A most extreme body modification story!

We live in an active body modification culture here in America. Just look around at any coffee shop and notice all the tattoos. Many cultures go way beyond simple tattoos. One culture in particular has a much skewed belief about the human body. They are so steeped in ceremony and ritual pursuits of the body that they have at times used extreme body modification as a way of keeping the body "healthy". They believe the body to be ugly and to have no real use. In their minds the only way to keep the body from succumbing to disease is through serial rituals and barbaric ceremonies.

Body Modification is Done in Secrecy

Tbody modificationCredit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_modificationhe Nacirema culture believes that rituals having to do with the body should be done individually. The only time that this is not the case is when explaining the rites to their children and this is because they have to be initiated into it. Each member of a family goes to their shrine in the home and takes care of their personal matters in secret. This includes bathing and excretion of bodily functions being shrouded in privacy.

Amputation as a Form of Body Modification

Amputation of newborn baby boys is one of the most horrific rituals of this group. When a child is born male; he is believed to be flawed in some way. It is the job of the medicine man to take the child away from its mother and amputate the part of the body which he deems to be possibly problematic and throw that part away. There have been some parent’s that will not consent to their sons being amputated, but for those son’s; ridicule and rejection are waiting for them as they grow up in the culture. Also the belief of their people is that if the father has gone through the process then the child will feel inadequate by seeing a body part missing from his father that he still possesses. Some women of the Nacirema actually find a man distasteful if he has not been through this ritual.

Body Modification Takes a Community

Several members of this culture play vital roles in the rituals and ceremonies that take place. First, the Medicine Men; they are responsible for giving the natives recipes for magical potions and charms and must be gifted for their efforts. Each charm is used for a particular ill. They also have a temple in their village that holds ceremonies for treating the ill. The ceremonies that take place in the temple are so medieval that children are afraid to go their because they view it as a place to go to die. Then there is the Holy Mouth Man who works on the mouth by using horrific objects to widen holes in teeth already decaying or making holes in teeth that don’t have any holes and applying what they consider mystical substances to exorcise wickedness from the mouth. The Nacirema people believe that this torture is necessary to stop tooth decay and make them more socially acceptable. Although, the reality is; there tooth decay continues to progress. Finally, “The Listener” or witchdoctor works to rid the head of evil spells. By telling all of the problems of their life to this person they believe they can cure the problem. Strangely enough, some of the Nacirema people are said to be able to remember things back to the moment of their emergence on earth when having these conversations.

Men and Women

Men and women both have different rituals that must be done. Daily men must mutilate their faces with a knife like object. Women on the other hand must put their head in an oven and allow it to bake as part of their rite’s during the lunar month. These sadist rituals are a part of what makes this group so unique. They have fasting rituals to make people lose weight and gorging ceremonies to help people gain weight. They use different rites to change the look of breast from small to large or just the opposite. Women with enlarged breasts are actually idolized to the point where they can make good earnings showing them off in various villages.
The Nacirema people have used magical potions and various rituals to modify the body to make it suitable for their souls to inhabit. Since they look at the head and body as vile and disease ridden; their traditions allow them to exist by changing or extracting those parts that they find unsuitable. This makes them able to bear the burden of the fallacies of the human body as they see it.

This culture seems a lot like our culture as we spend lots of money on doctors and psychiatrist to make ourselves feel better about the way we look and the history of our lives; good or bad. Some of the things that we do to deal with what we consider flaws of our baby boy’s like circumcision or as our women get older, the need for breast implants to look more attractive, seem to reveal that we are much like them. Well, the truth is we are just like them as Nacirema is American spelled backwards. Take a look at our society; you probably didn’t recognize that this body modification story is truly about us. Sad, isn’t it!!


Discovering the Mysterious Nacirema