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Involuntary Ritual Amputation among the Nacirema

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The Nacirema people have a varied and diverse culture including the practice of many forms of irreversible body modification. All rituals of this kind are voluntarily consented to, with one exception. In this essay, how and why the Nacirema people rationalize forced amputation will be explored.

In Nacirema culture this rite is widely practiced by parents who believe it is their right to decide whether or not part of their newborn's body will be ritually amputated. The rite is performed by one of the medicine men shortly after birth. He takes the baby away from its mother to a secluded area where she can't see or hear what will happen. The baby's arms and legs are tied down so that the baby can't move. The medicine man then amputates a natural normal and healthy part of the baby's body and throws the removed part away.

Discussion of the rite is considered taboo by most Nacirema and is rarely mentioned in their culture except to remind themselves of the benefits of the rite and the dangers of not having it done. The Nacirema believe that all females are born perfect by design while males are born flawed with part of their bodies 'unclean' that must be amputated in order to maintain good health. They believe if this is not done at birth then it will only have to be done later when it would be much more traumatic, though only a few who have not had it have it done later. For those whose fathers also had the rite, the Nacirema consider it even more important to have the rite done or otherwise the boy will suffer great mental harm when he realizes he has a body part that his father does not have.

For those Nacirema men whose parents choose not to put them through this rite, they face a lifetime of social rejection. Their male peers will make fun of their status. Nacirema women consider men who haven't gone through the rite as ugly, unhealthy, and not 'normal'. They openly claim to sexually prefer men who have gone through the rite because they believe it is more attractive, healthier and looks more 'natural'. Even when visiting a medicine man on an unrelated matter, if he notices the rite hasn't been performed he will often encourage that it be done to ward off any potential future problems.

For a Nacirema mother if she doesn't want the ritual performed on her baby, it would be as if she were rejecting her father, brothers, and even her own husband, all of whom have gone through the rite and consider it important to continue the tradition. Also if she already has had one son done then having to explain why one was not done would be uncomfortable. She will often reason that the father should be the one to decide since he knows what it is like to live without the body part in question; thus removing the responsibility of the decision from herself and placing it on the father.

For a Nacirema father who has gone through the rite, he is usually only vaguely aware that some men do not go through it. If he decides to not let his son undergo the rite then he has to ask himself why was it done to him. The idea that his son might be allowed to keep a body part that he doesn't have anymore makes him feel uncomfortable. It is emotionally painful for men to acknowledge that part of their body was amputated without their consent leaving them literally less of a man and most can't do it. Instead he repeats the reassuring reasons, originally from the medicine men, that he has heard on the rare occasions when it was mentioned; thus removing the responsibility of the decision from himself and placing it on the medicine men.

However what most Nacirema don't realize is that the medicine men no longer believe that performing this rite is justifiable for health reasons. This is rarely mentioned since it makes those who have gone through the rite or consented to have it done on their sons, feel uncomfortable. The medicine men who actually perform the rite believe they are not responsible since, even though it is their position in Nacirema society to be the authority about these things, they are just doing what the parents want; thus removing the responsibility for the decision from themselves and placing it on the parents.

It is interesting to note that the people who decide that the body part in question is useless rarely include anyone who actually still has that body part. Also they do not consider whether the baby, whose body it is, wants part of his body amputated or not, and instead they believe that the baby will thank them for it later. Contemplating not performing this ritual amputation makes Nacirema parents and medicine men feel so emotionally uncomfortable that the Nacirema consider this too much for anyone to bear when they can simply amputate part of the infant boy's body so everyone who can speak will feel a whole lot better; thus the birth rite of 'noisicmucric' is perpetuated.
The above essay was designed to be used as a handout in Sociology class and I, the author, freely give permission with no need to cite me, for anyone to repost/share it anywhere online or offline in class or wherever.

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