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the Wodaabe social system, that there are no artists

since everyone makes art, and that in dancing, anyone

can participate [albeit in certain dances allotted to the
age and gender group that a Bodaado belongs] and
only beauty reigns (17).
Symmetry plays a large part in what is
considered beautiful. Unlike the Janpanese who value
asymmetry in the form of space and fullness balancing
eachother, the Wodaabe balance like with like. These
spacial arrangements are paramount in the Wodaabes
every-day life. Tattoos on one side of the face are
mirrored identically on the other side, and the most
beautiful cattle have perfectly symmetrical horns.
One explanation for this is that symmetry identifes
Wodaabe as people with culture as opposed to their
comparatively asymmetrical, disordered, natural
surroundings that have no culture (Bovin, Nomads
19). Symmetry is therefore linked to humanness.
Also, symmetry must be learned if nomadism is to
be practical, or even possible. Without symmetry,
packing the donkeys with belongings would be
fruitless, as a lack of balance would cause belongings
and small children to fall off the beasts of burden
(Bovin, Nomads 32).
If a Bodaado is not beautiful or symmetrical,
he can make it up in togu, charm. Wodaabe say, to
be beautiful is good, but to have togu is even better!
(Bovin, Nomads 27). Togu can be displayed as
magic charms and amulets, as tattoos (every Bodaado
has charm dots on either side of their nose), or if
a Bodaado is a good dancer (this includes being a
talented girner), a lead singer, or has an especially
good sense of humor, he or she is considered to have
togu (Bovin, Nomads18 and 27). Charm is likened
to water, the source of life and happiness in Wodaabe
lore (Bovin, Nomads 29). Still, the importance of
beauty is not diminished by this loopholeWodaabe
men will trek 1400 km to fnd the saffron-colored
clay that they use on their faces for yaake, and they
are considered lazy and are scorned if they do not use
their mirror often and express vanity (Bovin, Nomads
22 and 25). Masculinity is associated with vanity, and
a young Bodaado boy may be taught to hold and use
a mirror before he is two (recall Fig. 44). If a woman
is beautiful, she may be given a nickname that refers
to her beauty or poise (Bovin, Nomads 29). Checking
oneself in the mirror and applying kohl around the
eyes and mouth is the frst thing a Bodaado does in the
morning (Bovin, Nomads 9). Before dances, hours
will be spent making-up and becoming more beautiful
and charmingthis is considered work (Bovin 38).
Beauty and charm are a serious matter for
Wodaabe. Within their groups, beauty and charm
ensure blessings, recognition, and popularity. Often
these qualities will lead to marriage, or several
marriages (for women and men alike), and sometimes
the lack of these traits in a man will cause the Bodaado
to lose a wife to a more charming man whom she may
choose at geerewol or worso. Beyond the Wodaabes
populace, these traits may carry some political power.
The dances and especially the girning and elaborate
costuming make the Wodaabe very unique in their
country, and indeed, in the world. By overdoing their
ethnic manifestations the Wodaabe retain a strong
sense of self, nobility, and ethnic pride in a world
where nomads are ever-marginalized and encouraged
to settle (Bovin, Nomads 59). The exoticism of
Wodaabe (as described by non-Wodaabe) may not
have evolved as such a political defense against losing
the laawol pulaaku (moral code), but it certainly
functions, today, as a mark of distinction and as a
reminder of the importance of remaining Wodaabe.
Synopsis of girning and cultural values of
the Wodaabe.
Girning actually takes place during dances
such as the ruume, borno, geerewol, and most
emphatically during the yaake. Eyes are widened,
blinked, and rolled, the teeth are exposed, lips quiver,
cheeks fll and defate, and the audience is enthralled.
The natural beauty of the face may be exhibited and
enhanced by this sort of culturally charming behavior.
A Bodaado, like the Maori in the next chapter, would
be considered, in Goffmans terms, to be maintaining
face in the sense that he gives himself positive social
value by participating in the girning performances.
Part of the reason girning is culturally beautiful is
because it is thought to be magical, and as Wodaabe,
People of the Taboo, this is intrinsically important.
The symmetry of the mens beautiful faces
refect the importance of symmetry and beauty in the
daily life of these nomads, who depend on symmetry
and balance to load their belongings with each move,
and think of symmetry as the defning quality that
separates them as people with culture from their wild,
natural surroundings. The beauty of the exaggerated
faces during the dances is an extension of the time and
energy the Wodaabe spend keeping themselves made-
up and looking lovely at all times. Beauty is important
in virtually everything the Wodaabe do and own.
The movement of the face into girning expressions
conveys the idea that it is not enough for a Bodaado
to be beautiful, and that togu, charm, personality,
magnetism, is even more highly valued. Beauty and
charm inherent within a Bodaado mans girning are
also valuable weapons against his opponents, against
whom he competes in dance for recognition, and less
metaphorically, in life, for wives. The sukaabes main
occupation is to appear as handsome as possible
and attract young girls both in every day life, and
during the dances (Van Offelen 22). Finally, Wodaabe
girning and the dances that accompany this facial
expression serve as a method of distinction, to remind
oneself, each other, and other peoples that they are
Wodaabethat is, they are nomads, follow their moral
code (laawol pulaaku), and are beautiful people.
Chapter Four
Who are the Maori?
Maori have inhabited New Zealand since
approximately 950 A.D. when they arrived from
East Polynesia. The name Maori was not adopted
until the late eighteenth century when pakeha (white,
European men)
began to visit and live in New
Zealand, as well. Tangata maori is how the islanders
referred to themselves, meaning usual, ordinary men
(Metge 41). The pakeha began using the shortened
form, simply maori (ordinary), as a noun to
describe the locals they found, and the islanders
accepted this name as their own.
