Some years ago, in early 2005 I assisted the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s (ABC) Foreign Correspondent television programme in the production of a report covering the “Mahu – ‘Tahiti’s Third Gender’”. It was an interesting insight into Polynesian history & culture.
The mahu has played a central role in Polynesian society for centuries; it was not unusual for a family to include at least one mahu. The earliest records, at a time when Polynesians were fierce warriors, shows the society’s preparedness during battles to leave at home those boys & men deemed ‘effeminate’. Those left behind possessed another set of skills to fighting – those of household management & particularly a profound knowledge of cultural matters. Rather than being looked down upon, mahus, as they were known, were held in high esteem in the highest echelons of Tahitian society for their proficiency & knowledge. They were excellent household keepers, astute raisers of children, skilled in social etiquette, guardians of Tahitian history & legends & possessed of enormous information concerning polynesian culture including matters artisanal & traditional dancing & singing.
Today it is not unusual to find mahus employed in social service related areas in the communes, in public relations positions at the major hotels & in particular at the head of many of Tahiti’s world famous dance groups. Anyone who has ever witnessed the Heiva would recognize the invaluable contribution mahus make to the retention & promotion of Polynesian culture.
During the period of the atomic testing Tahiti was flooded with both money as well as foreign workers & soldiers. They came to Papeete for ‘rest & recreation’. The men visiting far outnumbered the number of local women & saw the rise of the rae rae. Although both speak with an effeminate voice & use effeminate gestures, the mahu should not be confused with the rae rae. A mahu will retain his male christian name; is quite discreet, somewhat refined & sophisticated & lives a fairly routine daytime existence; it is moreso at night that he likes to dress up & party. A rae rae, by contrast, uses a woman’s christian name, dresses as a woman, in fact will do everything possible to ‘be a woman’.
Beauty pageants for Miss Vahine Tane – ‘the Queen’ of Tahiti/French Polynesia (vahine meaning woman & tane man) have been running for many years. The 2014 Miss Poehine (pearl girl) – the Queen of Bora Bora marks the 10th running of this event, an event reserved uniquely for Bora Boorians.
The pageant was staged around the lagoon-side, infinity pool of the Sofitel Marara Resort & attended by a large number of spectators, supporters & not a small number of onlookers intrigued by the conduct of this unusual event. Both the bar & the restaurant sides of the pool were packed:
Seven were shortlisted & six competed for the title of Miss Poehine – the Queen of Bora Bora. The show opened vibrantly with contestants flowing through a packed restaurant area & onto the stage in attire reflecting this year’s theme – “Pink Butterfly” – symbolising beauty & fragility:
Contestants were interviewed in both French & English by Miss Poehine 2013 one of this year’s judges together with the current Miss Vahine Tane (literally Miss Woman Man) for Tahiti/French Polynesia & by chance also from Bora Bora, a former Miss Vahine & the current Miss Hotels Bora Bora:
This last ‘pink butterfly’ included as she received great crowd support, a factor which added to a candidate’s chance of success & to the ambience of the evening.
The contestants would pass four times before the judges & the vocal crowd in a variety of costumes. Herewith some photos to give you a feel or let you relive the event:
At this stage, much to the delight of competitors & onlookers alike, French Polynesia’s current Miss Vahine Tane & a judge this evening, decided to perform an impromptu aparima dedicated to the contestants & to celebrate the event:
The passes of the competitors, this time in evening gown, then continued:
Decision time! After a spectacular & very colourful evening here’s what the judges decided supported by thunderous acclamation from those present:
MISS POEHINE: Kiana, 20 years, works at the Sofitel & is 1.92cm tall!
1ere DAUPHINE: Maira, 20 years of age.
MISS HEIVA: Teura, 20 years, works at the Hilton Bora Bora.
Some of those present could be found still ‘partying’ on Matira Beach the next morning!!!