Pacific Transgenders: The Miss Papillon Beauty Pageant

   If you read the article ‘Troisieme Sexe‘, you are now aware of the existence of a third gender in a few Pacific cultures. Today, in order to understand how transgender manage to fit into those other cultures who do not recognize a third gender, I am going to take you on a journey to one of the most multicultural islands in the Pacific.

Buckle up, everyone, we’re flying to New-Caledonia for this one.

    To understand how the acceptance of transgenderism in New-Caledonia has incredibly evolved throughout the years, you have to know first that the idea of a third genre has never been part of the Kanak culture. Therefore, the first introduction to transgenderism came along with the arrival of Tahitians and Tongans. Throughout the years, as the Tahitians and Tongans settled in New-Caledonia, they put many efforts in making people accept this concept of a third gender. It took time for it to happen but it finally became socially acceptable with the organization of the first official transgender beauty pageant, in 2013.


The eleven contestants photographed by the Caledonian News

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A Man’s Instrument: Transgenders and the Didgeridoo

The young boy sits on the ground. He carries with him a long, wooden instrument. Placing a microphone at the bottom of the instrument he then places his lips at the top and soon the audience is captivated by the ambient noises of nature. The consistent droning sound is mixed with the vocal calls of native Australian animals – kangaroos, dingoes and the Kookaburra. Young children sit in awe and adults close their eyes, smiling – captivating the moment. This … this is the power of the Didgeridoo. When the the young man finishes his set, there is an overwhelming cheer and applause. As he packs up his gear, he is asked the question that he has a well rehearsed answer for ‘Are women allowed to play the Didgeridoo?’

The answer to the question is most definitely a no. For a very long time the answer has always been a no. So that question does not particularly make for a very interesting story, however if one takes into account that we are all living in a technology-driven world, it is clear that eventually something like tradition is going to face the challenges of people wanting to merge the boundaries of what is natural and what is now able to be altered by science. The concept of transgender-ism is not exactly ‘new’, however the topic of how trans-persons fit into Indigenous culture is one that is not commonly spoken about. So the issue is slowly being raised – Are Transgender Indigenous Men allowed to play the Didgeridoo?

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Troisieme Sexe.


PicMonkey Collage


The issue of reconciling transgenderism and indigenous culture is not unique to Australia. All around the Pacific, other islands, other cultures and other people have faced the dilemma of following their own path regardless of traditions. Indeed, just like the Australian indigenous culture, some culture like the Kanak one, Fijian one or the Vanuatu one stay intransigent about genders roles. The roles are defined and trying to mix them up is a serious offence.

”A man should be a man, a warrior, a protector.

A woman should be a woman; maternal, loving and caring.”

Fayaoue  Grand Chef (Kanak).

However, not all the Pacific cultures are that strict about genders. If you travel a bit further to the East, to Tahiti or Tonga, there are big chances you’ll meet what the Europeans called a third gender.

In Tahiti, they’re called Mahus or Rae rae depending on how far their transformation went and how natural the process was. For the Tahitians, a mahu is the official representation of the third sex. Mahus are respected and part of the culture. On the contrary, the rae rae are not respected by the society because they are considered to be unatural and often work on the streets.


In Tonga, the people indentified as third gender are called Fakafefina. They are men with women habits and their state is considered normal by the society.

The Didgeridoo

The Didgeridoo is the most well known of all Australian Indigenous Instruments – But here are some things you many not have known.


  • Didgeridoo is not a real Indigenous word

Didgeridoo is an Onomatopoeia, meaning that the instrument was named after what it sounded like. This means that one of the first rhythms that a westerner heard played through the Didgeridoo was the actual word Didgeridoo. The only real Indigenous words for the Instrument are; Yidaki, Yiggi yiggi and Yidarkee.

  • Not every Indigenous person played the Didgeridoo originally

The instrument was traditionally only played in three areas of Australia – The Kokojelandji Mob (Cairns), The Yiirkala Nation (NT) and the Kimberley area. No other mobs traditionally played the instrument.

  • Women DO NOT play the Didgeridoo

Its a common question and one that needs an answer. The Didgeridoo is traditionally a men’s instrument and this was a decision made by the Woman elders of the above three tribes mentioned. The reason this decision was made was because playing the Didgeridoo can actually be straining on the abdominal muscles of a women and cause her not to be able to have children.


Pacific Vocabulary

In order to understand the terms used in the Pacific Butterflies articles here is a little dictionnary that could be useful.


An old picture of a Arii and his Mahu –


Mahu: In the Tahitian culture, “Mahu” is a term used to identify any men who are too feminine to be considered as real men by the society. In ancient times, every Arii (Tahitian noble) would own a Mahu. They were believed to be the equivalent of a sex slave for the nobles. The tradition dictates that you are born Mahu, like you are born boy or girl. Young men would be identified as Mahu during puberty when they’d start to show sign of femininity. From then, their education would change. No more physical activities, war or hunting, women would teach them how to be feminine and how to weave mats or cook.

Mahu keep their men names, wear long hair and long nails but aren’t necessarily homosexuals. Some of them are straight and married. Also, unlike the Rae rae, Mahu aren’t ashamed of who they are because their state is considered natural by the culture.


Rae rae: Would be translated to transsexuals in English. If the Mahu are feminine and sometimes homosexuals they remain loyal to their biological sex. It’s different for the Rae Rae. By definition, Rea Rea are offenders. Previously Mahu, they are the ones who dare to push the boundaries of the third genre further.


If the Mahu are considered different but still part of the community, Rea Rea are considered to be prostitutes and often do work on the streets. They are attracted to men and considered themselves entirely women.


Fakafāfine: Originally used as an adverb or an adjective to say” like a woman” , or as a verb to say “act like a woman“, the word Fakafāfine has now become the shorter way to describe a person who identified as third gender.  Fakafāfine comes from the expression « koe tagata oku kafefine » used by the ancient. This expression literally means “man with woman’s habits“.

Today, the word Fakafāfine represents a man who prefers women’s activities, who rather spend time with women, who wears women clothes and adopts feminine manners. However, it has to be noted that Fakafāfine are not known for being homosexuals. Most of them are straight and often married.

A Journey on T (Testosterone)

Hey guys – feel free to check out Clancy’s Transition through monthly videos.


One Month on T


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Huffington Post – #whattranslooklike

Social media may have been a blaze with #ALSIceBucketChallenge and the recent leaked nude photos of certain celebrities; however some may have noticed another hash tag trend going around. Huffington Post have sent out a call for transgender people to put on a brave face and take to twitter with a ‘selfie’ accompanied with the caption #whattranslooklike.

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Vocabulary List

Tips on the correct language to use when discussing this topic & related topics. Read more of this post