The attitude towards the Maori of many
pakeha settlers was one of unity and equality, though
the majority imported assumptions of superiority
over non-Europeans which were strengthened by
misunderstandings arising from intercourse with the
Maoris and changed to fear and antagonism by Maori
It is not known from where the word pakeha origi-
resistance to settlement (McLintock 477). The
Maoris responded with a growing hostility to the
settlers (McLintock 477). Many wars were fought,
and today Maoris make up the largest minority in New
Zealand. The general feeling is that while the pakeha
have taken their ancestral land, they cannot take
their culture or ethnicity away. Therefore, traditional
customs and rituals, like the haka, in which girning
occurs, continue today.
What does Girning look like?
There are four main facial expressions that
constitute girning in haka (posture dance, discussed in
the next section), and are, in fact, essentials of haka:
pukana, ngangahu, whetero, and potete. Pukana is
a dilating or rolling of the eyes, so that the whites
are exaggerated and the pupils are barely seen; it is
an expression that men and women both take part in
(Fig. 57 & 58)(Karetu 30). Ngangahu is very similar
to the pukana and is
also performed by
both sexes. Whetero
is a protruding of
the tongue and is
performed only by
men (Fig. 59 & 60).
Potete is a closing of
the eyes at different
points during haka and
is performed only by women (Karetu 29). These four
emblematic expressions do not have intrinsic meaning,
but serve to intensify what is said in the hakas words.
Under what circumstances is girning
The Maori have performed haka (posture
Fig. 57 & 58: Dilating of the eyes is called pukana (Karetu,
cover and 25)
Fig. 59 & 60: Whetero involves extending the tongue full length (HPS
and Karetu 31)
Fig. 61: Picture of a haka (Best 145)
dance) for hundreds of years; indeed, no Maori
ceremony is [or has been] complete without haka
(Karetu 13) (Fig.61-63). When asked to defne the art
of haka, veteran master haka performer and teacher
Henare Teowai answered, The whole body should
speak (Karetu 22). The best full description of this
dance, according to haka expert Timoti Karetu, comes
from Alan Armstrongs book Maori Games and Haka:
The haka is a composition played by
many instruments. Hands, feet, legs, body,
voice, tongue and eyes all
play their part in blending
together to convey in their
fullness the challenge,
welcome, exultation,
defance or contempt of the
It is disciplined,
yet emotional. More than
any other aspect of Maori
culture, this complex dance
is an expression of the
passion, vigor and identity
of the race. It is at its best,
truly, a message of the soul
expressed by words and
posture (25)
Note that the tongue and
eyes maintain equality with voice, legs, and
body. In fact, their mention among such a short
list of body parts elevates, or at least highlights,
their importance in the dance.
Nowadays, haka refers to dance with the
men in the fore and the women supporting them
vocally from the rear, but there are traditionally
one or more women who perform to the side
of the men known as the manu ngangahu, and
they are usually the women known to have the
best pukana (Karetu 32). This tradition is still carried
on in some instances and further demonstrates the
importance of facial expression in haka and Maori
What relevance does girning have?
Human experience. In Maori culture,
all of human behavior is to be celebrated, and this
celebration often takes place in the form of haka.
Elsdon Best describes the expression found in haka
Public feelings often found expression
in the form of a haka, and they were organized
in connection with a multitude of subjects.
Where we write to the papers to ventilate
or right some wrong or grievance, the
Maori composes a haka directed against his
detractor or opponent. Where we sedately
shake hands with a party of guests on their
arrival, the Maori chanted rhythmic refrains to
them, accompanied by vigorous and equally
rhythmical action: this as a welcome. (144)
The frst haka ever performed is said to
have dealt with masturbation in quite an open and
straightforward manner
. Traditional Maori culture
dictates that everything of the human experience is
worthy and certainly not considered lewd, indecent,
or offensive in any way (Karetu 33). Hakas of similar
nature to the frst one, new or hundreds of years old
are still performed today, but the main predictor
regarding what is performed is that the themes of
haka refect the times, regardless of the content. This
The frst haka, legend has it, was performed by a group
of women whose mission it was to fnd Kae, a man who had
killed and eaten their villages tame whale, and bring him back
so that their village could avenge his wrongdoings. None of the
women knew Kae, but they knew he had a gap between his teeth.
Thus they decided they needed to make him laugh, to be able to
identify him, and then render him unconscious with their chant-
ing so that they could capture him more easily. They succeeded
by performing a haka with words involving female masturbation:
I learn to haka
I learn to explore with my hands
I learn to open wide
Not to open wide
I learn to twitch
Not to twitch
Pulsating upwards, pulsating downwards
My vagina throbs, my vagina fbrillates
Ahaven of lingering warmth. (Karetu 16)
The whales village-people took their revenge when the haka
group brought an unconscious Kae back to be killed.
means that there are hakas written about innumerable
issues and that while traditional hakas are still
performed, they are generally not performed as often
because the reasons for their being composed are
no longer appropriate in todays context (Karetu
62). The winning haka of the 1992 Aotearoa
Performing Arts Festival illustrates nicely how hakas
keep up to date and refer to the concerns at hand:
You are your own destroyer! You are
your own exterminator!
We become very emotive about the
number of road deaths each year, many of
which relate to drinking. Although last year,
600-odd road fatalities were recorded, these
fgures do not compare to the 4,000-odd
smoke-related deaths each year (of which 600
are Maori)a meaningless waste of life. This
murderous habit slowly but surely kills the
body whilst still living.
Think about it, you could actually be
your own monitor or savior of your children,
grandchildren, and future generations. (Karetu
There are different types of haka that are
reserved for particular sentiments or events; for
instance, the kai ora ora is used to vent hatred (it
literally means to eat alive)**, whereas the whakatu
waewae generally accords a peaceful intent and the
peruperu, the war dance, is used to psychologically
demoralize the enemy. Regardless of the context in
which the haka was composed, the main objective is
to express oneself in a manner that is fully humanistic.
