There are diverse and constantly shifting expressions of gender identity and sexual identity in the Pacific island region. Identity expressions that would be defined as homosexual or transgendered using western vocabulary often fulfilled important and well-established cultural or ritual functions within various parts of the Pacific. Contact with Europeans and the subsequent colonization of the region often resulted in rejection or suppression of these identities. More recently these identities are being reclaimed and redefined, responding to both traditional and external influences and expectations.
Much of what exists on these topics has been written by historians, anthropologists, and ethnographers not from the region. While these observations are invaluable, we are lucky to be in a time when Queer Pacific People have begun to tell their own stories and histories.
This library guide serves as a launching point for researchers, artists, writers, scholars, and students interested in gender identity and sexual identity in the Pacific island region. Of particular interest are some of the terms for alternative genders and sexual expression. The Hawaiian and Pacific collections provide access to books, magazines, journals, newspapers, music, film, as well as rare and archival materials. The librarians in the Hawaiian and Pacific collections can offer search strategies as well as connect you to other resources for research purposes.
The first part of the list are vernacular terms from the Pacific region and the second part of the list are English terms. The vernacular and English terms do not always have direct equivalencies. The usage of these terms are evolving and their meaning may differ depending on the person. We offer these as the broadly accepted definitions for these terms.
Aikāne (Hawaiʻi) - in Native Hawaiian culture an aikane was an intimate same-sex friend of a chief. This person often, though not always, had a sexual relationship with the chief as well.
Akavaʻine (Cook Islands) - in Cook Islands Māori this word referes to an individual, usually male, who "behaves like a woman". May refere to a third-gender and may be similar to transgerder women (male to female).
Faʻafafine (Samoa) - in Samoan culture a third-gendered individual. A recognized and integral part of traditional Samoan culture, faʻfafine, born biologically male, embody both male and female gender traits.
Faafatama (Samoa) - contemporary Samoan word for a woman who identifies as a lesbian.
Fafafine (Niue) - in Niuean culture a third-gendered individual. May be born biologically male and embody both male and female gender traits.
Fakaleiti / Fakeleti / Fakalati / Fakafefine (Tonga) - in Tongan culture a male who behaves in the manner of a woman. May also be considered a third gender. Similar to mahu, faʻafafine, and raerae.
Mamflorita (Guam) - word for homosexual.
Māhū (Hawaiʻi) - in Native Hawaiian culture this refers to an individual who may be considered third-gendered with characteristics of both sexes, usually a male to female. In contemporary Hawaiʻi the word is also used to describe people who are transgender, transvestites, or gay.
Māhūkāne (Hawaiʻi) - a wahine who lives the life of a kāne, mentally and/or physically.
Māhūwahine (Hawaiʻi) - A newly coined term (2003). A gender identity encompasing transvestiteism, transgenderism, and transsexualism.
Mengol a otaor (Palau) - a phrase for homosexual.
Moe aikāne (Hawaiʻi) - an individual who slept with another individual, both of the same sex or gender.
Pinapinaaine / Binabinaaine (Tuvalu and Kiribati) - a man who might regard himself as, or be regarded by others as, a woman.
Raerae / Māhū / Māhūvahine (Tahiti) - in Tahiti this refers to an individual who is male but identifies and lives as a female. Perhaps considered a third gender.
Takātapui (Maori) - a devoted partner of the same sex, in contemporary Aotearoa it has become an umbrella term for Maori LGBTI people.
Vaka sa lewa lewa (Fiji) - in Fijian culture this referes men who may present themselves, or live their lives as, women. May also be considered a third-gender similar to transgender women (female-to-male).
Whakawahine (Maori) - a term used to describe men who live as women either through sex reasignement sugery, hormone therapy, or even men who are born effeminite. May also be considered a third gender very much like faʻfafine, fakaleti, and māhū.
Wininmvan (Chuuk) - a word for homosexual.
Bisexual - a term used for individuals who are sexually or romantically attracted to people of either sex.
Gay - a noun, particularly in Western culture, which is a synonym for a homosexual. While it can refer to all homosexual people it is most often used for bi or gay men.
