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Official Logo of The Society of Fa'afafine in American Samoa (S.O.F.I.A.S)

Fa'afafine are a third-gender people of Samoa and the Samoan diaspora. A recognized identity/role since at least the early 20th century in Samoan society, and some theorize an integral part of traditional Samoan culture, fa'afafine are male at birth, and explicitly embody both masculine and feminine gender traits, fashioned in a way unique to this part of the world. Their behavior typically ranges from extravagantly feminine to mundanely masculine.[1]


The word fa'afafine includes the causative prefix fa'a–, meaning "in the manner of", and the word fafine, meaning "woman".[2] It is cognate with linguistically related words in other Polynesian languages, such as the Tongan fakafefine (also fakaleiti), the Maori whakawahine, the Cook Islands Maori akava'ine, and similar to the Hawaiian concept of mahu.

The Samoan slang word mala (or "devastation" in the Samoan language) is in less frequent use for fa'afafine.[citation needed]

Society of Fa'afafine in American Samoa

The Society of Fa'afafine in American Samoa or "The Sosaiete o Fa’afafine in American Samoa" (S.O.F.I.A.S) is an organization designed to foster collaboration between the fa'afafine and the LGBTI in both American Samoa, Asia Pacific region, and the world.[3] 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 fa'afafine community. The reigning Miss SOFIAS is Arykah Fonoti.

Role in Samoan society

Fa'afafine are known for their hard work and dedication to the family, in the Samoan tradition of tautua. Ideas of the family in Samoa and Polynesia are markedly different from Western constructions, and include all the members of a sa, or communal family within the fa'amatai family systems.[4]

It is a mistake to attribute a Western interpretation to fa'afafine by mislabeling them as "gay," "homosexual," or "drag queens." In Samoa, people claim that there is no such thing as being "gay" or "homosexual."[1] Fa'afafine, as a third gender, have sexual relationships almost exclusively with men who do not identify as fa'afafine, and sometimes with women, but apparently not with other fa'afafine.[5] This third gender is so well-accepted in Samoan culture that most Samoans state that they have friendship relationships with at least one fa'afafine; it is, however, not totally accepted in other communities, such as some Catholic groups and traditional leaders. Traditionally, fa'afafine follow the training of the women's daily work in an Aiga (Samoan family group).[1][6]

Being a fa'afafine is said to be thoroughly enjoyable by this group. Many would 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.[1] Some fa'afafine 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 percent) tried to stop their fa'afafine sons from engaging in feminine behavior. 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]

Te Ara estimates that there are 500 fa’afafine in Samoa, and the same number in the Samoan diaspora in New Zealand.[7]

Notable fa'afafine

Fictional fa'afafines

  • Vili Atafa, a character in the Pasifika play A Frigate Bird Sings by Oscar Kightley, David Fane and Nathaniel Lees[11]
  • Brother Ken, a fictional character in New Zealand animated series bro'Town, voiced by David Fane.
  • "Sugar Shirley", a character in Sia Figiel's novel Where We Once Belong.[citation needed]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Milner, G.B. 1966. Samoan-English Dictionary. "Fa'afafine" entry pg. 52 under "Fafine"
  3. "Shevon Kaio Matai passes away". Samoa News. Retrieved 2015-06-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Saleimoa Vaai, Samoa Faamatai and the Rule of Law (Apia: The National University of Samoa Le Papa-I-Galagala, 1999).
  5. Perkins, Roberta (March 1994). "Like a Lady in Polynesia". Polare magazine (3 ed.). gendercentre.org.au.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 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.
  7. http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/gender-diversity/page-3
  8. "New Miss UTOPIA crowned". Seattle Gay News. 2012-10-19. Retrieved 2014-02-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Next Goal WIns". NBC Sports Radio. 2014-02-20. Retrieved 2014-02-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Hollywood treatment for American Samoa". FIFA World. 13 March 2013. Retrieved 5 June 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. http://www.playmarket.org.nz/a_frigate_bird_sings
  • Besnier, Niko. 1994. "Polynesian Gender Liminality Through Time and Space". In Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History. Gilbert Herdt, ed. pp. 285–328. New York: Zone.

External links