The face has an integral, and even primary,
Maori word for New Zealand
** These are often kept alive by the brunt of the haka as it is
considered an honor to be an inspiration of a haka, no matter the
nature of the content
Fig. 62: Ahaka called the peruperu (Karetu 38)
Fig. 63: Amodern day haka competition (Karetu 86)
responsibility in conveying the meaning of the words
of the haka.
The dance enlists the entire body, including
the face, and so early pakeha visitors to New Zealand
often described the dance and its performers as
ugly, scary, indecent, grotesque, and so on, which is
understandable when keeping in mind the relevancy
girning has in Anglo/American culture. One
particularly evocative but maligning description
comes from C.R. Brownes book Maori Witchery,
printed in 1929, in which he describes this scene: In
perfect time, the warriors stamped the ground and
beat their breasts, with their eyes hideously rolling
and their tongues lolling out in derision. They looked
like fends from hell (61). While the Maori may
have been performing a particularly derisive and
contemptuous haka, their aim would not have been
to look like fends from hella very subjective,
Victorian-era, European observationbut rather it
would have been to express fully, as humans, the
human emotion of hate (or whatever the haka may
have been about) (Fig. 64). One haka describes the
sentiments against acting like anything but a human in
the words translated below:
All: .Do not adopt a puppets stance
Nor perform as one!
Leader: What are the essential features of the
All: That the body be virile and sinewy,
The eyes be expressive,
And the tongue protrude full length,
For this is the avenue,
Whereby the thoughts of the mind are
A! ha! ha! (Karetu 24).
Thus the facial expressions lend more
credibility and enhance the words of the haka.
Regardless of whether the haka is serious, sad,
threatening, or luring, the facial features refect the
mood of the dance and the story adeptly and concisely
(Fig. 65).
Encouraging mana and mirroring tapu. The
hakas of myth often involve deception in favor of the
protagonist, aiding his escape or signaling an attack
as he entrances the antagonist(s) with haka perfection.
They also tell of royal or especially attractive men and
women falling in love when they witness each others
beauty of movement as he or she performs haka, and
subsequently being matched for marriage by their
families because of their competency in haka. In
each case the haka dancer conveys to the audience the
epitome of feminine grace and beauty or masculine
vigor and strength (Karetu 15-21). The aspect of well-
performed haka from myth has continued through
traditional and contemporary haka. Timoti Karetu
notes that
The ability to haka and to
do so with style, grace, elegance
and panache, was essential and
extremely important in traditional
Maori society. It is no less
important in contemporary society.
Throughout the Maori world
individuals and groups, because
of their reputations as performers
of haka, enjoy a celebrity and
status comparable to that of our
forebears. (21)
This celebrity and status
is known as mana, which is best
described by Metge as psychic
power, intimately associated with social standing
and prestige (10). As the Maori were and are a very
status-conscious people, increasing ones mana has
Fig.64: Agirn akin to that which may have caused early Pakeha to describe the Maori as looking like fends from hell, when the
performer may have just been expressing hatred through his body to its fullest (Index 7)
Fig. 65: In haka the whole body comes into play, particularly the face. The expression
of the face can illustrate the meaning of the words quite graphically. (photo and
caption from Karetu 23)
always been of primary concern
(Metge 20). In traditional Maori
society an entire tribal
mana (reputation) could rise or fall
due to their ability to haka well
(Karetu 25). A similar idea, that
of tapu, also infuences the Maori
in his day to day living. Tapu
can be described as a mysterious
quality of supernatural origin which
possessed and resided in parts of
the natural world, making them
sacred or unclean according to
context (Metge 10). For instance,
birth is considered tapu both
because of the sanctity of the newcomer, and also
because of the messiness of the birth itself. A woman
in pre-pakeha times would go to a special hut outside
her village to give birththis was to welcome the
new baby in a consecrated space, but shortly thereafter
the hut would be burnt to the ground so as to respect
the tapu nature of birth and do away with its tapu
uncleanliness (Metge 28). Metge tells us that while
fear of tapu was inculcated early, young children
were not checked in their overall aggressiveness
because to grow up proud and ferce was desirable
(29). The same sort of dual identity or multifacet of
ideas that is seen in the nature of taputhat it is both
sacrosanct and taboo at the same time, or that it can
tribal meaning family group plus non-family members
who live within a particular region and are thus considered part of
the group or tribe
be either, depending on the contextis also seen in
the girning of haka. That is, the dancers face can be
alluring, mad, proud, or frightening, determined by the
situation, even though in each case the dancer might
be performing the same type of expressions, pukana
(dilating and/or rolling of the eyes) and whetero
(protruding of the tongue). There are subtleties in the
dances girning and also in the nature of tapu
make them understood by the audience who is familiar
with these subtleties.
Intensity. The performers of haka must be
able to perform with their allno half-measures are
taken (Karetu 33). While not every performer in the
group must be able to perform pukana and whetero,
The English word taboo comes from the Tongan
word tabu which is similar in meaning to Maori tapu,
although the Maori word has more of a double-edged sword con-
notation than does the English word, in that something tapu is not
only forbidden or prohibited, but also sacred and to be venerated.
the haka as a whole is considered substandard if there
are not any examples of these facial expressions done
with grace and style by some of the performers
(Karetu 29). This is because the eyes are the
windows of the soul and can say much that the rest of
the body cannot, and because the usage of whetero
allows certain words or phrases of the haka to be
emphasized (Fig. 66). Without the tongue, the words
could not be spoken, and since mana rises or falls
with the competency of the speaker, so the tongue is
honored in haka with the whetero and also other Maori
art, such as the images of Maori carvings (Karetu 30)
(Fig. 67). The tongue does not necessarily denote
defance as is often thought but serves as an intensifer
of what has been said. Similarly, pukana is not always
meant to be intimidating. A description from 1840
exemplifes these sorts of common misconceptions
about the intended meaning of the facial expressions,
in an otherwise well written and apt portrayal of the
At the same time their countenances are
distorted into every possible shape the muscles
of the human face can admit of, a leader gives
a new grimace which is adopted instantly by all
the performers in the most exact union, rolling
the eye-balls to and fro in their sockets, that at
times the ball becomes almost inverted. This
feat has the most diabolical appearance where
a stain of blue pigment encircles the orbit of
visionThe tongues of the performers were
thrust out of their mouths, with an extension
that rivaled the well-known chameleon, a feat
accomplished by long habitual practice form
early infancy. (Polack 88)
Far from being diabolical, an instance
of pukana performed by a lady and graced with a
knowing smile can do much to beguile and allure
(Karetu 30). Similarly, a man is considered attractive
as they pukana and whetero, even though theirs are
different than that of a ladys.
