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Horace Mitchell Miner spent much of his life educating himself on anthropology before writing his confusing but brilliant article on American culture. He was born in Minnesota and then moved to Kentucky, where he became a museum curator before becoming an associate professor of anthropology and sociology at the University of Michigan at one point in his career. Although he was a member of the Executive Committee of the Sociology Department he was not very active due to the fact that his work was mostly field based. For this reason many of his peers did not utilize his expertise. (website) It is also evident that he was an expert in his field by his history in the anthropology field. It is quite possible Miner was offended at the fact no one cared to consult him on issues or discuss things with him, and he wanted to show them that his opinions were worth hearing.
This is probably the reason he proceeded to write the article “Body Rituals Among the Nacirema.” He was quite brilliant in his writing of this article. In it, Miner writes about the people who take human behavior to an extreme, The Nacirema, who present many unusual aspects but yet they are poorly understood. Though their origin is unknown they are a North American group who is devoted to economic pursuits whose days are spent mostly in ritual activity.
According to Miner, these activities are towards the human body. “They believe it is ugly and its natural tendency is to debility and disease.”(Miner) Each home contains at least one or more shrine. The shrines are accompanied in particular rites. The focus of the shrine is a charm box in the wall which contains all the medical potions. Each day every member in the family at different times must bow and perform a rite to this shrine.
Since, they believe the mouth has a supernatural influence and a daily mouth-rite must be performed. Once or twice a year the people seek out the holy-mouth-man. When people get sick the visit a medicine man at their temples called latispos. Many temples will not accept people if they do not give a rich enough gift. Most will not even allow a person to leave if they do not give another gift. The ceremonies involve much discomfort and torture. Another type of person in the culture is called a “listener,” who exorcises devils from children.
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The people have many unusual rituals. Such as, the man lacerating the surface of his face and the women baking their heads in small ovens, but some practices depend on the pervasion aversion to the natural body and its functions. Excretory and reproductive functions are ritualized. Intercourse is taboo and scheduled as an act. Pregnancy, when happened, is hid by the woman who would where a large dress. The Nacirema are shown to be very magic-ridden people by many of their rituals and beliefs.
The Nacirema are actually Americans. If not noticed by now, Nacirema spelled backwards is American. Yes, Miner was writing about his own culture, but from a non American viewpoint. To the reader it seems as though he is writing about a culture with very unusual and abstract views. But who are these behaviors unusual to? The American culture is very infrequently looked at from anyone else’s point of view besides our own. It is very ethnocentric and therefore we believe what we do is the way things should be done. Miner had noticed this and must have wanted to change the way Anthropologists thought since the way they were doing it was dreadfully incorrectly. He knew it was more important that cultures be looked at more in depth than just the behavioral aspects. He then proceeded to write the article about the Nacirema to show that almost anything can be seen as unusual, it just depends who is looking at it.
Miner apparently knew what he was doing when writing this article because this article has provoked others to write about other aspects of their own culture from other perspectives. There are other articles written such as “The sacred Rac” by an anonymous source. The fact that other articles have been written looking at ones own culture from a less ethnocentric point of view shows that Miner’s article was well written and well thought out. At one point, his peers were probably stunned reading about this culture with behaviors that seemed so out-there, but when analyzed they were actually reading about their own culture but from some else’s eyes who wasn’t familiar with the American culture.
His brilliance is also noticeable in the fact that he thought enough to make up a fictional culture to show his peers that any culture can be presented in almost any way, it just depends on who is writing it and what they believe and think is right. Miner used many usual ways to prove his point, which he did prove because his article is still being used in classrooms for teaching purposes. If his article did not have some sort of brilliance then professors and teachers would probably use one of the many other well written articles. Instead, they chose his. Since his was chosen and is still being used today it must have opened up the minds of his peers and made them think of Miner in a different light and use his knowledge.
Hooglans, Josh. “Horace Mitchell Miner.” 39 Oct. 2003.
Miner, Horace. “Body Rituals Among the Nacirema.” American Anthropologist
58:3, June 1956 Rpt. <http://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/miner.html>