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
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
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.