The Nacirema culture is highly complex with numerous peculiar rituals. Perhaps the most well-known ritual is that of the obsession with the human body, which was described by Horace Miner, my mentor. However, that is but one droplet in the sea of uniqueness that this group of people brings to the table. I recently was given the privilege of experiencing a ceremony that is inexplicably chaotic and equally perplexing, yet many Naciremans willingly participate in it year after year. It is called Kcalb Yadirf, and, if you know the Nacireman language, you know that even this title has an ominous tone to it.
Kcalb Yadirf begins the day after Gnivigsknaht, which is an annual feast also specific to the Nacirema culture. Members from various clans rise from their slumbers three to four hours after midnight (and some do not even go to sleep in the first place!) and venture to numerous trade centers housed in large edifices. They anxiously stand in a queue that often winds around the outside of the trade center and bring items that provide warmth to endure the harsh weather conditions. These Nacirema are capable of waiting in these queues for many hours until the gatekeepers of the trade centers allow them entrance. Once this occurs, the madness begins.
As the doors open, the mobs of Nacirema rush inside and lose all sense of order. If one is not careful, one can be severely injured – or even trampled to death – by other Nacirema overtaken by carelessness and hysteria. Naciremans search through stacks and piles of various goods for the items they would like to acquire. Oftentimes, these items are depicted on pieces of parchment that also illuminate how much one has to trade in order to obtain each object. The bargains on Kcalb Yadirf are often much better than those during the rest of the year, which may be why this ritual is so appealing to many Naciremans. However, many of the desired trinkets and devices are scarce in quantity, which creates much competition, desperation, and unfettered anger. I personally witnessed two matriarchs from different clans quarreling over an anthropomorphized red, plush figurine that convulses and shrieks when one squeezes its abdominal region! Once each Nacirema finds what he/she is looking for, they perform the final act before officially acquiring each miscellaneous object: they present certain members of the trade center either paper or coins with varying values or a magical plastic card, and this is deemed satisfactory in the trading process.
Kcalb Yadirf is not limited to certain members of a clan; anyone may partake if they have an appropriate way to bargain for items. Furthermore, there are generally two reasons why certain Naciremans participate in this ritual. Most Naciremans acquire items on this day to prepare for future ceremonies, including (but not limited to) Samtsirhc, days celebrating births of the past and present, and the legal union of two people. These are examples of balanced reciprocity, which is somewhat of an obligation for a social relationship to continue and significant in the Nacireman culture (and even other cultures around the world). Merchant Naciremans participate in Kcalb Yadirf because they believe that this day will bring them the greatest success of the year. All in all, it is evident that this ritual is multidimensional and highly important to this unique culture. However, I expect that there will be competition from a new ritual emerging called Rebyc Yadnom, which is a few days after Kcalb Yadirf and does not require the high-stress treks to the trade centers in order to obtain desired items.
Photo credit: Robert Barney