On the other hand, there are hakas where the
content does denote intimidation. These few hakas
are often mistaken to make up the entire repertoire
of hakas, though this is erroneous, as we know that
hakas express the vast array of human emotion and
experience. One such intimidating and extraordinarily
intense haka is the war dance, called the peruperu, and
is described by Awatere, an acknowledged master of
Hard conditioning makes the warriors
physically and mentally ft to perform this
dance which has the psychological purpose
of demoralizing the enemy by gestures,
by posture, by controlled chanting, by
conditioning to look ugly, furious to roll the
fery eye, to glare the light of battle therein, to
spew the defant tongue to control, to distort, to
snort, to fart the thunder of the war-god upon
Fig. 66: Karu Pukana!
Let the whites of the eyes be seen.
The eyes are the window to the soul and say much about the feelings of the performer.
If the eyes are inexpressive the performance is lack-lustre and mediocre (Photo and
caption from Karetu 30)
Fig. 67: Maori carvings with expressive tongues
(McLintock 422)
the enemy, to stamp furiously, to yell raucous,
hideous, blood-curdling sounds, to carry the
angerthroughout the heat of battle (Karetu
Figure 62 shows a picture of the peruperu, in
which you can see the performers jumping in unison.
Note the man near the center of the photograph who
has his eyes widened and tongue stuck out in a more
exquisite example of the intended girn than the other
Synopsis of girning and cultural values of
the Maori
In this chapter, it becomes apparent that the
Maori are a proud and intense people, who, like the
Wodaabe, girn and perform the haka as a method
by which to distinguish their ethnicity and cultural
heritage. They are interested in cultivating glory and
mana for themselves and their tribal group, which
might otherwise be described by Goffman as saving
and maintaining face. They are also interested in
experiencing and expressing the vast array of human
emotions and phenomena. Haka well demonstrates
this, with its wide variety of types of hakas for
different occasions and the notion that no experience
is taboo to be expressed within haka. The performers
pukana, whetero, and other facial expressions are
equal in importance to the words of the haka, as
has been described in the words of various hakas
shared in this chapter. When a dancer sticks out
his tongue he is emphasizing the importance of the
spoken word, both in that particular haka and in daily
life. When a dancer rolls back the eyes, he or she is
again emphasizing the words of the haka, whatever
they might be, and is expressing an emotion via the
eyes that may not be understood fully without that
expression. Maori believe in doing nothing half-
heartedly, and the extent to which they girn in the haka
is certainly one of the best examples of this principle.
Chapter Five
Under what circumstance is girning
performed in Japanese culture?
Japanese live or hail from the island of Japan.
I will concentrate in this introductory section on the
history of Kabuki theatre, where girning is performed,
rather than describing who the Japanese are.
Kabuki theatre, a highly stylized form of
drama, along with many other traditional Japanese art
forms, came about during the Edo (now Tokyo) period
from 1603 to 1868. During that time, Japan was
isolated from other countries by a strict governmental
mandate made by Tokugawa shogun, and the country
formed a cultural heritage free from the infuences
of other nations. Also during this time, the merchant
class rose in number, increased their wealth, and thus
sought out entertainment that was more sophisticated
than folk-traditions, and less stuffy than the
aristocratic Noh theatre. In the same vein, members of
the samurai class sought out entertainment where they
could relax their strict hierarchical roles and mingle
with the newly wealthy commoners of Japan. Kabuki
theatre flled this niche.
Kabuki was frst performed by a shrine maiden,
Okuni, in a dry riverbed near Kyoto, and was much
disdained by the government and aristocrats. Actors
and dancers were considered to be pariahs at that time
(female actors were often prostitutes), and had to wear
the same face-obscuring hat that criminals wore when
they were out in public. Over the course of ffty years,
Kabuki was checked and regulated by the government
partially because of the presence of prostitutes and
young boys in the theatre who on several occasions
brought shame to government offcials who frequented
the theatre. Although the government did not like
the theatre, and saw it as a pernicious infuence, it
realized that, if banned, it would continue because of
its popularity (Spencer 2). Thus, Kabuki was allowed
to continue, albeit with the stipulation that it would be
a male-only performance, with men playing women,
called onnagata, as necessary. The hope was that
without women performing in Kabuki, there would be
less licentiousness.
About the time that Kabuki became a
fully male endeavor, the Genroku Period, a great
renaissance phase in Japanese culture, was in full
swing. As the main theatrical entertainment of the
commoners, Kabuki fourished. Many of the kata,
or styles and techniques, that are still performed
today were developed during this time, including the
aragoto (rough business; extremely exaggerated
and powerful style), wagoto (soft style; delicate
and refned), maruhon (derived from Bunraku puppet
theatre), and shosagoto (pose business; mostly
dance) forms of Kabuki; plays written by Chikamatsu
Monzaemon, the Shakespeare of Japan; and, within
aragoto form, the mie (Johnson 2).
