by Staff writer
Living alone in a tiny house just outside the Savai’i village of Alaolemativa, Hazy Pau Talauati is a Samoan man who dresses and lives as a woman.
She is a fa’afafine.
Like most fa’afafine in Samoa – and there are a few in most villages – Hazy is an accepted member of the community, valued for the work she does.
Samoa’s social acceptance of fa’afafine has evolved from the tradition of raising some boys as girls.
These boys, were not necessarily homosexual, or noticeably effeminate, and they may never have felt like dressing as women.
They became transvestites because they were born into families that had plenty of boys and not enough girls.
Traditionally, 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 fa’afafine.
It has been estimated that 1-5% of Samoans identify as fa’afafine.
In families of all male children (or where the only daughter was too young to assist with the ‘women’s’ work), parents would often choose one or more of their sons to help the mother.
Because these boys would perform tasks that were strictly the work of women they were raised as if they were female.
Although their true gender was widely known, they would usually be dressed as girls.
As they grow older, their duties would not change. They would continue performing ‘women’s’ work, even until marriage (which in most cases would be to a woman).
Modern fa’afafine differ in two fundamental ways from their traditional counterparts.
First, they are more likely to have chosen to live as women, and, secondly, they are more likely to be homosexual. These days, young Samoan boys who appear effeminate, or enjoy dressing as girls, may be recognised as fa’afafine by their parents.
If they are, they will usually be neither encouraged nor discouraged to dress and behave as women. They will simply be allowed to follow the path they choose.
If it becomes apparent that a boy wants to become a fa’afafine, he will be taught the duties and crafts of women. Coupling those skills with the strengths of Samoan men can make a fa’afafine an extremely valuable member of society.
‘When I was young, my parents looked at me and the way I am…and they think, Oh Hazy, she must not be a boy, but something else. And then, they never accuse me…they really accept me. They understand what I am, in my body,’ Hazy Pau Talauati says.
‘I think there’s a little bit difference between fa’afafine here in Samoa and overseas, because here the fa’afafine can help the mother [by] doing the same job… and they can do the men’s job as well. I think that’s why the fa’afafine here are so popular, because they are hard working people.’
Along with their hard work, modern fa’afafine are known for their good works.
Samoan fa’afafine, for example, run an annual transvestite beauty pageant, the proceeds of which are donated to charities which support the elderly and the disabled.
For these sorts of contributions to the community, some fa’afafine have been awarded customary titles.
Hazy narrates: ‘When they see me…everybody, from the west to the east, even the children…they yell out, “Hazy! Hazy!” They call my name. So I ask my friends, “If I go on the ballot for an MP, I’m sure that I’m going to win!”