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Tahiti Mahu -

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Tahiti Mahu

Broadcast: 22/03/2005

Reporter: Trevor Bormann


BORMANN: It's rehearsal night for the O'Hutu de Nuit dance group and Tahiti's leading choreographer
is taking charge. In traditional Polynesian society, "Coco" Anthony is regarded as neither a man
nor a woman but a highly revered member of a third sex. Coco is known as a Mahu, physically a man
but someone who acts like a woman.

"COCO" ANTHONY: In other societies, the Mahu is looked upon as a strange creature - like a monster.
But I say - let's stop all this, we have our place in society.

BORMANN: This is a conservative place, it has been since the Christian missionaries arrived here in
the late 18th Century but the fact is people don't bat an eyelid when they meet someone of
ambiguous gender. The Mahu have been part of Polynesia for hundreds, possibly thousands of years.

VOICEOVER [Black and white archive footage] Eastward lies Tahiti, land of colour, laughter, romance
- Tahiti.

BORMANN: For the French colonials, it was a real eye opener. Men living like women in the most
traditional of societies. It was often the case in Polynesian families that the eldest son would be
raised as a girl. The belief was that this young Mahu had divine attributes, the best qualities of
both genders.

In a thoroughly modern Tahiti, Coco, like many other Mahu, holds a key creative role in the arts
scene. He regards himself as an effeminate man, but wants to dress as a man and physically stay as

"COCO" ANTHONY: I am proud of being a Mahu because in Polynesia we belong and we are recognised in
this society. We belong in everyday life. That's it.

MARCO TEVANE: Their role in the community's life in the village, corresponds to that of women.

BORMANN: To gain an insight into Polynesia's third sex, I've come to meet Marco Tevane, a former
culture minister who set up his country's first indigenous museum.

MARCO TEVANE: From what we know, they lived their lives as women. They had their social function to
fulfil, looking after children just as women do, just as mothers do, but with other qualities.

BORMANN: In a place where physical beauty is a nation's claim to fame, Miss Tahiti, Raipoe Adams,
has the proverbial keys to the island and any dress she wants. She can have the best dressmaker
too. Today she's being fitted out in the latest creation by Nelson.

Nelson is not a Mahu, but what's known as a Raerae, a Polynesian man who's crossed the gender
divide to not only behave like a woman but become one.

NELSON: From very young, really very young, I understood I was different from the others. Firstly
because I was already effeminate. It was obvious, and if it was not obvious, people made me feel

BORMANN: While the Mahu of Polynesia are gay men, Raerae, like Nelson, want to be women so they can
have a heterosexual relationship with a man.

NELSON: When I was very young, actually when I was 20, I met a man and lived with him for 20 years.
We lived as a couple.

BORMANN: In the island of love, sexual identity can be a wondrous, if complex matter. To make it
more difficult, the Mahu and the Raerae don't always see eye to eye.

MARCO TEVANE: Generally the Mahu is much cleaner than the Raerae. Today when you speak of the
Raerae, it is in a degrading context. It is sex. It is prostitution.

BORMANN: It all turned sour from the 1960s when thousands of French troops poured into Tahiti for
the nuclear testing program. There weren't enough females to entertain them, so some of the local
men became women. François Bauer documented their exploits. He's now the acknowledged expert on the
Mahu and Raerae.

FRANCOIS BAUER: The most effeminate Mahus, who understood the benefit to be gained from
cross-dressing, by keeping company with the servicemen, started to cross-dress and prostitute
themselves to earn money.

ANGELE: Hello my name is Angele. I was elected Miss Transsexual 2000 in Paris. I am 21 years old
and I live in Papeete in Tahiti.

BORMANN: Angele is sensitive about being called a Raerae because she's not a prostitute, neither
are many others of her kind. She was a man who became a woman, with the benefit of modern surgery.

ANGELE: It's true that there are some people who insult us, who don't like us, who sometimes tend
to react physically towards us, but we just live for ourselves.

FRANCOIS BAUER: Of course there is some rivalry. We are dealing with two different types of
individuals. Firstly there is the Mahu who has ancestral customs, is socially accepted by the
Polynesian families and there is the other type, the Raerae who is not accepted by society because
he prostitutes himself.

BORMANN: In a multicultural, multilingual society, the Mahu and the Raerae are part of the tapestry
of a multisexual society. Dance leader, Coco, sees himself as upholding tradition as well.

"COCO" ANTHONY: I am very proud to be Mahu because we maintain the Polynesian culture within us. We
can say that we have saved our cultural heritage, all the while respecting it.

BORMANN: Mahu and Raerae are the embodiment of a mainly tolerant society. In a land with men, women
and a third sex, there are no hidden genders.