UNIT 03-Positioning Yourself

Body Ritual among the Nacirema
Horace Miner (1956)
What was your first hint that this text is about the American culture?
"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. These preparations are secured from a variety of specialized practitioners. The most powerful of these are the medicine men, whose assistance must be rewarded with substantial gifts. However, the medicine men do not provide the curative potions for their clients, but decide what the ingredients should be and then write them down in an ancient and secret language. This writing is understood only by the medicine men and by the herbalists who, for another gift, provide the required charm."
How does the use of language in the passage above make this description strange and unfamiliar?
"There remains one other kind of practitioner, known as a “listener.” This witch-doctor has the power to exorcise the devils that lodge in the heads of people who have been bewitched. The Nacirema believe that parents bewitch their own children. Mothers are particularly suspected of putting a curse on children while teaching them the secret body rituals. "
How does the use of language in the passage above make this description strange and unfamiliar?
"The daily body ritual performed by everyone includes a mouth-rite. Despite the fact that these people are so punctilious about care of the mouth, this rite involves a practice which strikes the uninitiated stranger as revolting. 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."
How does the use of language in the passage above make this description strange and unfamiliar?
Looking from far and above, from our high places of safety in the developed civilization, it is easy to see all the crudity and irrelevance of magic. But with- out its power and guidance early man could not have mastered his practical difficulties as he has done, nor could man have advanced to the higher stages of civilization.
As ethnographers, what lessons can we draw from this text?
Writing an ethnographic perspective sometimes means taking something you are somewhat familiar with – an ordinary routine or a ritual in your everyday life that would seem extraordinary to someone else in another culture or subculture – and reexamining it as if you were seeing it for the first time. You could try something simple – like fixing hair, listening to music, changing a tire, taking in the mail, or getting ready for a sporting event.
Try this technique when observing the subculture you are studying
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