|Etymology||Samoan prefix Faʻa-, meaning "in the manner of" + fafine, meaning "woman"|
|Synonyms||Fakafāfine, Fiafifine, Fakafifine|
|Associated terms||Fakaleiti, Two-spirit, Trans woman, Akava'ine, Māhū|
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Faʻafafine 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, faʻafafine 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.
A prominent Western theory, among the many anthropological theories about Samoans, was that if 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 faʻafafine, although this theory has been refuted by studies.
The correlation of fa’afafine with the younger sons of many older brothers is a cultural incorporation of the scientifically accepted Fraternal Birth Order effect on male gender expression and sexuality.
It has been estimated that 1–5% of Samoans identify as faʻafafine. Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand estimates that there are 500 faʻafafine in Samoa, and the same number in the Samoan diaspora in New Zealand; while according to SBS news, there are up to 3000 faʻafafine currently living in Samoa.
History and terminology
The word faʻafafine includes the causative prefix faʻa–, meaning "in the manner of", and the word fafine, meaning "woman". It is cognate with linguistically related words or social categories in other Polynesian languages, such as the Tongan fakaleiti (also fakafefine), the Cook Islands Māori akavaʻine, the Hawaiian and Tahitian māhū (literally in the middle), the Māori whakawāhine, the Niuean fiafifine (also fakafifine), the Tokelauan fakafāfine, the Tuvaluan pinapinaaine, the Gilbertese binabinaaine, and the Wallisian fakafafine.
The FTM or female-to-male equivalent in Samoa are known variously as faʻatane, faʻatama, and fafatama. Ultimately, Western terms like gay, transgender, FTM, etc., do not align exactly with Samoan terms like faʻafafine, faʻatane, etc., which have meaning within the faʻasamoa traditional cultural systems of Samoa.
The history of faʻafafine, through the elisions of colonialism, is difficult to trace. Nafanua, the female warrior and chief of Samoan early history, is often held up as an icon of faʻafafine and faʻatane. In Dolgoy's recorded interviews with faʻafafine from the 1980s, we know that Johnny Fruitcake was a popular faʻafafine 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 faʻafafine in Apia in the 1960s–1970s. Beginning in the 1980s, through the Samoan diaspora, faʻafafine began having a presence in contemporary global cultures.
Role in Samoan society
Faʻafafine 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 faʻamatai family systems.
Faʻafafine, as a third gender, have sexual relationships exclusively with men who do not identify as faʻafafine. This third gender is so well-accepted in Samoan culture that most Samoans state that they have friendship relationships with at least one faʻafafine; it is, however, not totally accepted in other communities, such as some Catholic groups and traditional leaders. Traditionally, faʻafafine follow the training of the women's daily work in an Aiga (Samoan family group).
Faʻafafine state that they "loved" engaging in feminine activities as children, such as playing with female peers, playing female characters during role play, dressing up in female 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 faʻafafine recall believing they were girls in childhood, but knew better as adults. In Samoa, there is very seldom ridicule or displeasure towards a biologically male child who states that they are a girl. For instance, one study showed only a minority of parents (20 per cent) tried to stop their faʻafafine children from engaging in feminine behavior. Being pushed into the male gender role is upsetting to many faʻafafine. A significant number stated that they "hated" masculine play, such as rough games and sports, even more than females did as children.
Society of Faʻafafine in American Samoa and the Samoa Faʻafafine Association
The Society of Faʻafafine in American Samoa or "Le Sosaiete o Faʻafafine i Amerika Samoa" (S.O.F.I.A.S) is an organization designed to foster collaboration between the faʻafafine and the LGBTQI+ communities in both American Samoa, the Asia Pacific region, and the world. SOFIAS describes itself as an organization dedicated to balancing both Samoan values with western influences and aims to promote a positive attitude toward the Samoan faʻafafine community. Now known as Miss SOFIAS, the Miss Island Queen Pageant has been held in Pago Pago, American Samoa, since 1979.
The Samoa Fa'afafine Association Incorporated (S.F.A.) of independent Samoa, based in Apia, has been active for over a decade. It works closely with government, local churches, and youth organizations, supporting community projects for the fa'afafine community, but also for elders and youth in Samoa. SFA has been active on the international level working with the United Nations and Pacific regional NGO's, on behalf of the faʻafafine, transgender, and LGBT communities of the Pacific Islands. They also been active working with media developing a more equitable representation of faʻafafine by media.
There has been legislative activity initiated in Samoa by the Samoa Fa'afafine Association, with fa'afafine lawyers Alex Suʻa and Phineas Hartson Matautia, 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 faʻafafine is still unlawful in Samoa, and despite legalization in the U.S., it is still not recognized in the US Territory of American Samoa.
- Edward Cowley aka "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.
- Fuimaono Karl Pulotu-Endemann – a medical professional, Justice of the Peace, and gay activist from New Zealand. In the 2001 New Year Honours, Pulotu-Endemann was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Public Health.
- Jaiyah Saelua – American Samoan soccer player. Saelua was the first faʻafafine player to compete in a men's FIFA World Cup qualifier. Saelua featured in a UK documentary Next Goal Wins.
- 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).
- Amao Leota Lu – performance artist, activist, community leader
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- Sugar Shirley, a character in Sia Figiel's novel Where We Once Belonged (1996).
- Vili Atafa, a character in the Pasifika play A Frigate Bird Sings (1996) by Oscar Kightley, David Fane and Nathaniel Lees
- Sinalela (2001), a fictional character in the short film Sinalela by Dan Taulapapa McMullin, awarded Best Short Film in the Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival.
- Faafafine (2001), an autobiographical solo performance piece by Brian Fuata.
- Jerry the Faʻafafine (2011), a thematic figure (influenced by the poetry of Taulapapa) in an artwork series by Tanu Gago.
- Bakla (binabae) - equivalent gender identity in the Philippines
- Takatāpui - homosexual or bisexual relationships among the Māori
- Moe aikāne - homosexual or bisexual relationships among Native Hawaiians
- Two-spirit - similar gender identity in Native American culture
- Hijra - similar gender identity in South Asia
- Kathoey - similar gender identity in Thailand
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