Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"that is where you go to die"

Horace Miner's 1956 essay, "Body Ritual Among the Nacirema,"  satirizes western anthropologists' othering characterizations of "primitive" cultures by painting Americans (the "Nacirema"--sorry, I guess that's a spoiler) as a superstitious people whose cultural practices are based on the belief "that the human body is ugly and that its natural tendency is to debility and disease." I remember reading this essay in an anthropology course early in my undergraduate studies and finding it wildly amusing. 
Recently I returned to Miner's essay and was reminded that it has this to say about health care among the Nacirema:
The latipso ceremonies are so harsh that it is phenomenal that a fair proportion of the really sick natives who enter the temple ever recover. Small children whose indoctrination is still incomplete have been known to resist attempts to take them to the temple because "that is where you go to die." Despite this fact, sick adults are not only willing but eager to undergo the protracted ritual purification, if they can afford to do so. No matter how ill the supplicant or how grave the emergency, the guardians of many temples will not admit a client if he cannot give a rich gift to the custodian. Even after one has gained and survived the ceremonies, the guardians will not permit the neophyte to leave until he makes still another gift.
 Oh, those Nacirema. Will they ever learn?

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