The Mark of the Jandal

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Alternative Lifestyles

A breif history of Fa'afafine's

This is pieced together from conversations I've had with several people. Gender roles are and were fairly well defined, so certain jobs are performed primarliy by men or women. Back in the day, before the missionaries, there were families which had too few female children. The solution to this was to choose a male child to raise as a woman: dress, mannerisms, societal roles, etc. These male children, raised as women, are called Fa'afafines, or fafs. So here there are essentially three genders: male, female, and faf. I spoke with my family members in the village to get a more modern view of how this works out. Now, children who behave effeminately, are raised as women. Consider for a moment that Samoa is reported to be 98% Christian. Of course, my experience in all things Christian is limited to my upbrining in the southern part of the United States. This includes such respectible institutions as that run by reverand Phelps. So it's probably unnecessary to say that I came here with some preconceived notions of what would be considered "socially acceptable" based largely on the Samoan peoples self identification with the Christian religion. I was a little bit surprised to find a villages with a couple hundred people will commonly have several of Fa'afafines.

Dealing with the contradictions

Traditionally Samoa is run by the Matai system. In short, respected members of each family, male and female, are selected to represent the family at the village level. Rules are created by each village through some form of a consensus. Currently, Samoa is in a form of political flux. There is a national government, but the villages are largely autonomous. So when you are in a village, village law applies, and in Apia the legal system applies.

I mentioned this because it does relate to the current topic --- it is illegal for a man to dress as a member of the opposite sex. Regardless, I don't think I've been anywhere here where I haven't seen a Fa'afafine: work, the store, apia, rural villages, etc. I'm told that there are two faf bars in Apia. Working at NUS I don't deal much with the community in terms of civic projects, but there are other Peace Corps workers who do work in such capacities. I've heard from several sources that Fa'afafines are quite productive and involved in this regard --- both in Apia and in the villages. In fact, fafs are very responsive and willing to devote much time to the community.

My first inclination is to belive that a law directed at a productive portion of society because of what is essentially a sexual preference is a byproduct of the puritanical traditions of those who colonized here.

The faf show

So the weekend before last I was told that there is a bar where they have a faf show every night. I'm always up for something new so I decided to tag along. When we get there the safety and security officer --- the guy who gets us together when we have cyclones --- is singing with the band. He's acutally a pretty good singer. I'm going to try to get a copy of his cd and put some songs online. There's a pretty good sized group of us there, and we were brought by a Fijian whos married to someone with the UN. She's the real accomodating type, buying drinks for everyone. Needless to say, that made her a pretty big hit with people struggling to get drunk on a volunteers salary.

After about thrity minutes, the dance floor started to clear up and the fafshow began. It started with ladies performing traditional arrangements to techno polynesian remixes.

I think my favorite was this fine lady lipsinking to "Hey Big Spender'":

The show ended early. Evidentally the sound system was having problems. It's a shame, five tala cover and all. After a bit, my compatriots and their benefactor decided to head over to another bar. While we were waiting for the Fijian to get the car, I started talking to a faf named Brenta. She asked me if I had a car. I told her that we were not allowed to drive, but that we were given bikes. She told me she really wanted me to bring my bike over and then she grabbed my package. I grabed her package in return, told her that, while flattered, my bike only seated one and that I wasn't interested.