01 Mar 2019

This content is tagged as Pacific arts .


Samoan Queer Lives

The First Book by Fa`afafine, Fa`atama, Transgenders and Queer Pacific Islanders from the Islands of Sāmoa. By Dan Taulapapa McMullin and Yuki Kihara

Personal stories from one of the unique indigenous queer cultures in the world

First of its kind, Samoan Queer Lives is a publication featuring a collection of autobiographical pieces by fa`afafine, transgender, and queer people of Sāmoa, one of the original continuous indigenous queer cultures of Polynesia and the Pacific Islands.

“As media and academia too often ask the enigmatic question ‘What is a fa`afafine?’  Samoan Queer Lives addresses a more pertinent question: ‘What is life?’”  – Yuki Kihara

Yuki Kihara is an interdisciplinary artist and first contemporary Pacific artist to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Dan Taulapapa McMullin is a writer and artist with a Poets & Writers Award, and is the author of Coconut Milk (2013 Top Ten LGBT Books of the Year, American Library Association).

Fa`afafine have lived their culture for as long as Samoans in the South Pacific can remember – and although their lives were ridiculed and then outlawed by explorers, missionaries, and colonial authorities, fa`afafine survived and thrived. Samoan Queer Lives is a new book of fa`afafine autobiographical stories from the 1940s into the 21st century. Shevon Matai (photo above) was part of a fa`afafine transgender house culture in a 1960s–1980s tailor shop called Hollywood in Apia, Sāmoa, and a sister shop called Beverly Hills in Pago Pago, American Sāmoa. Other stories include: Allan Alo, a gender liminal choreographer’s journey finding artistic voice and what it means to be a fa`afafine with a pe`a (customary Samoan tattoo for men); Isaako Si`uleo, a Samoan gay man and activist who lived in San Francisco and New York during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemics; Jean Melesaine, a butch lesbian photographer whose recent immigrant childhood included gang life, prison and self-discovery. The author–editors also provide a background on the history of the fa`afafine of Sāmoa with images from the 19th century, and the influence of fa`afafine on the founding of Gay Liberation since WWII. This is a book that appeals to all readers wanting books about cultures that were part of the origins of the Transgender and Gay movements; and about contemporary fa`afafine culture in the Sāmoa Islands and global diaspora, as told by renowned fa`afafine artists Yuki Kihara and Dan Taulapapa McMullin.

Samoan Queer Lives received Creative New Zealand funding in 2011 for the research and development phase.

Samoan Queer Lives Book Launch Dates

Tuesday 5 February 2019 (5–6pm): Auckland
Betty Wark Room, Ellen Melville Centre, Freyberg Place.

Wednesday 20 March 2019 (6–7.30pm): Wellington
Unity Books, Willbank House 57 Willis St.