The Fa’afafine of Samoa


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Oceania » Samoa » Upolu
August 10th 2018
Published: August 10th 2018
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Issy’s keen that we have a couple’s massage while we’re here. I’m not a big fan, but we stumble across the resort's spa during our wanderings, and I think I might be in a lot of trouble if I try to run away now. Fortunately the available time slots don’t suit our plans for the next couple of days, or at least my version of our plans, so I think I may have temporarily dodged a bullet.

The spa attendant is a Fa’afafine. These are Samoans who identify as having a third gender. They are an integral part of Samoan culture and have a recognised role in traditional Samoan society. They are classified as male at birth, but have both masculine and feminine gender traits in a way that is apparently unique to Polynesia. We‘d read about Fa’afafine when we came to Samoa previously. At that time it was believed that Fa’afafine came about when a family didn’t have enough girls to do the work around the house and they would then raise their youngest son as a girl. There now seem to be a lot of doubts about this theory. I’m not quite sure why there weren’t a lot of doubts about this theory previously. I wouldn’t have thought that the parents of the many Fa’afafine here in Samoa would have had too much trouble remembering if they'd deliberately decided to bring up one of their boys as a girl, if only anyone had bothered to ask them. Not to mention the fact that virtually all Fa’afafine have said that they distinctly remember that they loved dressing up as girls and playing with the sorts of toys that girls usually like to play with, when they were children. Fa’afafine are apparently well known for their dedication to their families, and for their hard work.

We bump into the staff member who gave us the talk about the “Return to Paradise“ movie last night. She tells us that the movie being shot in Samoa was a huge thing at the time, particularly as Gary Cooper had won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in “High Noon” the previous year, and Roberta Haynes was romantically linked to Marlon Brando.

We bump and stumble on some more, this time into the resort’s outdoor gym. I can’t resist jumping onto the gym’s treadmill, which is just some conveyor belt rollers attached to a couple of handles to hold onto to stop you from falling off. I’m holding towels and a camera in one hand, so I fall off. Issy asks me why anyone would jump onto a treadmill while they were only able to hold onto it with one hand. I don’t have a good answer. She says that if I don’t write about this in the blog I will be in a lot of trouble. I hope that no one’s reading this.

We pull up some sun lounges on the beach and go for a dip. It’s low tide so the reef is protecting us from the pounding waves, but I suspect that swimming here during high tide might be just a tad hazardous. The coral is very close to shore and seems to be in good nick, and there’s a good supply of sizeable and colourful fish for us to look at.

We’ve arranged to hire a car, but we both fall asleep on the beach, and by the time we wake up it’s an hour past the time we were supposed to meet the man from the hire car company in reception. We don’t expect that he’ll still be there, but we find him looking very relaxed, and sitting patiently on a couch where he says he’s been enjoying the cool breeze for the past hour and a bit. We’re definitely in Samoa. If we were back home we’d be having expletives flung at us from all directions.

I’m a bit nervous about driving here. We passed the recently burnt out shell of a car during our tour of Savai’i a couple of days ago, and Una our guide told us that her policeman husband was recently called out to a case where a car had burst into flames all by itself shortly after its owner had got out of it. I hope our car doesn’t decide to burst into flames, at least not while we’re in it.

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