"Body Ritual Among the Nacirema" By Horace Miner


Horace Miner demonstrates that "attitudes about the body" have a pervasive influence on many
institutions in Nacirema society.  Basically, he uses this entire article as a way to describe American
rituals from an outsider's point of view.   If you understand that "Nacirema" is “American" and
re-read the essay, it will perhaps be more apparent to you how other cultures could view our own.


Key to Helping You Re-read:


Notgnishaw, the Pa-To-Mac, and the cherry tree with the Spirit of Truth
America lies between
Canada and Mexico.
Shrines with a box or chest in the wall
Bathrooms with medicine cabinets
Medicine men Doctors
Ancient Code/Secret Language Refers to the Joke that a doctor’s handwriting is illegible,
particularly on prescriptions
Herbalist Pharmacist
Substantial Gift High prices of prescriptions
Font Sink
Holy water Holy water
Holy Mouth Men Dentists
Ritual ablution of the mouth for children Cleaning their mouths out with soap if they say something wrong
Small bundle of hog hairs and certain magical powders Toothbrush and toothpaste
Highly formalized series of gestures Brushing teeth
Men scraping and lacerating the surface of the face with a sharp instrument shaving
Women bake their heads in small ovens for about an hour Old-fashioned hair dryer at a beauty salon
Latipsoh Hospital
Thaumaturge and group of vestal maidens Doctor and nurses
Magic wands in the supplicant's mouth Thermometer
Listener Psychologist
Limiting intercourse to certain phases of the moon Birth control pills 
Phrases in story 
True Meaning


The sociological standpoint is that culture is based on rituals and that each culture defines its reality
and acceptable behavior and chooses its authorities by rituals.  These rituals help us discover our
knowledge because it makes the rituals the authority and those who follow it the ones that know the
truth as our society defines it.  Sociologists define rituals as what you do on a regular basis,
repeated over time; that which binds people together; shared beliefs; assigned roles; loyalty.
Structural-functional sociologist Emile Durkheim theorized that rituals support social order and roles
and shared sets of values holds people together.  Since rituals enforce these roles and values, they
create social solidarity.

Sociology is not the only view from which to view rituals.  However, the point is that rituals hold
together a society…not all societies.  Rituals are part of what makes a society; therefore, in order
to understand someone of a different sociological background, one must think outside the box that
is America’s way of viewing things.

Relevant Links

Text of the Essay

"The Durkheim Pages”

Main Page