Today, Kabuki is still performed proudly
by professional Kabuki actors as part of Japans
cultural heritage. However, it plays much the
same role that Shakespearian plays do in Anglo/
American culture today. While the famous plays are
faithfully performed as homage to a great playwright
(Shakespeare or Monzaemon), and proudly as part of
the cultures heritage, and while there are certainly
enthusiasts who frequent such performances, the
majority of the population does not see them regularly
throughout the year, but maybe once a year during a
cultural or arts festival, or, even, perhaps only once in
a lifetime with a school trip or something of the sort.
What does girning look like?
The girn that occurs in Kabuki theatre is a
glaring that includes one or two crossed eyes (Fig. 68).
The mouth may or may not be drawn into a downward
turning grimace. This is part of the mie, which has
been described by Earle Ernst as the ultimate physical
expression toward which all Kabuki movement tends
(178). Inherent within mie is the girning that takes
Fig. 68: Kabuki actor in mie, crossing
his eyes in nirami. (Spencer Dramatic
place in Kabuki theatre, as has just been stated, and
is called nirami. Mie is used for dramatic effect,
like an exclamation point to signify the importance
of a specifc moment or the end of a scene, and has
a similar function to close-up techniques employed
in flms (Bowers 190, Hamamura 6). It is, in this
way, also similar to the intensifying function that
girning holds in Maori haka, although girning is done
throughout haka, whereas in Kabuki, girning is only
performed at the climax.
The mie came about as a kata (style) of the
aragoto technique developed by Ichikawa Danjuro I,
and is, according to the Kabuki Encyclopedia, defned
A picturesque and striking pose taken
by an actor at a climactic moment in a play in
order to make a powerful impression on the
audience. The movements made in assuming
the pose culminate in a rhythmic snapping
of the head, as the actor produces a glaring
expression with his eyes. Normally, wooden
clappers (tsuke) are struck and music is played
as the actor makes his pose. These rhythmic
devices act to strengthen the poses effect
(Leiter 232).
When an actor cuts
a mie, his effort must
be directed toward
imposing himself upon
his audience with the
maximum power of his
resources (Scott 105).
This is accomplished
by forming a grandiose
pose with arms and
fngers outstretched,
rolling his head and, as
the sound of the tsuke
climax, fnishing with
niramihis face in full
frontal or profle view to
the audience, eyes open
wide, pupil(s) slowly
turning inward. The eye
to be crossed is the eye
farthest from the object
of his attention. That
is, if the hero strikes a
mie and the villain is on
his right, he will face
forward, towards the
the Japanese verb for performing a mie translates as to
Fig. 69: Nirami shows the utmost tension of the actors emotional agitation (Koga)
audience, and his left eye will cross in order to draw
the audiences attention to the villain while his right
eye remains staring ahead. This crossing of the eye
is used as a stylistic way to express the characters
utmost tension of emotional agitation (Bowers 190)
(Fig. 69).
As for why the mie looks the way it does,
Ernst postulates that the facial expressions may
have frst been lifted from Hindu and Buddhist
carvings and statues, as described here:
The god Fudo, who is the Japanese
manifestation of the Hindu god Acala, has the
power to ward off devils. His large eyes stare
defantly, the corners of his mouth are drawn
down in a forbidding expression, he is surrounded
with fre. The Nio, the two gods that stand at
either side of the entrances of the larger Buddhist
temples (brought to Japan in 9
century), are
similarly engaged in warding off evil; the
eyes are crossed, and all the muscles tense.
They possess, in common with the mie, these
qualities: Their attitudes are balanced and self-
contained in the use of the antagonistic muscles,
so that tension and intensity of expression are
the chief characteristics; since the movement is
self-contained, the attitude is defensive rather than
offensive; the crossing of the eyes, according to the
Japanese, concentrates the line of the eyes in a single
direction and thus intensifes the expression; the
drawing down of the corners of the mouth creates
a grim expression which intimidates the aggressor.
One can see the similarity between the temple
gods and the Kabuki actors faces when comparing
Figures 68 and 70. Although the tongue is kept inside
the mouth for a majority of mies, the eyes remain
crossed and muscles tense and exaggerated.
What relevance does girning have and why?
Because the mie is such a stylized kata, it
is considered to be one of the most characterizing
features of Kabuki, which is itself so stylized, with
exaggerated, dance-like, expansive, and carefully
measured gestures and movements (Bowers 190).
Mie is such an important aspect of Kabuki theatre that
it is familiar to all Japanese, and has made its way
into the common vocabulary of the Japanese as in
o mie wo kiru (to cut a mie), meaning to seek a
dramatic effect, or play to the gallery (Scott 105).
This playing to the gallery is intrinsic within Kabuki
theatre. Ernst goes so far as to say that the Kabuki
actor has always existed for his audience (82).
Throughout the play, the audience responds audibly
to what they like or dislike, with shouts and applause,
but the enthusiasm of the spectators climaxes just
as the actors movements climax in mie; they shout
complimentary words, and phrases of encouragement.
One common such phrase is Matte imashita!
(Weve been waiting for this!) which illustrates the
extent to which mie is important in Kabuki theatre; it
Fig. 70: Buddhist deity guarding a temple (Kumar)
is what the audience waits for above all else during the
play (Ernst 82). While girning does not particularly
indicate losing, saving, or maintaining face in
the same way that it does in the other case-studies
(because in this case the performer is an actor, not just
a performer), the audience is certainly pleased when
the actor cuts a mie, and is disappointed if he does not
live up to their expectations. In this way, it could be
said that the actor maintains face by continuing to
be a good girning actor, but otherwise the girning does
not refect on his personal assets or shortcomings. In
the other case-studies, the girning refects directly
Fig. 71 & 72: Sharakus woodblock prints are famous for their depictions of Kabuki actors (Cheung and Ma) (Note: Mr. John
R. Gaines presently owns the original Sharaku woodblock print in Fig. 72).
onto the persons social standing, whereas in this case,
girning only refects the persons ability to act.
