured on the msu.edu website.
Who are the Nacirema?
The Nacirema-the term-is a wordplay on “American”. The Nacirema are not “a group living in the territory between the Canadian Cree, the Yaqui and Tarahumare of Mexico, and the Carib and Arawak of the Antilles". Rather, they are North Americans living in a much simpler time.
How did the Nacirema and other group's benefit from their use of magic?
If we regard the Nacirema as patients, then we see them receive assistance from medicine men (doctors), who then write them a list of secret ingredients in ancient script (prescription). This writing (prescription) is understood by the herbalists (pharmacist) who provide the required magical charm (drugs). The unused charms (drugs) are placed in the charm box (medicine chest) for a later use. The presence of these magical charms (drugs) will in some way protect the worshiper (maybe prevent a headache since the aspirin is located in the chest).
The Nacirema also see a “holy-mouth-man”, a dentist, to perform an exorcism of the evils of the mouth. In the event of an evil in the tooth or hole (cavity), magical materials are applied to the hole.
Efforts are also made to prevent conception by using magical materials (condoms).
How could Miner's article on the Nacirema reduce a reader's ethnocentrism toward less developed societies?
Customs or actions that appear improper or offensive to us may be adaptations to particular environmental and social conditions. Cultural patterns in Western society parallel the Nacirema, in that, appearance and a healthy figure is highly regarded and attractive. Why is there a parallel? The cultural group being described is Western Society, and, and we are one in the same. The difference is, Minor has chosen to scramble simple words like “Notgnihsaw “ to represent a cultural hero, when it actuality the name represents “Washington” . One of our North American heroes.
Another excerpt that made me smile states that the "human body is ugly and it has a natural tendency for disease. Incarcerated in such a body, man's only hope is to avert these characteristics through the use of ritual and ceremony. Every household has one or more shrines devoted to this purpose”. The use of “ritual and ceremony” refers to cleansing and exercise, and “shrines” I believe, refers to a bathing room. Non-western society may use different terms to describe these acts, however these activities are performed, or at least the words elude to a parallel process, exactly the same in Western society.
The mouth rite ritual pertains to brushing one’s teeth and the Nacirema use “hog hairs” and a powder (tooth brush and toothpaste) to cleanse the mouth. The vocabulary sounds revolting, but so is the actual act of seeing foam percolate from the corners of our mouth.
Examples of interchangeable terms: charm box=medicine chest, shrine=shower or bath, medicine men=doctors, substantial gifts=money, ancient and secret language=prescription, mouth rite=brushing teeth
Examples of parallels: While some activities like a man scraping his face with a blade in one non-western society may seem odd to us, men in western culture perform the same ritual. Also, while women’s rites are performed during the lunar month, women in western culture also menstruate once during the month for several days.
The key to reducing ethnocentrism, as I believe this is Minor’s intention, is to recognize that activities performed in all societies such as sports, healing, feasting, cleanliness, language, medicine, marriage, kinship, etc, may have different names (or rather they are in different languages) in varying societies, but in essence they are all performed or approached in the same manner as Western cultures do.