Ritual Shrine Offerings Among the Exotic Nacirema Tribe
While it may seem that anthropologists have documented the most exotic rituals across the globe, the strangest rituals are still yet to be documented by scientists in the exotic tribe of the Nacirema. The strange beginnings of the exotic Nacirema tribe have been documented by Tocqueville (1835), and intimate body rituals have been documented by Miner (1956), but no scientist has brought to light the strangest worship ritual of any tribe on the planet. This religious ritual has not been documented in any scientific journal.
While Miner (1956) wrote of the Nacirema tribe’s highly complex market economy in which most tribal natives spend their time focused on economic pursuits, which is true according to my field experience, Miner focused only on the body and failed to bring to light Nacirema religious worship and daily ritual shrine offerings which all tribal natives partake in to appease the Nacirema gods. This leaves a gap in the anthropological literature concerning the Nacirema tribe.
In their land, Acirema, there are many gods: Greater Gods and Lesser Gods. The Greater Gods control large multi-national Snoitaroproc, and the Lesser Gods manage small temples called Serots and Spohs, yet the Lesser Gods are still subject to the will of the Greater Gods. But all the gods of the Nacirema worship one thing: Yenom, not unlike the ordinary Nacirema themselves. It is said the natives try to emulate their gods by worshipping Yenom. However, the gods hold great control over the Nacirema, so the Nacirema must appease the gods through daily ritual offerings.
A fundamental underlying belief the Nacirema hold dear but don’t like to admit publicly is their undying love for material things. They don’t worship these things like they do the great Yenom, but these material things they desire are not available freely, and rarely do they partake in gift exchanges or host potlatches like other tribes, as documented by many anthropologists such as Mauss (1925). Instead, the accumulation of material items is highly individualistic, and both the wealthy and the poor seek to acquire as many material items as they can, and in exchange, they conduct a ritual offering ceremony daily, sometimes many times per day in front of a small, colorful shrine.
These shrines are never kept in their private homes, rather, the shrines and the ritual that the Nacirema perform only occur in small public temples of exchange called Serots, Spohs, and even Sllam which the Lesser Gods own to appease the Greater Gods.
Every anthropologist worth their salt must obtain between 1 and 3 pieces of paper to prove “success” and travel to a far-off land. It is important to learn the language and completely immerse oneself in the culture. So, when I left Africa and traveled to Acirema in the provincial region known as Ainrofilac, I was able to find work at a temple Pohs (singlular) and disguise myself as a Reihsac to facilitate the ritual offering. As a Reihsac, I used an electric communicator called a Retsiger with many numbers and buttons which keeps pieces of paper and metal with pictures of past Nacirema tribal chiefs. While there are many kinds of Spohs and Serots, this particular temple Pohs provides intoxicating drinks and smoking sticks for the Nacirema tribal natives to use, and in this temple Pohs, the intoxicating drinks and smoking sticks are arranged in beautiful, attractive displays (see example photograph).
At this temple Pohs, natives enter to look for either a powerful intoxicating substance to drink, or smoking sticks filled with poisons which only the Greater Gods know all the ingredients. Having gained the natives’ trust, they told me there are two reasons for using these substances: first, the native Nacirema is trying to assuage a real or imagined difficulty, or second, they are having a celebration, alone or with others. But most often, natives confessed that this treatment for the real or imagined difficulty or the celebration happens when they are alone inside their wattle and daub homes, and many natives live alone like this (see photograph below of example). Some natives admitted anonymously that they use these substances instead of going to a “listener,” herbalist, or witch doctor at a Latipsoh or Cinilc.
I gained rapport with the natives, and every day, the same tribal natives of the local Doohrobhgien come into this temple Pohs at all hours, from early morning to late at night, to obtain their imbibements and give offerings to the gods. There are two ways to give offerings. One, the papers and small pieces of metal which have pictures of past Nacirema tribal chiefs. The second offering is through a small, colorful rectangular shaped piece of plastic which has a unique identifying number. No two numbers are the same, and each Nacirema has their own number which they keep secret for use only during the obligatory ritual. This small rectangular shaped piece of plastic is called a Tiderc Drac or Tibed Drac and can only be offered at the small, colorful electric shrines at the temple Spohs and Serots. (See photo below) The only difference between the two types of Sdrac (plural) and the papers and metal with pictures of past Nacirema chiefs is that the native can keep this plastic Drac once the ritual is complete.