Mie as it relates to other art forms. The face,
the bodies of the actors, and the stage scene are meant
to form an aesthetically pleasing picture at any time
during the play, were it to be photographed: this is the
underlying principle of all Kabuki movement. The
mie stops the movement on the stage and forms a pose
that may incorporate one, or, to a lesser extent, two
or more actors at once, and spotlights the moment for
the audience. Many of Toshusai Sharakus famous
woodcuts and paintings from the Genroku Period
render Kabuki actors at the apex of their acting ability
in the mie, posing rigidly to impress the audience
(Scott 105) (Fig. 71 & 72). Since the mie is the
highest point of audience interest, it is imperative that
the actors perform lithely and skillfully like the actors
of old, depicted in Sharakus work. In fact, these
pieces of artwork have served as acting guides for
Kabuki actors since their creation (Bowers 190).
Another art form that has had more impact on
Kabuki is Bunraku puppet theatre. Whereas Sharakus
woodcuts depict early and infuential Kabuki actors,
and serve as guidelines for actors, Bunraku nearly
eclipsed Kabuki in popularity during the Genroku
period, and so, in order to keep an interested audience,
Kabuki borrowed gestures, playwrights and movement
styles directly from Bunraku theatre. For over a
century these two theatre types mutually infuenced
each other as one and then the other would become
Fig. 73: Bunraku puppet head (Arnoh)
more fashionable. For instance, many of the most
popular Kabuki plays were originally written for
Bunraku. Since the plays were frst made famous by
puppets, Kabuki actors would try their best to imitate
the puppets in style. They would move a great deal
more than was necessary, and in a very exaggerated
way in order to express feeling, rather than speaking,
since puppets couldnt speak (Hamamura 38). These
sorts of kata continue in Kabuki today. Sometimes a
stage-hand dressed in black will accentuate the effect
and aid the actor in his movements, like a puppeteer
would manipulate a puppet. Peter Arnoh, in The
Theatres of Japan, notes that:
The actor may use bodily movement
as a substitute for facial expression, but the
puppet must; it is here that the Kabuki actor
most clearly shows his affliations. This has
been noted previously, in connection with the
mie. When the Kabuki protagonist, with his
mask-like make-up
strikes his triumphant
and contorted pose, eyes rolling and eyebrows
working frantically, he is imitating his puppet
counterpart. (196) (Fig. 73)
This kata of using puppet-like actions is, as
mentioned earlier, known as maruhon.
Allusion and Space. The aforementioned
Kabuki playwright and Shakespeare of Japan,
Chikamatsu Monzaemon, once wrote that art lies
somewhere in the shadowy frontiers between reality
and illusion (Bowers 193). While this statement
may hold true for art forms worldwide, one must
remember that, as Ernst imparts, Japanese allude to
kumadori is make-up which serves to accentuate the
facial expressions of the actor
an idea which is more important than the actualization
of that idea (199). This latter statement has been
attributed to the Japanese because, while it may also
apply to certain art forms in other cultures, virtually
all of traditional Japanese aesthetic is based upon this
idea. For instance, in ikebana (the art of Japanese
fower arranging), the artist might take a twisted
branch and accentuate the actual twist by forming
space around it with fowers. In nature, the twist was
already there, but may have been obscured by other
branchesit takes an artists talent to fnd and then
allude to what is found in a real situation in such a
way that forms a nonrealistic aura created by the
precise yet suggestive design of its surface (Ernst
80). On the Kabuki stage, these principles are
expressed in moments of complete and literal
representation of reality followed by such fancy
as to border on the nonsensical (Bowers 193).
Similarly, in Kabuki, the mie serves to create a
strong impression of the action, but in reality no
one would ever stop the action to draw attention
to it, especially with crossed eyes. Another
example of this unnatural quality in Kabuki
theatre is the instance where the protagonist of
one play lops the heads off eight people merely
by touching his sword. These sorts of very
stylistic techniques of the drama, along with
the exaggerated make-up (called kumadori),
costumes, and puppet-like gesturing cue the
spectators at every moment that what they are
watching is art and not actuality. The audience
of the Kabuki performance is completely aware that
it is watching a play at all times. It is, as one Kabuki
actor described it, a plausible lie (quoted in Ernst
81). Further, the audience is not required or expected
to suspend its disbelief, willingly or unwillingly, for
it accepts art on the premise of its being nonrealistic
(81). In short, Japanese art contains within itself
a quality known as aesthetic distance, and Kabuki
theatre is no exception (Ernst 80). At one point, two
Kabuki actors named Danjuro IX and Kikugoro V
strived to perform and infuence the theatre to be
more realistic. Danjuro IX deleted all mies from his
characters, and Kikugoro went as far as counting
the number of boards in a real bridge that was to be
depicted in his play so that his stage bridge would
be realistic. However, this tendency did not last, as
Japanese audiences and Kabuki actors have such a
strong aesthetic justifcation for irrationalities in
artmie and nirami are integral to Kabuki theatre, and
Danjuros and Kikugoros violations of the traditional
acting styles were considered ignorant rather than
original (Bowers 197, 199).
Because the Kabuki actor reserves facial
expression for only the most signifcant moments, it
is thrown into high relief against the ground of facial
immobility and is not obscured by reactionary facial
expression. This virtual lack of expression except
during the mie and few other instances during the play
could be thought of as the space that surrounds the
nirami. Space is very important in Japanese everyday
life, since it is one of the driving principles behind
their aestheticism (Coster, and Bowers). Just as
Kabuki actors make a point by departing from realism
and by using space (girning during a signifcant point
in the play, when much of the play is performed
virtually expressionless), the Japanese as a whole tend
to draw attention to their intentions by creating space
around the idea or notion. To illustrate this sentiment,
I will paraphrase an anecdote that Arnoh uses to
describe the Japanese preference for negative or
spacious values rather than the positive, flled values
of the West. He was eating with a Japanese friend, but
did not eat his tofu. When asked about this, he replied
that he did not like it, to which his friend was aghast,
how can you dislike tofu? Its quite tasteless! (173).