Intersex - refers to atypical combinations of physical features that usually distinguish female from male. This is usually understood to be instances where biological anomalies are present, such as diversion from typical XX female or XY male presentations, genital ambiguity, and sex developmental differences. An intersex individual may have giological characteristics of both male and female sexes.
Lesbian - a term used in Western cultures to describe a woman who is romantically and/or sexually attracted to other women.
Queer - originally an anti-gay epithet, it has been reclaimed as a pan-LGBT term to encompass all sexual and gender minorities.
Third Gender - describes individuals who are categorized (by their choice, social consensus, or against their will) as neither man or waman, as well as the social category present in those societies who recognize three or more genders.
Transexual - an individual's identification with a gender inconsistent or not culturally associated with their assigned sex.
Transgender - often regarded as an expression of ones gender identity that does not necessarily conform to dominant cultural norms on gender. For example, a man who identifies and expresses gender as a woman. Trans people may be heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual.
Transvestite - an individual who dresses in the clothing associated with the opposite sex. Does not nessicarily identify as trans or homosexual.
Drodrolagi Movement (Fiji)
Drodrolagi is the Fijian word for rainbow and rainbow is a symbol for diversity and pride. droMo is a group that accepts and celebrates diversity in all forms, whether it is in race, colour, religion, interests, sexual orientation and gender identity. In acknowledging our diversity as people of the South Pacific we also acknowledge the often marginalised groups who face stigma, bullying, ridiculing, violence and discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Homo-Sphère (New Caledonia)
Association des gays, lesbiennes, bisexuels et transexuels de Nouvelle-Calédonie. Accueille aussi les personnes gay-friendly, les parents d'homos, ou toute personne concernée par la lutte contre la discrimination en raison de l'orientation sexuelle.
Kulia Na Mamo (Hawai'i)
Kuli Na Mamo strives to improve the quality of life for "mahuwahine", and other transgender people living in the Hawaiian Islands, with a special emphasis on those who are disadvantaged people of color, through providing services in the areas of health, education, cultural, and other assistance.
OLO (One Love Oceania) is a queer, Pacific Islander women's support, art and activist organization based in the Bay Area. OLO consists of trailblazing queer women of Melanesian, Micronesian and Polynesian descent who explore the complexities and intersections of gender, sexualities, class, race, colonialisms, resistance movements, and Pacific Islander diasporic histories through muti-medium performances that fuse dance, music, film, theater and poetry.
The PSDN is a regional network of Pacific MSM and Transgender organisations whose mission is to strengthen community leadership, mobilisation and advocacy in the areas of sexuality and gender identities with respect to sexual health including STIs and HIV and AIDS, well being and Human Rights.
Samoa Fa'afafine Association (Samoa)
A non-profit incorporated society set up to promote the rights & interests of fafafines and faafatamas in Samoa.
S.O.F.I.A.S. (American Samoa)
In 2010 the American Samoa Island Queens Association and the American 7s Association merged to become the Society of Fa’afafine in American Samoa (SOFIAS). “A name change was also summoned so to align the association with the new union and also with the current trend within the region - whereby, indigenous people be proud of their cultural identity and for us - we are fa'afafine Samoa.”
Te Tiare Association (Cook Islands)
Te Tiare Assocation is the only group set up to work for and on behalf of Gay, MSM, Transgender and Akavaine here in the Cook Islands.
Tonga Leitis Association (Tonga)
The Tonga Leitis’ Association (TLA) was established in 1992 with a focus of improving the rights, and celebrating the contribution, of Leitis in Tonga.
U.T.O.P.I.A. United Territories Of Pacific Islanders' Alliance (United States)
U.T.O.P.I.A. originated in San Francisco, California in March 1998. The organization was formed to provide support to the Polynesian Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, andTransgender community. Originally, the group identified themselves as GPAC (Gay Polynesians Alliance/California). In February 1999, the name was changed to UTOPIA. The new name was better suited to represent the diversity of the club. UTOPIA has been a support organization for GLBT Polynesians and friends consisting of members from Samoa, Tonga, Hawaii, Tahiti and Fiji. UTOPIA hopes to strengthen its alliance by recruiting members from all of Polynesia and South Pacific.
