In the everyday life of the perceived “normal” individual, rituals and rites performed by individuals as part of a different culture might seem harsh, cruel or even barbaric. After my first read of “Body Ritual among the Nacirema”, that is how I perceived their daily way of life. They believe in magic potions, seeking pain from the “holy – mouth – men” a couple of times a year, and the men and women perform acts that seem to contradict one another by trying to obtain abnormal body shapes, and then the men cut their face daily and the women “bake their heads in small ovens for about an hour”.
What I discovered when reading this article again was that the author, Sir Horatio Galbraith, put a spin on words in many different ways, but this article just goes to show that what may seem normal to you could be portrayed as a terrible way to conduct daily life to others. In this article, Galbraith made mention about the Nacirema people being incarcerated into ugly and disease ridden bodies, and they make extreme efforts to “avert these characteristics through the use of the powerful influences of ritual and ceremony.
He also noted that these people make visits to receive excruciatingly painful procedure they consider an “exorcism of the evils” from a magical practitioner best known as the “holy-mouth-men”. At first glance, both of these points the author has made make it seem as though these people are very rigid and harsh with their decisions in life. It seems almost like they make an effort to induce pain on themselves to achieve a culturally acceptable appearance. However after analyzing and relating these acts to my own way of life, I noted several similarities.
In society today, the majority of people strive to look better than they currently do by dieting, working out and by making sure their mouth and teeth look their very best. These are just a few examples among many other efforts that are made by people to look better than they normally do, or at least get close to or above the normal standard. The “holy-mouth-men” is a clear reference to the dentist. Galbraith noted that the Nacirema people visit this man once or twice a year which falls into the normal visit frequency today’s society exhibits.
The rituals and rites performed by the people of the Nacirema tribe were diversely separated between men and women. A specific ritual only performed by the men “involves scraping and lacerating the surface of the face with a sharp instrument. ” The description of this practice will lead the unknowing reader to derive this as an act of barbarity, however after trying to find a connection between this description and something that occurs during the daily life of the men in today’s society, I discovered that this is nothing more than an embellished description of a man shaving his face daily with what else; a razor!
This type of twist and embellishment on words is what hindered me from figuring out what the real purpose of this article was in the first place. Galbraith makes reference to a ritual performed four times during on lunar month, only by women. His comment regarding this act by the women was “what they lack in frequency is made up in barbarity. ” The ritual performed by the women was described as baking their heads in small ovens for about an hour. Of course this type of act sounds horrific when worded this way, but again I tried to make a connection.
When women in today’s society get their hair colored or have a permanent curl put in their hair, they have to sit under the dryer on the chairs that line the walls of the hair salon. I have sat under one of these chairs myself, and I cannot imagine that it is even anywhere near the same extreme of baking your head for an hour in a small oven. I believe one point the author was trying to make was that not only are these people obsessed with their appearance and overall health, but they are more obsessed with being to control and change it as they see fit.
Galbraith also seemed as though he was trying to make note of the fact that they want to look better than the average, but in doing so, they want to keep it a secret as if the surrounding members of their society will not discover that they are not naturally made that way. Ethnocentrically, these types of practices seem strange and it seems as though these people are trying too hard; however, from a culturally relative point of view every individual has the right to practice whatever rites and rituals they deem fit and proper, as long as they do not fall on the wrong side of the legal law that resides over their area.
As part of this assignment, I am supposed to list how I would react if placed in this culture; however I believe I am already living and functioning in this culture. Galbraith did not just make a play on words when describing the normal acts of the day to day individual, he also made a play on words when he named this tribe Nacirema; spelled backwards it spells American.
I have gone through this article time and time again and have successfully identified everything he mentioned in the article as a connection with the American people. The only difference is that Galbraith went to extremes when describing the “rituals and rites” as to mislead the reader, but in a way everything he said was accurate in context. I enjoyed reading and analyzing this article once I made the connection. In some ways it was an eye opener, and other parts made me laugh.