For centuries, many Indigenous cultures have viewed gender beyond the binary of male or female, but on the Polynesian island of Samoa, near Fiji, there are four recognized genders. There are two additional genders, fa'afafine and fa'afatama, in addition to the conventional roles of male and female.
What exactly are fa'afatamas and fa'afafines?
Samoan society has long recognized the third and fourth genders, fa'afafine and fa'afatama. The literal translations of these terms are "in the manner of women" (fa'a fafine) and "in the manner of man" (fa'a fatama); these genders are indeterminate and move between the conventional worlds of men and women. Fa'afafine and Fa'afatama have significant roles in Samoan society by educating their fellow Samoans about sex, caring for the elderly, and participating in ceremonies like the dance of the taupou. The Samoa Fa'afafine Association and other organizations still fight for equal rights across the islands of Samoa today.
Has the Samoan society always had four genders?
Pre-Christian Samoans acknowledged and accepted that each person, man or woman, had a separate role in society. The acknowledgment of these genders is not a recent development. Therefore, it is still appropriate for a male child to be feminine, for instance. Samoan boys who exhibit significant effeminate behavior as children are recognized as fa'afafines and are totally embraced by their families and society. In the same way, girls that have more masculine characteristics are acknowledged as fa'afatamas. As sex is a taboo topic for men and women to discuss in public, these genders have a tendency to teach people about it and take care of the elderly in society.
How do these Samoan gender classifications compare to those in Western culture?
In terms of Western culture, it is challenging to categorize Samoan genders. These civilizations frequently misunderstand or fail to fully understand labels like transgender, homosexual, and transvestite, all of which were developed to distinguish between males and females. The fa'afafines and fa'afatamas, who identify as different genders, are among the words that Samoans reject. They cannot be categorized as homosexuals since they have a variety of sex relationships, including those with men, women, fa'afafine, and fa'afatama, in addition to having a distinct gender identity. Children are not pressured to adapt to specific gender roles in the same way that they are typically in Western cultures since tolerance of all people and their preferences is highly valued in Samoan society.