With the help of the Life Foundation, we are trying to address the current trend of rising HIV infections in our Pacific Islander community, as well as supporting those who have already been affected by the disease. U.T.O.P.I.A. Hawai‘i also specializes in holding events.
U.T.O.P.I.A. San Diego's mission is to provide Unity and Strength amongst our Pacific Islander (Melanesia, Micronesia & Polynesia) and LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex & Ally) communities.
A social LGBT group for our Pacific Islander families, friends and supporters. We are of many colors and embrace many different cultures that make up the diversity of San Francisco.
Our organization is a city-based charitable association of volunteer members who are working against the plight of discrimination towards people with different sexual preferences.
Video on Gender and Sexual Identity in the Pacific: The emphasis in these videos is on Polynesian peoples.
Equality Hawaii - Videos on Vimeo
From an LGBT rights group which pushes for LGBT rights and equality in Hawaii. Produces a show called "Equally Speaking". Relevant shows include: Malama LGBT parts 1-4, Aikane relationships, and various interviews.
Coming Out & Overcoming - A Visit With Hinaleimoana Wong
An interview with Mahu educator Hinaleimoana Wong, on Voices of Truth
Clip from the documentary Ke Kulana He Mahu: Remembering a Sense of Place
the full length dvd is available at the Sinclair AV Center, call number: DVD 7545.
Polynesia at Large
Assume Nothing: Shigeyuki Kihara
Interview with Shigeyuki Kihara Fa’fafine artist.
From the now defunct New Zealand news magazine show, Pacific Beat Street
Fresh Factor - Fa’afafine Pagent
From the New Zealand based Polynesian show, Poly Fresh TV
Gay Pacific Youth
From the now defunct New Zealand news magazine show, Pacific Beat Street
Pearls of Meganesia
A dance group of Faafafine and Akavaine dancers. Video from New Zealand based show Tangata Pasifika.
From the now defunct show by the same name the web site says it was "world's first indigenous gay, lesbian and transgender series." All three episodes are on-line
Gender Role in Samoa - Faafafine Show in Apia
From the travel site called the Travel Tart
Fa’afafine reinterpretation of Cinderella by Samoan artist and poet Dan Taulapapa McMullin
What is a Fa’afafine?
From the now defunct New Zealand news magazine show, Pacific Beat Street.
The Third Sex - Tahiti
From Journeyman Pictures, a video encyclopedia of the world.
Like a Lady: The Fakaleti's of Tonga
Filmed by a former Peace Corps volunteer
Articles listed below are arranged geographically; all are freely available online. For a selected list of articles that are available either in print or via access to paid databases, see Kleiber and MacKenzie's Gender Identity and Sexual Identity in the Pacific and Hawai'i.
2004. Ihimaera, Witi Tame. "This Magnificent Accident: An Interview with Witi Ihimaera." By Margaret Meklin and Andrew Meklin. The Contemporary Pacific 16 (2): pp. 358-66.
2008. George, Nicole. "Contending Masculinities and the Limits of Tolerance: Sexual Minorities in Fiji." The Contemporary Pacific 20 (1): pp. 163-89.
2007. Silva, Noenoe K. “Pele, Hi‘iaka, and Haumea: Women and Power in Two Hawaiian Mo‘olelo.” Pacific Studies 30 (1) pp: 159–181.
2001. Odo, C, and A Hawelu. “Eo Na Mahu O Hawaii: The Extraordinary Health Needs of Hawai’i’s Mahu.” Pacific Health Dialog 8 (2) pp: 327–334.
The Pacific at Large
2013. Express issue #547. Issue focused on LGBT issues in the Pacific region.
2004. Matzner, Andrew. "Pacific Islands." glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture.
Tahiti and French Polynesia
1955. Bouge, L.-J. "Un aspect du role rituel du <<Mahu>> dans l’ancien Tahiti." Journal de la Societe des Oceanistes 11 pp. 147.
2550 McCarthy Mall
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822 USA
© University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Library