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An 'akava'ine is a Cook Islands Māori word that can be used to describe transgender or transsexual women in the Cook Islands.

Originally the term referred to women who had an inflated opinion of themselves, drew attention to themselves in ways that disrupted groupness, didn't heed others advice, or who acted in a self-serving or self-promoting way.[1]

Today, "'Akava'ine" is the contemporary identity of transgender females of Cook Islands Māori descent. It generally comes under a wider Polynesian transgender identity, which has its largest presence and sphere of influence in New Zealand, where other Polynesian terms such as the New Zealand Māori: "Whakawahine", and the Samoan: "Fa'afafine", become coaligned.


The term 'akava'ine is a prefix of "aka" (to be or to behave like) and "va'ine" (woman).[2]

Antonym: 'akatāne[3] - Act like a man, have manly qualities; be a tomboy.[2]

Other terms[edit]

Sometimes the word laelae is also used, typically when implying criticism or ridicule of feminine behaviour displayed by a man, for example being described as effeminate or homosexual.[1] Laelae is the colloquial Cook Islands term; the word tutuva'ine (meaning "like a woman") is used less frequently[1] Homosexuality is illegal for males in the Cook Islands.[4]


It is a common misconception to confuse the transgender of the old Māori societies with the western "transsexual" and "drag queen" cultures which the contemporary identity of 'Akava'ine is heavily influenced by.

While the usage of "'Akava'ine" for a transgender female is recent, it is known that pre-Christian Cook Islands Māori societies held the presence of a third gender. A man of effiminate nature who dressed like a woman was considered neither exclusively female nor male, but was treated as an equal among women, and regarded with respect by the rest of the tribe for he/she excelled in the domestic duties of both women and men. [5]

Evidence, or lack of evidence of the third gender in documented encounters and histories with these societies strongly suggests that it was not as prominent among Cook Islands Māori than it was in places such as Samoa, Tahiti and Hawai'i [6]

When the missionaries came, things changed quite dramatically for everyone in the Pacific Islands, and the Cook Islands were no exception. In the 1800s they started bringing in homophobic and transphobic attitudes.[7]

However, many Cook Islands Māori 'Akava'ine today are well respected and hold a special place and an unofficial important role within their family where they are called "aunty" by children and youth and are often very nurturing figures. A status which appears to resemble that in the old societies. There are also many among community and church leaders.

What is generally unacceptable and/or ridiculed in Cook Islands Māori culture are persons who identify as "Homosexual / gay" and are heavily "drag queen".

Some 'akava'ine take part in the making of tivaevae (quilts), an activity traditionally done by the women of the community.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Kalissa Alexeyeff (2009). Dancing from the Heart: Movement, Gender, and Cook Islands Globalization. University of Hawaii Press. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-8248-3244-5. Retrieved 27 July 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Jasper Buse; Raututi Taringa (1995). Cook Islands Maori Dictionary. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-7286-0230-4. Retrieved 27 July 2013. 
  3. ^ Kalissa Alexeyeff (2009). Dancing from the Heart: Movement, Gender, and Cook Islands Globalization. University of Hawaii Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-8248-3244-5. Retrieved 27 July 2013. 
  4. ^ International Lesbian and Gay Association (2006). "LGBT World legal wrap up survey". p. 4. 
  5. ^ http://www.gendercentre.org.au/resources/polare-archive/archived-articles/like-a-lady-in-polynesia.htm
  6. ^ http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-BucMangi.html
  7. ^ Matt Akersten (12 August 2008). "Supporting our sisters in the Pacific". 
  8. ^ Walter E. Little; Patricia Ann McAnany (16 October 2011). Textile Economies: Power and Value from the Local to the Transnational. Rowman Altamira. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-7591-2061-7. Retrieved 27 July 2013. 


  • Alexeyeff, Kalissa (2009). Dancing from the heart: movement, gender, and Cook Islands globalization. University of Hawaii Press
  • Buse, Jasper; Taringa, Raututi (1995). Cook Islands Maori dictionary, edited by Bruce Biggs & Rangi Moeka'a, published by The Ministry of Education, Government of the Cook Islands

External links[edit]