As Savage Minds pointed out, the Horace Miner essay about the body rituals of the Nacirema is a classic example of using anthropology to make the strange familiar the familiar strange. It\’s also probably the most famous sociology/anthropology \”study\” ever written, which is a real hoot and a half. To this day, intro courses love to use the study to as a way to shock students into trying to think outside the box. The essay was originally written in 1956, partially to satirize the fact that social scientists were writing about outside cultures in a purely exploitative, colonialist manner. (Not that that often still isn\’t the case, but I digress.)
My assignment for my soc-101 class: a Horace Miner-style essay that expounded upon the theme of \’community\’ (versus Miner\’s theme of body rituals). I produced what\’s below the cut. We\’re required to give feedback to our peers; peer-feedback is 40% of our grade. The feedback I got on mine was that it was hard to understand. What were the words I were using? (Note to those not familiar with Miner: he reverses English vocabulary like siht.) Even my instructor asked me what the \’Ssobs\’ are. What do you think?
The social behavior of the Nacirema within communities can be explored through the Nacirema\’s ritual consumption of a hot, brown beverage, called t\’nrub rebmu. T\’nrub rebmu is a reverently prepared infusion made from a dark brown dust, usually of foreign origin. This beverage is considered a holy offering by the Nacirema. They ingest it alone, but also with other Nacirema with whom they are acquainted from a variety of social situations. Adult members of households share it together upon waking; a common belief among them is that they are not human until they have consumed this beverage in the morning. Indeed, it has been noted that some Nacirema act like wild animals trapped in a cage until they have drank of this fluid.
Those Nacirema who gather in groups during the day, often for periods of eight or more hours, meet together in stark, cramped rooms. The sole purpose of these rooms is to provide a place for the people to assemble around the holy beverage-making machine, and to then ingest the drink. These voluntary meetings occur several times per day, with some attendees showing a great deal more devotion than others. Those who show the most devotion during these times risk reprimand from an ominous figure rarely seen, but for whom a great deal of labor is given. It is commonly accepted among the Nacirema that the figures known as the \”Ssob\” demand far more devotion to the labor-ritual than they allow devotion to the t\’nrub rebmu ritual; indeed, some of the Ssob have forbidden the t\’nrub rebmu ritual so as to reap the maximum amount of labor-ritual from the Nacirema as possible. In the past, groups within the Nacierma called Snoinu declared war on the Ssob group, partially because they wanted more t\’nrub rebmu time for the people. They succeeded for only a short period of time. Now, the majority of Nacirema accept a daily environment where too much t\’nrub rebmu sharing in the ritual room may result in the indulgent Nacireman needing to seek a new place for the labor-ritual.
Outside these periods of labor-ritual, most Nacirema have other variations outside of the familial and labor-ritual structures where the t\’nrub rebmu sharing takes place. There are public t\’nrub rebmu temples for the sole purpose of providing an additional space to gather and worship the dust drink. Usually, this is done in pairs or groups of Nacirema, but it is also sometimes done alone. Young Nacirema are particularly fond of the t\’nrub rebmu temples. Many adolescents consider it a rite of passage to begin the t\’nrub rebmu sharing with their friends as an evening ritual for sacred conversation stimulation, and the temples provide the setting for this practice. As the Nacireman ages, he or she may still attend these locations for worship, but while the visits grow more frequent, the time spent inside the temples tends to wane. However, this does not mean that they are any less devout — they may, in fact, be more so, but have taken their ritual making to other locales.
Nacirema of all ages participate in social activities. Most like to go where others are, which is usually in various enclosed structures that are open to the Nacirema mostly according to their socio-economic class, but occasionally divide the Nacirema according to membership, education, lifestyle, and other factors. These structures, like the temple and the labor-ritual, are also highly integrated with the t\’nrub rebmu ritual. Activity in these structures centers physically around a meeting place, not unlike the t\’nrub rebmu temple, or schedules activities around t\’nrub rebmu-sharing time. Despite what activities the Nacirema may be participating in, they take joy in reuniting over the t\’nrub rebmu ritual. The Nacirema also occasionally visit the home structures of other Nacirema with whom they do not live. Upon entering the homestead, the host Nacirema (usually the female of the household) offers the guest the option for the gathered group to participate in the holy ritual of t\’nrub rebmu sharing. To refuse is usually considered rude; the visitor is then considered to be a heathen, and thus is scorned by the gathered people.
The history of the Nacirema show them to be a very social people. They have many other intricate and cross-referencing social bonds, not all of which center around the t\’nrub rebmu-sharing ritual. In fact, there has been a trend among some in Nacirema society to attempt to abstain from or decrease their t\’nrub rebmu drinking, as some of the Nacirema Ssobs — mostly highly revered people who wear long white coats, with blessed metal and rubber jewelry around their necks — have begun to say that the t\’nrub rebmu contains a mysterious demon that causes fearful behavior, and sometimes, possession. Though some Nacirema have heeded this warning and have instead switched to partaking in the ritual of bottled water pre-infused with invisible, mysterious elements that purport good health, most Nacirema still gather and bond over the sacred t\’nrub rebmu.
Despite my instructor not being able to figure out that Ssobs are Bosses, and the other students not understanding burnt umber to be coffee, I got an A on the paper.