Wars of the Nacirema

Considered by many to be one of the most understudied cultures in our world, the Nacirema are becoming increasingly understood of late. Although our knowledge of their unique ways remains incomplete, many studies have been undertaken in the past century. The groundbreaking research by Horace Miner paved the way for dozens of ethnographers to explore different facets of the fascinating Nacirema culture. I have had a unique opportunity to study and live among the Nacirema for the past three years and gain invaluable insight into lives.

It has been previously suggested that the Nacirema are a highly masochistic and sadistic society. This hypothesis is supported by my examination of the war-like tendencies of the native inhabitants. The people engage in both direct and highly symbolic battle rituals, traversing many levels of societal abstraction. The Nacirema are constantly at war with one another, whether on an individual level, the family level and/or the tribal level.

As individuals, the Nacirema seem to be highly passive-aggressive creatures. They are in constant competition with one another for every trivial matter, yet they disguise their devious intentions behind kind and cheery façades. The Nacirema women plaster their faces with pigments to conceal their natural facial expressions, and women and men alike apply powerful chemicals to their underarms to mask their pheromones in order to avoid betraying their true emotions. The nature of their competition is occasionally a grand battle over social standing and the labor hierarchy, but it is more commonly over seemingly mundane matters, such as fighting over the most convenient place to temporarily store their transport vehicles.

The Nacirema also engage in inter-familial battles, over similarly trivial matters. Within the strangely geometrically organized communities in which the Nacirema reside, families whose abodes are most proximate are in constant competition. Things that an outsider would consider meaningless, such as the length of unnaturally cultivated grass surrounding their habitations, fascinate the Nacirema. The esteem in which they hold commonplace items provides the warring families with endless means to sabotage one another. For instance, the encroachment into a bed of flowers near a neighboring family’s residence by another family’s pet animal is considered one of the most challenging attacks possible.

These individual and familial battles are often highly calculated and unobtrusive, yet may occasionally break out into direct physical attacks (typically between the male family heads in the case of familiar war). These physical encounters are especially common at the Nacirema’s establishments dedicated to the ritual imbibing of fermented-grains liquids. Despite the potent toxicity of these liquids, the Nacirema engage in an apparently religious partaking of the foul potion to aid them in forgetting their social status and taboos. It is even a rite of passage for the natives that at a certain age their young consume so much of the toxic beverage as to bring them as near to death as possible, further exemplifying the masochistic nature of the Nacirema.

Not only do small units of their people practice war amongst themselves, but the Nacirema also engage in organized battle on a larger scale between various bands and tribes. This warring between tribes is highly symbolic, and unlike the smaller-scale battles, it rarely manifests itself in mass combat. Instead, the people of the tribes have erected massively complex codes of combat with many different forums for competition. The people within a tribe share almost no common interests or characteristics, yet they seem to possess an innate loyalty to their geographic neighbors. This sense of pride causes the natives to work towards striking down opponent tribes neither in the quest for resources, nor in a defensive manner, but rather in the pursuit of what the locals refer to as “bragging rights.”

One of the largest forums for intertribal combat is a highly ritualized practice known as lanoisseforp strops. These rituals involve groups of elite individuals elected to represent a tribe in different forms of battle depending on the time of year. Many forms of these strops battles throughout the year share key characteristics, which seem to have developed over a great length of time. Representatives from two tribes meet to battle in an organized and structured manner. The rules of combat are defined by culture-wide oversight organizations. The main instrument of war is usually a single, round, leather-bound object that is hurled or kicked at great velocities. And perhaps most morbidly, tens of thousands of tribal individuals gather to watch the ritualistic battle ceremony from the vicinities.

There seems to be no practical goal for the organized battles of the Nacirema. The crowds of screaming attendees of the strops battles clearly demonstrate the strong undercurrent of sadism in the cultural makeup of this people. It is believed that the Nacirema developed these symbolic combat rituals in an attempt to alleviate the suffering they faced during their bloody history of emergence as a culture. However, it is clear to me that the bloodlust of the Nacirema may soon wipe them all out, no matter the intricacies and formalities they may attempt to veil it with.


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