Samoa’s ‘third gender’ delicately scales sex and religion

Samoa’s ‘third gender’ delicately scales sex and religion

APIA, Samoa (Reuters) – Keyonce Lee Hang are busy completing products for to’ona’i, a conventional lunch offered after Sunday church in Samoa, and attending to the lady older, bed-ridden grandma.

Firmly built and sporting a floral dress and false lashes – and self-named after US artist Beyonce – Lee Hang can’t let but create an access, particularly when she comes for Sunday church in her ideal dress.

Naturally male, Lee Hang try a Samoan fa’afafine, a phrase that means “in the manner of a woman”.

Fa’afafine was a “third sex” in Polynesian tradition, according to research by the Samoa Fa’afafine relationship, and it has already been an integral part of area life so long as anyone can bear in mind. Many villages need fa’afafine, with around several thousand across Samoa’s isles.

Outside of the Southern Pacific, specially the Polynesian isles, truly a mainly misinterpreted people, in accordance with Lee Hang, who works for the government’s fisheries office.

“Western culture attempts to fit united states [in] a package, to get united states under homosexual, under trans and queer … but i believe fa’afafine try our cultural identification – it defines you,” stated Lee Hang.

“Despite one’s body which you have, if you enjoy it, recognize they and accentuate that which you bring, it is all that matters.”

Although most advanced fa’afafine lover with guys, the character can make no claim about intimate direction.

As one fa’afafine put it: “that which we create during intercourse has nothing related to all of our cultural identification.”

Samoan rules criminalizes gender between boys, and culturally, trulyn’t acceptable for a guy to wear a woman’s garments; nevertheless fa’afafine neighborhood can freely go away from those limits.

When a guy try visibly effeminate, he’ll be taught the traditional projects of Samoan females, which frequently ways employed inside the home.

These folks are often believed to possess “fa’afafine spirit”, even though the degree and the age they present their particular womanliness varies.

Lee Hang’s mom, Rona Tauli Lee, mentioned Keyonce was a pleasurable son or daughter who demonstrated effeminate signs from era three, and which used to use their sister’s outfits. “Keyonce try my personal child and I recognize my personal girls and boys because they are,” she mentioned.

All fa’afafine interviewed by Reuters terminated widely reported promises that fa’afafine could possibly be a deligated role by people with many sons, as a substitute for a child.


Modern fa’afafine need claimed prefer with big areas of the Samoan people because of their persistence, especially in respected charitable reasons and taking on caring roles, such as for instance taking care of the elderly.

Throughout Olympic-style Pacific video games conducted in Samoa in July, categories of fa’afafine could be seen offering intimate wellness books and condoms to professional athletes about roadways of Apia, Samoa’s funds.

Miriama Seeti, an areas store proprietor in Apia, stated it actually was advantageous to need people customers taking on culturally feminine roles with a man’s muscle. This included “carrying coconuts” and “cleaning every thing inside the house”, she said.

But there are difficulties in-being fa’afafine in a deeply spiritual country like Samoa, where group and chapel architecture is stronger, mentioned Samoa Fa’afafine Association president Alex Su’a.

“Most of us become used as management of our chapel denominations’ choir groups, youthfulness communities, perhaps the designers and coordinators of tasks,” mentioned Su’a.

The relationship between fa’afafine therefore the church is actually a delicate one might on occasion be tight, mentioned Su’a.

Reverend Vavatau Taufao stated fa’afafine happened to be welcomed in to the chapel and this lots of added to their congregations.

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

Taufao, that is general assistant associated with the Congregation Christian chapel in Samoa, mentioned that fa’afafine regularly more frequently partner with ladies, wore much more neutral clothing, and undertook old-fashioned activities connected with both men and women.

“Before we saw the fa’afafine putting on exactly the same garments as all of our guys – today they have been wear considerably female clothes,” the guy mentioned.

After getting ready meal, including taro, crab, chop suey and chicken, Lee Hang changes off a black-and-white outfit into a flowery church ensemble, with purple rose patterns.

Lee Hang is running significantly more than half-hour belated for church, found immediately across the path from house on a coastal highway throughout the area of Upolu.

“Don’t concern,” said Lee Hang’s fa’afafine buddy, Vaito’a Toelupe, peering over the path where extreme congregation rests, the majority of dressed up in old-fashioned white, and also the ladies in caps.

“Church does not starting until Keyonce shows up.”

Reporting by Jonathan Barrett in SAMOA; further revealing by Jill Gralow; Editing by Michael Perry

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