Samoa’s ‘third gender’ delicately bills sex and faith

Samoa’s ‘third gender’ delicately bills sex and faith

APIA, Samoa (Reuters) – Keyonce Lee Hang is actually active completing arrangements the to’ona’i, a conventional lunch served after Sunday chapel in Samoa, and attending to the woman older, bed-ridden grandma.

Strongly created and sporting a floral outfit and untrue lashes – and self-named after US singer Beyonce – Lee Hang can’t help but render an entrance, particularly when she arrives for Sunday chapel in her own best dress.

Genetically male, Lee Hang is actually a Samoan fa’afafine, a term that means “in the way in which of a woman”.

Fa’afafine are a “third gender” in Polynesian society, in line with the Samoa Fa’afafine relationship, and contains come an integral part of island lives for as long as anybody can bear in mind. Many towns posses fa’afafine, with an estimated thousands of across Samoa’s islands.

Outside the Southern Pacific, specially the Polynesian isles, really a largely misinterpreted society, relating to Lee Hang, who works for the government’s fisheries department.

“Western culture tries to match you [in] a box, to place you under homosexual, under trans and queer … but I think fa’afafine is the cultural identification – it describes us,” mentioned Lee Hang.

“Despite your body which you have, if you’d prefer they, accept they and beautify what you need, it’s everything issues.”

Although most contemporary fa’afafine lover with people, the identity renders no-claim about sexual positioning.

Jointly fa’afafine put it: “what we should do in bed doesn’t have anything to do with our very own cultural identification.”

Samoan rules criminalizes gender between males, and culturally, it’sn’t appropriate for a guy to put on a woman’s clothing; however the fa’afafine area can freely run outside of those boundaries.

Whenever a boy was noticeably effeminate, he will probably likely be trained the conventional obligations of Samoan females, which regularly means functioning in the home.

These folks are frequently said to experience the “fa’afafine spirit”, although level and the age they show their particular femininity varies.

Lee Hang’s mom, Rona Tauli Lee, mentioned Keyonce had been a happy youngsters which confirmed effeminate signs from era three, and exactly who used to don the lady sister’s attire. “Keyonce is my kid and that I take my youngsters because they’re,” she mentioned.

All fa’afafine questioned by Reuters ignored widely reported boasts that fa’afafine could possibly be a designated role by family members with many sons, instead for a child.


Latest fa’afafine has claimed favor with large components of the Samoan people for dedication, especially in top non-profit trigger and facing caring parts, eg looking after the elderly.

During Olympic-style Pacific Games conducted in Samoa in July, categories of fa’afafine maybe observed handing out intimate health literature and condoms to professional athletes on avenue of Apia, Samoa’s funds.

Miriama Seeti, an opportunities store proprietor in Apia, stated it was advantageous to have actually society people taking on culturally female roles with a man’s muscle tissue. This provided “carrying coconuts” and “cleaning anything inside the house”, she mentioned.

But discover difficulties in-being fa’afafine in a seriously religious nation like Samoa, in which group and chapel frameworks include strong, said Samoa Fa’afafine relationship chairman Alex Su’a.

“Most people is used as management of your church denominations’ choir teams, young people teams, also the designers and coordinators of activities,” mentioned Su’a.

The relationship between fa’afafine while the church was a fragile one and certainly will sometimes being anxious, said Su’a.

Reverend Vavatau Taufao said fa’afafine had been welcomed inside chapel and this lots of added with their congregations.

He said the church, however, considered fa’afafine to be male and the church didn’t endorse same-sex relationships.

Taufao, who is basic secretary with the Congregation Christian Church in Samoa, said that fa’afafine accustomed more frequently spouse with lady, wore most natural clothing, and undertook standard duties related to both men and women.

“Before we spotted the fa’afafine putting on alike clothing as all of our people – now they’ve been sporting a lot more female gown,” the guy said.

After preparing lunch, including taro, crab, chop suey and pork, Lee Hang alters regarding a monochrome outfit into a flowery chapel dress, with reddish rose patterns.

Lee Hang try working more than 30 minutes later part of the for church, present straight over the roadway from the house on a seaside roadway from the island of Upolu.

“Don’t concern,” stated Lee Hang’s fa’afafine buddy, Vaito’a Toelupe, peering across the highway where extreme congregation sits, the majority of dressed in conventional white, together with women in caps.

“Church does not beginning until Keyonce shows up.”

Reporting by Jonathan Barrett in SAMOA; added revealing by Jill Gralow; modifying by Michael Perry

Author avatar

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published.

We use cookies to give you the best experience.