Return to Nacirema: An Ethnographic Study of Morning Rituals

Ian Gonsher
4 min readJun 17, 2018


It has been over 60 years since Dr. Horace Miner and his team described the rituals of the Nacirema in their seminal work, “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.” [1] In the time since, quite surprisingly, there has been a dearth of ethnographic research that follows up on their groundbreaking study. Our team returned to the Nacirema in an attempt to better understand their rituals and material culture, and to document how they have changed since Dr. Miner’s study so many years ago.


Our ethnographic research methods were solely based on distant and disinterested observations. Contrary to current best practices in the field, we attempted to limit direct contact with the Nacirema in order to preserve a critical distance.

It is possible that this may have distorted our findings (see discussion in conclusion).

Field Notes:

Our team deployed itself before dawn in order to best observe the first glimpses of the Nacirema as they emerged from their dwellings to start their day. One by one, they appeared, and after a short ceremony in which they stretched, they fled their homes.

They ran away.

We noted that even though they left behind most of their possessions, they often took their domesticated animals with them when they ran. They ran in all directions, without any apparent destination, and with great urgency.

Understandably, our team found this behavior baffling. We checked, and we could not identify anyone or anything chasing them. But their anxiety seemed real. That was apparent. So we speculated that the Nacirema must believe that evil spirits or angry gods of some kind or another are pursuing them, and this is why they run as they do.

On several occasions we observed the Nacirema run to places where they were quickly mollified by standing in long queues. In these queues they waited as they were administered fairly high doses of stimulants (derived from the Coffea Arabica plant, which they guzzled with gusto).

As they imbibed the stimulants, something even more astonishing became apparent to our research team; something that defies easy explanation and which requires a better understanding of the Nacirema’s distinctive opinions on metaphysics than is within the scope of this article. Our study was strictly limited to their rituals and material culture.

Each and every one of the Nacirema had with them at all times a magical rectangular object. More than just a mere fetish, this object fits into the palm of their hand, which is why we initially speculated that these objects were tiny compact mirrors, portable in scale, but similar to the shrines Miner had observed.

Upon closer inspection, it became increasingly clear that the Nacirema were not just staring into these objects, as they might with a mirror, but tapping on them with their fingers, and speaking into them as well. Up close, they looked like tiny typewriters, but without any paper. Not only could they talk to each other with this magic object, even at great distances, they could summon their gods with it as well (Siri and Alexa are especially popular deities among the Nacirema). When they addressed it, they did so as if they were speaking to an invisible person. We believe this magic object alters their consciousness in many significant ways not yet described in the existing literature. It may very well have entheogenic properties, too.

The magic object is one of the great mysteries of the Nacirema. They ask it any question, and astonishingly, it responds. It is like an oracle, a sibyl, a tool for divination, which gives the Nacirema preternatural power and wisdom.

But their gods are voracious, and they demand their sacrifices, too. Daily sacrifices, often first thing in the morning, are made with the magic object, most notably to the Facebook, which is the primary god in their pantheon. Their anger, their worry, their wonder, as well as their indifference are all offered up to the Facebook, who reflects back what it is given by the supplicants.

The Facebook has become omniscient because of what the Nacirema show it. It has become omnipotent by what the Nacirema have given to it. It is, like all gods, ultimately, a reflection of the Spirit of the culture in which it exists… its knowledge, norms, and rituals. [2]


The Nacirema are thoroughly inscrutable. They pose an even greater mystery now than they did 60 years ago. That being said, it is possible that our methodology was wholly inadequate for making sense of the Nacirema and their rituals. New research modalities may be needed if we are ever to have any hope of truly understanding their strange customs.

Perhaps our study was too far at a distance from our subjects to offer the kind of penetrating insight we sought. Perhaps we should have spoken directly to the Nacirema in order to learn more about what motivates their customs and behaviors. Perhaps our small sample size was not diverse enough and our vantage point too ethnocentric to provide an accurate representation of the Nacirema. But despite these limitations, one thing is clear. The Nacirema are a fascinating, if not mystifying culture.


[1] Miner, Horace. 1956. “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.” In American Anthropologist, 58 , no

[2] Holmes, Arthur. Hegel on Absolute Spirit. Retrieved from