This small electric shrine is connected to a network which communicates only with the Greater Gods and their giant multi-national Snoitaroproc. The Lesser Gods at these temple Spohs and Serots only facilitate the ritual, often by the use of Egaw slaves, which I had become one of them in order to immerse myself as an anthropologist in this strange culture.
Once the local native has selected their substance from one of the beautiful temple shelves, they approach the shrine which I stand behind. I use an electric red space laser that looks like a gun that is connected to a network which communicates only with the Lesser Gods. Then, the machine shows what offering the Lesser God wants through the use of the numeric system 0-9 in any combination.
This is the most sacred moment. If the native uses the plastic with the secret, unique number, they reach into their clothes to retrieve it, and they must bow before the small, colorful shrine. While the native is bowing before the shrine to communicate with the Greater Gods, they insert the plastic into the small, colorful shrine and enter 4 secret numbers which only that native knows by heart and keeps secret, and they wait while the Tiderc Drac or Tibed Drac allows even the poorest Nacirema to communicate with the Greater Gods at this temple Pohs or Erots (singular) managed by the Lesser Gods.
During this tense and most sacred moment, the Nacirema bends over, bowing before the small, colorful shrine, waiting to see if they have enough offering to appease the gods in exchange for their intoxicating substance. (See photo below) Sometimes, the Greater Gods even decline the Nacirema offering! In this case, they cannot obtain their intoxicating substance from the Lesser Gods. However if the plastic is a Tiderc Drac instead of a Tibed Drac, the Greater Gods allow even the poorest Nacirema to borrow an offering for a time, but later, the native is obliged to give an even larger offering later in order to resolve offering debts and appease the Greater Gods.
Usually, this ritual takes only a minute and the Greater Gods accept the offering, in which the Nacirema can obtain their material things (which they love more than anything– sometimes more than their own family or friends) or in this case, their intoxicating substance, and I would give them a bag in which they could leave the temple Pohs and carry their new thing in secret so that other Nacirema cannot see what they had obtained through this ritual.
As an ethnography, this paper only focuses on the short ritual at the small shrine in temple Spohs and Serots. However, the frequency of this ritual performance among Nacirema is astounding and for many, they bow before multiple shrines every day. In conclusion, this paper and groundbreaking research on this strange daily religious ritual of the Nacirema opens up opportunities for more research into the entire religious system as a whole of the rites and rituals of the exotic Nacirema tribe. Furthermore, research should be devoted to understanding how even the poorest Nacirema can make offerings when they have none, and the serious human rights issue of the Greater Gods forcing the poorest Nacirema to give an even larger offering later.
Mauss, Marcel, et al. 1954. The Gift: forms and functions of exchange in archaic societies. Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press.
Miner, Horace. 1956. “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.” American Anthropologist 58(3): 503-507.
Tocqueville, Alexis de. 1838. Democracy in America. New York: G. Dearborn & Co.
Linguistic Translation Guide of the Nacirema:
Acirema = America
Ainrofilac = California
Cinilc = clinic (Scinilc is plural)
Doohrobhgien = neighborhood
Drac = card (Sdrac is plural)
Egaw = wage
Latipsoh = hospital (Slatipsoh is plural)
Nacirema = American
Notgnihsaw = Washington
Reihsac = cashier
Retsiger = register
Snoitaroproc = corporations
Serots = stores (Erots is singular)
Sllam = malls
Spohs = shops (Pohs is singular)
Tibed = debit
Tiderc = credit
Yenom = money
(The anthropologist-ethnographer at the temple Pohs among the Nacirema: image pending thanks to technical problems!)
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Christina Lauren Quigley is a vlogger at Laurelin the Other and review editor and web developer of Ethnography.com. Christina is a 2019-2020 Fulbright Research Alumna and Ethnography.com’s latest author. She began working and writing as an ethnographer–anthropologist in the mountains of northern California as an activist alongside Native American Mountain Maidu communities. Christina has also been known to work for minimum wage in America, selling booze to ordinary Americans at a neighborhood liquor store to further study cultural transmission of Americans’ methods of coping and wellness through alcohol and illegal drugs.
Christina has since fallen under the influence of Congolese rumba music, and lives at the shores of Lake Tanganyika in East Africa to research the ways that music and song traditions diffuse from eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to Tanzania. As modern Congolese music traditions move across the Tanzania-Congo border, refugees and migrants from DR Congo are charismatic masters of their own musical heritage within the African continent. In-country and abroad, Congolese rely on nightlife music transfigured into religious settings. Christina is a Swahili speaker and postgraduate (MA) in music and anthropology at the University of Dar es Salaam.