Anthropologists have speculated that if Samoan a family had more boys than girls or not enough girls to help with women's duties about the house, male children would be chosen to be raised as fa?afafine, however, this theory has been refuted.
It has been estimated that 1-5% of Samoans identify as fa?afafine. According to SBS news, there are up to 3000 fa?afafine currently living in Samoa.
History and terminology
The word fa?afafine includes the causative prefixfa?a-, meaning "in the manner of", and the word fafine, meaning "woman". It is a cognate of related words in other Polynesian languages, such as Tongan: fakaleiti or fakafefine, the Cook Islands M?ori: akava'ine, and M?ori: whakaw?hine. A person assigned female at birth may belong to a masculine third gender, fa?atane, fa?atama, and fafatama. Ultimately, Western terms like gay and transgender overlap but do not align exactly with Samoan gender terms found in the traditional culture of Samoa.
The Samoan slang word mala (devastation) is a less-common term for fa?afafine, originating in fundamentalist-influenced homophobia and transphobia.
Strong evidence points to Samoa being under matriarchal rule for centuries before contact with Europeans.Queen Salamasina, holder of four paramount chief titles, ascended the throne in the 16th century through the shrewd maneuvering of the powerful female chieftains around her. Samoa continues to value the leadership roles of women and third gender people. There is no restriction on the transfer of chiefly titles to women or fa'afafine, and there is a healthy list of past and present fa?afafine chiefs.
The history of fa?afafine is difficult to trace. Nafanua, the female warrior and chief of Samoan early history, is often held up as an icon of fa?afafine and fa?atane. In Dolgoy's recorded interviews with fa?afafine from the 1980s, we know that Johnny Fruitcake was a popular fa?afafine during the American military occupation of Samoa in World War II, and that Anita (Tony Schwenke) was the founder of Hollywood, a tailoring shop and house of refuge for fa?afafine in Apia in the 1960s-1970s. Since the 1980s, the Samoan diaspora has given fa?afafine a higher profile outside Samoa.
The existence of fa?afafine could be accounted for by a gene that directs kin-directed altruism, which proposes that androphilia could be passed down because it is societally advantageous to have non traditional roles. Paul L. Vasey contends that the existence of androphilia may serve the evolutionary purpose of providing avunculate support for related kin. This means that families that include fa?afafine and members in other non traditional roles, such as unmarried aunts and uncles, would have more time and resources to dedicate to the success of their kin. Freedom from the constraints of a traditional marriage and the raising of children allows fa?afafine to excel in nurturing the family and community dynamics. This fits nicely in Samoan society where hierarchy is highly stratified and customs are strictly adhered to.
Role in Samoan society
The existence of a third gender is so well-accepted in Samoan culture that most Samoans state that they have friendships with at least one fa?afafine;. However, fa?afafine are not totally accepted in all parts of the community, such as by some Catholic groups and traditional leaders.
Fa?afafine are known for their hard work and dedication to the family, in the Samoan tradition of tautua or service to family. Ideas of the family in Samoa and Polynesia include all the members of a sa, or communal family within the fa?amatai family system. Traditionally, fa?afafine follow the training of the women's daily work in an aiga (Samoan family group).Fa?afafine state that they "loved" engaging in feminine activities as children, such as playing with female peers, playing female characters during role play, dressing in feminine clothes, and playing with female gender-typical toys. This is in contrast to women who stated that they merely "liked" engaging in those activities as children. Some fa?afafine recall believing they were girls in childhood. In Samoa, there is very seldom ridicule or displeasure towards a biologically male child who states that they are a girl. One study showed only a minority of parents (20 per cent) tried to stop their fa?afafine children from engaging in feminine behaviour. Being pushed into the male gender role is upsetting to many fa?afafine. A significant number stated that they "hated" masculine play, such as rough games and sports, even more than females did as children.
Fa?afafine have sexual relationships exclusively with men who do not identify as fa?afafine.
Society of Fa?afafine in American Samoa and the Samoa Fa?afafine Association
The Society of Fa?afafine in American Samoa or (Samoan: Le Sosaiete o Fa?afafine i Amerika Samoa) (SOFIAS) describes itself as an organisation dedicated to balancing both Samoan values with western influences and aims to promote a positive attitude toward the Samoan fa?afafine community. It fosters collaboration between fa?afafine and LGBTQI+ communities in American Samoa, the Asia Pacific region, and the world. The Miss SOFIAS pagaent has been held in Pago Pago, American Samoa, since 1979.
The Samoa Fa'afafine Association (SFA), based in Apia, was founded in 2006. It works closely with government, churches, and youth organisations, supporting community projects for the fa'afafine community, but also for elders and youth in Samoa. SFA is also active on the international level, working with the United Nations and Pacific regional NGOs, on behalf of the fa?afafine, transgender, and LGBT communities of the Pacific Islands. They also work with media organisations to promote a equitable representation of fa?afafine.
The SFA, with fa'afafine lawyers Alex Su?a and Phineas Hartson Matautia, have initiated legislative activity on issues of LGBT rights in Samoa. Their efforts to repeal homophobic and transphobic laws inherited from the British and New Zealand colonial administrations have met with partial success.Same-sex marriage for fa?afafine is still unlawful in Samoa, and despite legalisation in the U.S., it is still not recognised in the US Territory of American Samoa.
Edward Cowley a.k.a. "Buckwheat" - a drag performer and television personality based in Auckland, worked with New Zealand AIDS Foundation, champion bodybuilder.
Shigeyuki Kihara - a contemporary artist whose work has been featured in numerous museum exhibitions art galleries around the world. Her solo exhibition, Shigeyuki Kihara: Living Photographs (2008-9), was the Metropolitan Museum of Art's first exhibition of contemporary Samoan art. Kihara is co-Editor of the 2018 book Samoan Queer Lives.
Marion Malena - a multiple beauty pageant winner and performer from American Samoa currently living in Seattle. She hosts American Samoa: Through the Years.
Dan Taulapapa McMullin - poet, painter, filmmaker. Exhibited at Bishop Museum, Metropolitan Museum, United Nations. Collection of poems: Coconut Milk (American Library Association Top Ten LGBT Books of the Year).
^Taulapapa McMullin, Dan (2011). "Fa?afafine Notes: On Tagaloa, Jesus, and Nafanua". Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature. Tucson: University of Arizona Press: 81-94.