Beliefs and Worships

February 3, 2002 Article #31

Many cultures practice various rituals and ceremonies as a tribute to their beliefs and worship. The bizarre values and customs of the Nacirema tribe present such unusual characteristics of cultural behavior.

“The fundamental belief underlying the whole system appears to be that the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency is to debility and disease. Incarcerated in such a body, man’s only hope is to avert these characteristics through the use of powerful influences of ritual and ceremony” (168). Located in the family home are shrines where these ceremonies are carried out privately. The ceremonies and rituals vary in nature ranging from the daily ritual of the mouth-rite to the harsh latipso ceremonies.

The mouth-rite is performed daily for the exorcism of evils of the mouth. “The ritual consists of inserting a small bundle of hog hairs in to the mouth, along with certain magical powders, and the moving the bundle in a highly formalized series of gestures” (169). Once or twice a year one would turn to the proper practitioner to perform the mouth-rite ritual, this practitioner is known as the holy-mouth-man. Sometimes the ritual requires a painful routine of enlarging holes in which decay has occurred in the teeth where magical materials are then placed within. If there are no naturally formed holes in the teeth, one or more teeth are then gouged out so the magical substances can be placed within. The purpose of this painful ceremony is beneficial to rid the mouth of decay and to draw friends.

The medicine men are the most important of ritual practitioners. Although they do not create the potions and charms, they decide what ingredients are necessary to create these magical materials. They have a temple known as a latipso to carry out ceremonies to heal the sick. These ceremonies are so severe that it’s inevitable that the patient won’t survive its tasks. Therefore this ritual is generally a burden to the patient rather than beneficial, as it would seem. A part of this procedure requires the male supplicant, in the privacy of their home, to strip naked of their clothing and perform bathing and excretory rituals. However, females are expected to strip down naked of their clothing and be subjected to the “scrutiny, manipulation and prodding” by the medicine men. Sometimes magic wands are inserted in to the subject’s mouth or are forced to eat substances that are supposed to be healing.

The listener is a witch doctor that has the “power to exorcise the devils that lodge in the heads of people that are bewitched” (169). The Nacirema believe that parents bewitch their own children, especially the mothers who teach the body-rituals. Patients tell the listener their problems and fears from the earliest of their recollection to the present.

Diversity exists all over our world. Many cultures have different aspects that require individuals to perform various acts. The Nacirema tribe happens to have some of the most exotic and extreme cultural rituals. Every civilization seems to have more extreme customs than the next. However, through the practice of magic, the Nacirema perform their customs regularly as it’s an important feature of their every day lives.