Context is king: Chibariyo!

So I looked up the Okinawan word ‘chibariyo.’

‘Chibariyo’ is usually explained by comparison with the Japanese ‘ganbare’ 頑張れ, i.e. to ‘hang in there!,’ to ‘never give up!,’ ‘Please do your best!’ etc. Read as ganbaru 頑張る, btw, it means to crusade; to fight; to press; to campaign; to push; to agitate.

In Japan, there’s the ideology of endurance called effort-ism (ganbarizumu 頑 張りズム). It emphasized the Japanese idea of man as the hard-working citizen already since the Meji era (1868–1912). In Japanese education (and shadow education), effort-ism still today has great importance: Everyone can become a top-performer and achieve high societal status by merits alone. This can be seen in the former catchphrase of Japanese education: “Everybody can make it, if only they try hard enough!” (doryoku o sureba, nantoka naru 努力すればなんとかなる).

That is, students tell themselves “I can do it!” (gambarimasu) over and over again so as to accumulate merits. This is the ideology of effort-ism (ganbarizumu). It is a meritocratic education that doesn’t take into account equal educational opportunities. And it is a formal ideological concept.

If so, this age-old, meritocratic effort-ism (ganbarizumu) might have entered the didactical ideology found in traditional Okinawa karate and kobudō. That is, by assigning a meaning to or reinterpreting the term ‘chibariyo.’

However, ‘chibariyo’ is also thought to have evolved as an euphonic change from the verb ‘kibaru’ 気張り, i.e. ‘to strain or exert oneself,’ ‘to go all out.’ Phonetically, this ‘kibaru’ is a much more convincing derivation than above ‘ganbare.’ But while ‘ganbare’ – as we have seen – represents a formal ideological concept that has entered national educational circles already in the Meiji era, ‘kibaru’ is just colloquial, or informal.

The lexical meanings of ‘kibaru’ are

  • 1. to make an effort; to endeavor; to strain or push oneself.
  • 2. to boast about oneself; to inflate oneself; to be full of oneself; to be cocky.
  • 3. to afford to do sth.; to treat oneself to sth.
  • 4. to be generous.
  • 5. to labor hard during defecation.

So, apparently, it is all a matter of context.

And the context has two dimensions:

  • 1) The contextual word meaning (see above 1. – 5.), and
  • 2) its formal (“for king and fatherland!”) or informal (“wassup bro?”) use.

BTW, here I added a phonetic transcription:

チバリヨーchibariyo tɕibaɾʲijo
chibariyo / ganbare

© 2020, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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