Battle ritual among the Nacirema

The present elders can easily be detected in the scenery. Usually nobody dares to choose a position closer to the ceremony than they do;further they wear a unique headdress that differs from the accessories worn by the participants. Unlikely elders of other tribes, sages of the Nacirema act conspicuously extroverted; however this only underlines the exceptionality of the tribal hierarchy. Their wisdom and experience is symbolized by a black ‘belt’ they wear on their heads. It covers the top and reaches both ears, where it closes in two plates. Those clinch the skull together in order to constantly slim it. The pain it inflicts can be detected by the gradual change of color of the face from white to red, depending on how active they participate in ritual dances which they perform during the ceremony. Because they are usually seriously obese and too old to take part in the main ritual, they fulfill the role of the elders which means to yell and scream until they lose their voices, while they stomp on the ground to praise the earth, the raisin grew on. The elders’ dances are the most uncontrolled and most spiritually steered part of the spectacle, yet it is not the main attraction. The Labto-of doesn’t really begin until the ritual warriors themselves rush into the arena.

"Body Ritual among the Nacirema" ..

Our review of the ritual life of the Nacirema has certainly shown them to be a magic-ridden people

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In order to understand the rite, the most essential shades of the practicing tribe have to be appreciated in advance. The Nacirema are a North American group whose scattered living territory is bordered by the Canadian Cree in the North, the Yaqui and Tarahumare of Mexico in the South and extends to parts of the Dutch Antilles. Little is known about their origin, but according to tribal tales, the Nacirema arose on the mystical eastern land of Poru. Their legendary first chieftain, Notginshaw, led the Nacirema on the backs of brown dragons with giant white wings that carried their descendants over the sea. Here they moved on, long silver monsters that tore the nature apart. According to oral narratives Poru was a perishing land whose history was shaped with countless bloody wars between the enslaved. It was also overpopulated by a high diversity of tribes. Epidemics spread rapidly and cost innumerable lives. Evidently this extreme environment has formed the violent culture of the Nacirema. Highly experienced in battle, it is not surprising that the Nacirema quickly overpowered the other tribes of the Americas. The native population became systematically murdered, enslaved or forced to change sides if they didn’t die in disease epidemics. Few survivors were hold in rural areas which were misused as natural prisons where they were forced to live under harsh conditions and faced a future without prospects.

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During the following centuries the Nacirema didn’t abandon their violent habits and repeatedly waged war against other tribes, both in America and Poru. Eventually, they even split and fought their brothers and sisters in a terrible civil war. This led to the reunification of the remaining tribes under the lead of the legendary chief Eba-Nlocni, who finally forced a peace in their homeland, before he himself was assassinated. The Nacirema, tired of war, laid their weapons aside and focused on agriculture and preserving the peace among the tribes of North America. However, without the recurring violence, group solidarity began to dissipate and in its place, rituals began to emerge that would remind the people of their glorious sacred history, in much the way that Durkheim described among the Aboriginals of Australia. In various areas of the Nacirema’s land, ritual groups named after the most violent totems and tribes of the past were created that would re-enact traditional rivalries in a mock combat.

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It starts with animal battles. Each village leads an animal into the scene before the fight begins. The Nacirema sustained this tradition from Poru, where animal combats were a part of the all-embracing struggle for life. These heraldic animals celebrate the powers of the combatants and are part of the procedure that prepares the spectators for the core ritual. Roosters, eagles and amphibians of colorful appearances are trained to fight each other, causing the spectators to yell, cheer and enjoy themselves.

Analysis of the Body Ritual Among the Nacirema

Afterwards the ceremony progresses with the reenacting of old marriage habits. Competing villages have a selection of its most beautiful pubescent virgins brought into the arena where the mock battle will occur and make a point of rousing the emotional intensity. The pieces of clothes, seemingly provisionally covering their extremities can be compared to the dress of African tribes. The women’s lips must be covered by animal blood since they shine in wet red and in their hands they hold instruments made of leaves, which they continuously shake in rhythmic movements when yelling at present tribe members. As Hall describes in his Dance of Life, the rhythm ties the people together and makes the spectators follow the virgins’ lead. Arrived on the place, the virgins immediately start to move in ritual salvation worshipping the earth. With rhythmic movements they illustrate fighting scenes. The virgins beat the air with their hands and feet and spectacularly catapult each other upwards imitating the arrows shot at Nacirema’s enemies. While doing so they keep on yelling and shouting powerful Nacireman terms. The men of the villages particularly enjoy this ritual presentation since they can eyeball the women of other villages and choose possible brides. For this cause they wear ritual headdresses which throw a shade on their eyes, thus no possible competitor can tell who the neighbor is glancing at. In doing so, jealousy-motivated attacks among the spectators during the ritual are effectively prevented.


The warriors participating in the Labto-of are entirely male. Traditionally, the woman holds a minor role in the war-shaped society of the Nacirema. Following the rules of the tribe, warriors are dressed in a certain way.