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A fa?afafine organisation on Auckland pride parade in 2016
A fa?afafine organisation on Auckland pride parade in 2016
EtymologySamoan prefix Fa?a-, meaning "in the manner of" + fafine, meaning "woman"
ClassificationGender identity
Other terms
SynonymsFakaf?fine, Fiafifine, Fakafifine
Associated termsFakaleiti, Two-spirit, Trans woman, Akava'ine, M?h?
Regions with significant populations
 Samoaup to 3,000

Fa?afafine are people who identify themselves as having a third gender or non-binary role in Samoa, American Samoa and the Samoan diaspora. A recognized gender identity/gender role in traditional Samoan society, and an integral part of Samoan culture, fa?afafine are assigned male at birth, and explicitly embody both masculine and feminine gender traits in a way unique to Polynesia[]. Their behaviour typically ranges from extravagantly feminine to conventionally masculine.[1]

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,[2] however, this theory has been refuted.[3]

It has been estimated that 1-5% of Samoans identify as fa?afafine.[4] According to SBS news, there are up to 3000 fa?afafine currently living in Samoa.[5]

History and terminology

The word fa?afafine includes the causative prefix fa?a-, meaning "in the manner of", and the word fafine, meaning "woman".[6] 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.[7]

Strong evidence points to Samoa being under matriarchal rule for centuries before contact with Europeans.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12] Traditionally, fa?afafine follow the training of the women's daily work in an aiga (Samoan family group).[1][13] 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.[1]

Fa?afafine have sexual relationships exclusively with men who do not identify as fa?afafine.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17] 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.

Notable Fa?afafine

Fictional Fa?afafines

  • half-man half-girl, an unnamed character in Albert Wendt's novel Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree (1979).
  • Muli and Pipi, in Dan Taulapapa McMullin's poem The Bat (1993) which received a Poets&Writers Award.
  • Sugar Shirley, a character in Sia Figiel's novel Where We Once Belonged (1996).[24]
  • Vili Atafa, a character in the Pasifika play A Frigate Bird Sings (1996) by Oscar Kightley, David Fane and Nathaniel Lees[25]
  • Sinalela (2001), a fictional character in the short film Sinalela by Dan Taulapapa McMullin, awarded Best Short Film in the Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival.[26]
  • Faafafine (2001), an autobiographical solo performance piece by Brian Fuata.[27]
  • Jerry the Fa?afafine (2011), a thematic figure (influenced by the poetry of Taulapapa) in an artwork series by Tanu Gago.[28]
  • Brother Ken in bro'Town (2004-2009), a school principal.[29]

See also



  1. ^ a b c Bartlett, N. H.; Vasey, P. L. (2006). "A Retrospective Study of Childhood Gender-Atypical Behavior in Samoan Fa?afafine". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 35 (6): 659-66. doi:10.1007/s10508-006-9055-1. PMID 16909317. S2CID 22812712.
  2. ^ "Charting the Pacific - Fa?afafine - Samoan boys brought up as girls". www.abc.net.au. Retrieved .
  3. ^ "Ia e Ola Malamalama i lou Faasinomaga, A comparative Study of the Faafafine of Samoa and the Whakawahine of Aotearoa-New Zealand" (PDF). 2013.
  4. ^ Tan, Yvette (September 1, 2016). "Samoa's 'third gender' beauty pageant". BBC News.
  5. ^ "Fa?afafine: Boys Raised to be Girls ten minute news video about faafafine in Australia". 26 August 2013.
  6. ^ Milner, G.B. 1966. Samoan-English Dictionary. "Fa?afafine" entry pg. 52 under "Fafine"
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Silia Pa'usisi Finau (2017). Women's Leadership in Traditional Villages in Samoa: the Cultural, Social, and Religious Challenges (PDF) (PhD). Victoria University of Wellington. Retrieved 2022.
  9. ^ Kanemasu, Yoko; Liki, Asenati (2021-12-01). "'Let fa'afafine shine like diamonds': Balancing accommodation, negotiation and resistance in gender-nonconforming Samoans' counter-hegemony". Journal of Sociology. 57 (4): 806-824. doi:10.1177/1440783320964538. ISSN 1440-7833. S2CID 228995861.
  10. ^ Dolgoy, Reevan (2000). The Search for Recognition and Social Movement Emergence, Towards an Understanding of the Transformation of the Faafafine of Samoa. University of Alberta.
  11. ^ Vasey, Paul L.; VanderLaan, Doug P. (2010-08-01). "Avuncular Tendencies and the Evolution of Male Androphilia in Samoan Fa'afafine". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 39 (4): 821-830. doi:10.1007/s10508-008-9404-3. ISSN 1573-2800. PMID 18810630. S2CID 19873688.
  12. ^ Saleimoa Vaai, Samoa Faa-matai and the Rule of Law (Apia: The National University of Samoa Le Papa-I-Galagala, 1999).
  13. ^ Danielsson, B., T. Danielsson, and R. Pierson. 1978. Polynesia's third sex: The gay life starts in the kitchen. Pacific Islands Monthly 49:10-13.
  14. ^ Perkins, Roberta (March 1994). "Like a Lady in Polynesia". Polare Magazine (3 ed.). gendercentre.org.au. Archived from the original on 2013-09-27.
  15. ^ "Shevon Kaio Matai passes away". Samoa News. Archived from the original on 2015-05-30. Retrieved .
  16. ^ "Fa?afafine want fair and inclusive reporting". Samoa Observer.
  17. ^ Su?a, Alex; Farran, Sue (2009). "Discriminating on the Grounds of Status: Criminal Law and Fa?afafine and Fakaleiti in the South Pacific". Journal of South Pacific Law.
  18. ^ "Samoan Queer Lives published by Little Island Press". Archived from the original on 2019-02-13. Retrieved .
  19. ^ "New Miss UTOPIA crowned". Seattle Gay News. 2012-10-19. Archived from the original on 2014-01-12. Retrieved .
  20. ^ "American Samoa: Through the Years". www.facebook.com.
  21. ^ "VIDEO: "Next Goal Wins" trailer details 'worst team in the world'". NBC Sports Radio. 2014-02-20. Retrieved .
  22. ^ "Hollywood treatment for American Samoa". FIFA World. 13 March 2013. Archived from the original on May 3, 2014. Retrieved 2014.
  23. ^ "Transgender Warriors Local Hero Edition: Amao Leota Lu". Transgender Warriors. 2019-09-06. Retrieved .
  24. ^ Yamamoto, Traise (2000-10-01). "Where We Once Belonged (review)". Journal of Asian American Studies. 3 (3): 384-386. doi:10.1353/jaas.2000.0042. ISSN 1096-8598. S2CID 144930451.
  25. ^ "A Frigate Bird Sings". Archived from the original on 2014-04-13. Retrieved .
  26. ^ "Sinalela | Freewaves Video Archive". archive.freewaves.org. 22 January 2015.
  27. ^ "UTP". Urban Theatre Projects.
  28. ^ "Jerry The Fa'afafine". PIMPI KNOWS.
  29. ^ Schmidt, Johanna (2021) [2011]. "Brother Ken, bro'Town (1st of 3)". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Archived from the original on February 8, 2019. Retrieved 2021.


External links

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