In Japanese culture, space balances fullness, which
is why asymmetry (as is often seen in the mie) often
appears in its art-forms. In fact, this notion pervades
Japanese culture, and informs the lives of the Japanese
in matters of landscape, housing, spirituality, and of
course art. Perhaps the overpopulation of the island
further enhances the importance of space, or at least
the tradition is continued by balancing the fullness of
human presence with the importance of space in the
aesthetic realm.
Synopsis of girning and cultural values of
the Japanese.
Within Kabuki theatre, there is a form of
girning called nirami, which is inherent to the mie, a
grandiose pose used to signify the end of a scene or
a very important part of the play. The girning itself
may have arisen from the art of some of the many
religions that have migrated to Japan. Performing mie
requires great skill and the audience appreciates this,
yelling encouragements and clapping wildly. Part of
the reason the audience enjoys the mie is because it
is considered to be the climax of the performance. In
addition, the mie typifes all the stylism that makes
Kabuki so unique. Therefore girning within Kabuki
expresses some of the most valued kata (styles) of this
performance style.
While the average Japanese may use the
colloquialism to cut a mie, he or she may or may
not know the extent of its signifcance as it relates
to Kabuki theatre. Still, girning refects by example
the traditional Japanese aesthetic for space around,
and allusion to an idea. By the exclamatory nature
of mie and nirami, these ideas are so much the more
emphasized. Therefore, even though Kabuki theatre
may not hold as central a role in Japanese culture
as the haka or geerewol and yaake of Maori and
Wodaabe cultures, the girning therein still provides an
emphasis for core cultural values.

Chapter Six
While emotional facial expression has been
found to be universal, emblematic facial expression
has been postulated by Ekman to be different
from culture to culture. Since girning is a form of
emblematic expression, I would expect girning in
various cultures to play various roles, accordingly.
Upon studying, in depth, four separate cultures
instances of girning performance, I have determined
that this is true, and that the role that it plays in each is
quite distinct. In all four of the case-studies, girning
refected values held by the people of that culture,
though in different capacities.
First I analyzed Anglo/American culture where
society views girning in a very negative light. It is to
be avoided, except in spectacle situations in which the
audience feels both separated from and normalized
by the girning. It is considered to be rude, shameful,
threatening, crazy, and at best tacky or silly. Such
avoidance of girning marks the cultures values of
tact and reserve. The performance of girning serves
to emphasize the positive values of the culture by
blatantly displaying what is considered to be abberant
and corrupt. The viewing of such a performance
reinforces the audiences normality. This sort of
cultural expression of negative values to underscore
the importance and presence of positive values therein
is not followed in the other three case-studies.
Secondly, I analyzed the Wodaabe and their
girning as it appears in dances such as the geerewol
and yaake. It was determined that the importance of
beauty, symmetry, charm, and being nomadic people
were echoed in the girning. As in Japanese girning,
the importance of spacial arrangement in every-day
life is exhibited through girning. In addition, girning
is considered to be taboo, or to follow the moral code
of the People of the Taboo, much in the same way
that girning is considered to be taboo in Maori culture.
Thirdly, a look at the Maoris girning as it
appears in the haka demonstrates how intense the
Maori are, that attracting mana is highly valued, and
that human experience is something to be celebrated
energetically and fully. Like the Wodaabe, it serves
to exemplify some of the cultures most central and
important values. One of the functions that girning
has, in addition to highlighting these values, is to
distinguish ones self as Maori rather than pakeha.
A similar function is served via girning in Wodaabe
culture, in which the performers take pride in their
ethnicity, and display that through their individualistic
girning rituals.
Finally, the mie and nirami of Kabuki theatre
demonstrate the Japanese aesthetic of alluding to an
idea with space and stylism rather than direct, lifelike
techniques, and also the appreciation for skilled
artists. In this culture, the performance of girning is
peripheral to mainstream culture, like it is in Anglo/
American society. However, unlike Anglo/American
girning, it exemplifes positive values. These values
expressed by girning typify the aesthetic of the larger
performance style of Kabuki, and they also represent
the signifcance of spacial arrangement and allusion in
all of Japanese culture.
In each of the case-studies, girning is a means
to attract attention, although the focus and connotation
is different in each culture. It may be that girning,
since it is not emotional expression, and because
it is a very exaggerated emblematic expression,
is more likely to draw attention in any case. One
can see how exaggeration of the facial expression
serves to exaggerate and therefore magnify the
values associated with girning in a particular culture,
whether those values are positive or negative. Such
an exaggeration means that the values expressed must
be at least very important values in the culture, if not
absolute core values. This, indeed, has been the case
with each of the four cultures studied. As reiterated
above, the girning of the Wodaabe, Maori, Japanese,
and Anglo/Americans draws attention, respectively, to
the performers beauty and charm, to the importance
of the words of the haka, to a signifcant moment
during the play, and away from the mundane. Each
of these examples leads to the conclusion that
girning, like any expression that differs from culture
to culture, functions as a universal act of distinction.
Interesting to note is the fact that in Kabuki theatre,
among the Wodaabe, and among the Maori, there
are high standards in judging artistic skill, and the
therefore the better performers of girning are very
well admired and raised to a higher social position,
in the popular mind whether that is in the form of
praise and celebrity, attention from women, or acclaim
and mana (Ernst 82). In contrast, Anglo/American
society members are disdained, laughed at or, at best,
gain infamousness when they girn. While the Maori
are shameless in their performance (in fact, proud),
Anglo/Americans are easily shamed, and would
more than likely feel embarrassed by girning half as
exaggeratedly as the Maori, just as their New-Zealand-
visiting ancestors were shocked by merely watching
the Maori. These sorts of differences between
cultures indicate that the theatre reality of any given
performance is consequently dependent upon its
speaking in the same social and aesthetic vocabulary
as that shared by the audience, which again
underscores the cultures distinction as performed
through girning (Ernst 20).
