Horace Miner writes about the Nacirema, a culture steeped in magic and superstition. Their ways of life are portrayed as uncivilized and barbaric. The Nacirema perform rituals and rites that are strange to us here in the civilized world. The description and portrayal of this tribe make it very hard for the reader to connect or even begin to understand such a strange people. Miner starts of the article creating an atmosphere of wonderment; “if all of the logically possible combinations of behavior have not been found somewhere in the world, he(anthropologist) is apt to suspect that they must be present in some yet undescribed tribe”(Miner:1956:503). And that tribe is the Nacirema, a foreign and strange people to whom we in the western world could never relate. However, if ones look closely at the text and the hints provided, it is clear that Horace Miner has tricked us into ethnocentrism, all the while describing to us the American culture. In fact the word Nacirema is American spelled backward. The Body Rituals of the Nacirema is in fact a satire on the American culture of the 1950’s.
There are hints throughout the article leading us to the proper conclusion of its intent; however, after every clue the description of the Nacirema rituals and rites is so vividly strange that we find it hard to fathom that it is the precursor of our modern culture that is being described. The founder of the Nacirema tribe Notgnihsaw is said to have performed two great feats of heroism. Again Notgnihsaw is Washington spelled backwards and the feats refer to the chopping down of the cherry tree and throwing of a piece of slate across the river Potomac. Miner refers to the river as Pa-To-Mac which is an anagram for Potomac. It is interesting to note that George Washington’s feat of throwing the silver dollar across the Potomac is a an exaggerated myth, leading one to believe that the actual North American culture might not be so removed from superstition and magic as we think.
References: MINER, H.
(1956), Body Ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist, 58: 503–507
1948 Magic, Science, and Religion. Glencoe, The Free Press.