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Transcript of Nacirema
In the early 1900s, Professor Linton wrote an article about the Nacirema and their interesting habits. In the article the Nacirema people are depicted as a culture obsessed with rituals with regards to the vanity of the human body as a whole.
The Nacirema are a North American group living in the territory between the Canadian Cree, the Tarahumare of Mexico, and the Carib of the Antilles. Little is known of their origin, although tradition states that they came from the east.
While much of the people's time is devoted to economic pursuits, a large part of the day are spent in ritual activity. The focus of this activity is the human body, the appearance and health of which is a dominant concern. The fundamental belief underlying the whole system appears to be that the human body is ugly.
The focal point of the shrine is a box or chest which is built into the wall. In this chest are kept the many charms and magical potions without which no native believes he could live. The most powerful of these are the medicine men, whose assistance must be rewarded with substantial gifts. The medicine men decide what the ingredients should be and then write them down in an ancient and secret language.
The magical packets are so numerous that people forget what their purposes were and fear to use them again.
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The untold story of the Asu Nation
Every household has one or more shrines devoted to the human body. The more powerful individuals in the society have several shrines in their houses. Shrine rooms of the more wealthy are walled with stone. Poorer families imitate the rich by applying pottery plaques to their shrine walls. While each family has at least one such shrine, the rituals associated with it are not family ceremonies but are private and secret. The rites are normally only discussed with children, and then only during the period when they are being initiated into these mysteries.
Each day every member of the family, in succession, enters the shrine room, bows his head before the charm-box, mingles different sorts of holy water in the font, and proceeds with a brief rite of ablution. The holy waters are secured from the Water Temple of the community, where the priests conduct elaborate ceremonies to make the liquid ritually pure.
Were it not for the rituals of the mouth, they believe that their teeth would fall out, their gums bleed, their jaws shrink, their friends desert them, and their lovers reject them. It was reported to me that the ritual consists of inserting a small bundle of hog hairs into the mouth, along with certain magical powders, and then moving the bundle in a highly formalized series of gestures.