The examples of girning that have been
presented thus far take place during traditional
displays, and therefore may be considered to be more
deep-seated than other, more momentary, expressions
of value within a culture. Also, they have all taken
place during rituals of one sort or another. Since
rituals are the embodiment and expression of a
cultures values, it stands to reason that girning would
typify, through facial hyperbole, those values which
the culture thinks should be exaggerated, either to
encourage the audience to emulate and respect the
values, or to disdain and hold contempt for the values.
In accordance with Erving Goffmans ideas, in each
of the girning situations, the performer is either losing
or gaining face in both the literal and fgurative
meanings. However, while the girning refects directly
on the performers character and social standing in the
case of the Wodaabe, Maori and Anglo/Americans,
this is not the case with the Japanese. In this case, the
performers are also acting, and so the girning refects
only on their acting abilities, not their personal virtues
or defciencies.
Because the values refected by girning may
change over time, the study of it should not be used
for everlasting knowledge of a particular people. Still,
since girning does refect the culture at a particular
point in time, why not use this knowledge as a tool
to understand other peoples (and even ourselves)?
Williams claims, cultural meanings may validate
our social experiences, appear to connect to our lives,
or inspire confusion, resentment or resistance (3).
Therefore studying cultural meaning for the sake of
interest is not a trite activity.
The face is the frst thing that we as humans
use to communicate with other humans. No matter
if we speak the same language or not, the face aids
in our understanding of one another profoundly. When it comes to nonverbal communication, the face speaks
tomes about our emotions, reactions, and ideals. One of the reasons girning is so fascinating to study is because
the cultural values expressed by this form of emblematic expression are so important to the culture. The
exaggeration of the face inherently connotes the importance of the values being expressed.
Further Studies
Girning is, of course, present in some
form in most cultures, although the case-
studies chosen were some very outstanding
examples. Other examples of girning that
may be looked at in more detail in the future
include the lion pose in yoga (Fig. 74), Kali,
the Hindu mother/destroyer goddess (Fig. 75),
or the of the wrathful Buddhist guardian gods
(recall Fig. 70). Also, the scope of this thesis
was majorly limited to studying second-hand
reports, mostly because of monetary issues.
However, it would be greatly improved
and deepened, I am sure, were the chance
to study each of the case-studies in person
provided. Finally, the use of face paint in
relation to girning and also the gender issues
present regarding girning would be fascinating
subjects to study, and could potentially stand
on their own as a large body of work. While
gender issues were mentioned in this work, they were not expounded upon because of the extent to which
they could have been talked about. As I have stated, an entire thesis could be made on that issue alone, and I
have chosen to honor that by not discussing the matters in any length, since I feel that the subject is somewhat
tangential to my main argument.
Fig.74: The lion pose in yoga
Fig. 75: Kali, Hindu destroyer goddess
Appendix A:
Foreign Word Indices
Wodaabe Words
Borno-a dance including girning
Geerewol- 1. a weeklong celebration at the end of the
rainy season where men compete in endurance, beauty,
and charm.
2. the most important and revered dance
during the geerewol celebration in which men compete
in beauty.
Hakkilo-care and forethought
Laawol pulaaku- Fulani moral codes including
munyal, semteende, and hakkilo.
Munyal-patience, fortitude, self-restraint.
Ruume-one of three dances at the geerewol
celebration. Includes clapping and chanting.
Semteende-reserve and modesty
Sukaabe-men of dancing age, approximately 12-40
years old.
Sukajo-singular of sukaabe
Surbaabe-young women
Togu- charm, personality, magnetism
Wodi-to be beautiful
Woodi-to be
Worso-celebration of yearly births and marriages
Yaake-second most important dance at the geerewol
celebration. Dance of togu.
Maori Words
Haka-posture dance of the Maoris.
Kai ora ora- a haka used to vent hatred. Literally, to
eat alive.
Mana- psychic power intimately associated with social
standing. Also; prestige, power, reputation, infuence,
authority, control.
Manu ngangahu- women who perform alongside the
men in haka.
Pakeha-1. white/European people
2. Foreigners
Maori- 1. Literally: usual, ordinary
2. Name used to refer to the frst inhabitants of New
Ngangahu-similar to pukana. Performed by men and
Peruperu- the war dance haka.
Potete-closing of the eyes at different points in the
dance. Performed by women only.
Pukana- dilating of the eyes, rolling the eyes to and
fro. Performed by men and women
Tangata maori- ordinary, usual man. Also; a man
native to the place in which he lives.
Tapu- A mysterious quality of supernatural origin
which possessed and resided in parts of the natural
world, making them sacred or unclean according to
context. Also; sacred, forbidden.
Whakatu waewae- a haka that looks similar to the
peruperu but has a peaceful intent.
Whetero-protruding of the tongue. Performed by men
Japanese Words
Aragoto-style of play rough business, extremely
exaggerated and powerful style
Ikebana-the art of Japanese fower arranging
Kata- styles and techniques of performance.
Kumadori-exaggerated make-up worn by Kabuki
actors which helps to emphasize the emotional
responsiveness because it follows the contours of the
Maruhon- style of play derived from Bunraku puppet
Mie- pose used for dramatic effect where the actor
glares fercely with one eye crossed.
Nirami-glare of the actor, including crossing one or
two eyes.
Onnagata- literally woman person, refers to men
dressed up and acting as women in Kabuki
Shosagoto- style of play pose business; mostly
Tsuke-wooden clappers
Wagoto- style of play soft style; delicate and refned

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