In honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day…

Or Columbus Day, depending on where you live in the United States and what your political leanings are, one more post about my Indigenous Religions unit. Have you ever used this article about the Nacirema?

Written by Horace Miner in 1956 and published in the American Anthropologist, it’s an academic look at an unusual and oddball culture–our own. I give a shortened version of it to my students as we start the unit on Indigenous Religions, as if its a group we’re about to study. This year I asked kids to reflect on the group and whether or not they could relate to the Nacirema.

A direct student quote: “The Nacirema were so weird. It surprised me just how weird they were. I could not relate at all.”

And then the big reveal! This article about the super-strange Nacirema? It’s about US! The group name is actually a play on words, and the rituals that Miner describes (bathing, brushing teeth, etc…) are in fact practiced by everyone of my students (well, most days).

It’s a good reminder that when encountering new cultures, their practices can seem quite different and even bizarre. But we should approach things with an open mind. We all have rituals, practices, and strange beliefs. Once students realize that the article is about them, they laugh and try to “decode” it. It’s a nice exercise in close reading, and starts a good conversation about anthropology and the study of other cultures.


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