Les RaeRae et Mahu: Troisième sexe polynésien

Translated title of the contribution: RaeRae and Mahu: Third polynesian gender

Emmanuel Stip

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Background On numerous islands of the Pacific, under various names, there are people considered to be neither men nor women but half-men/ half-women. In French Polynesia, there is a sociological and anthropological condition called RaeRae or Mahu. A RaeRae is a man who behaves as and considers himself to be a woman. RaeRae and Mahu are good examples of culture-bound transsexuality or cross-dressing. Being Mahu has a cultural meaning, recognized in the history of Polynesian society, and cannot be considered as a medical or psychiatric condition. Being RaeRae extends the transformation to possible hormone therapy and surgery; the traditional social role (education, tourism) of Mahu is retained but in some cases is influenced by prostitution and at-risk homosexuality. Bibliographic sources and method We conducted a literature search using several medical, social, and anthropological bibliographic sources (MedLine, Google Scholar, PsycINFO, DUMAS). We used the terms RaeRae, Mahu, Polynesian androphilia, and Polynesian sexuality. We found 20 articles and theses. Some articles discuss a very similar condition in Samoa (fa’afafine). In addition, Mahu seems to be a derogatory term for a male homosexual or drag queen in the Hawaiian Islands. Results and contents RaeRae and Mahu is broadly defined as men with sweetness [OK?] or women who are prisoners of men’s bodies. There is evidence of their presence and social functions in ancient times. The arrival of the missionaries and Christian morality resulted in the emergence of a new moral and sexual order. RaeRae and Mahu remain present and visible today. They are integrated into local professional and cultural life and are accepted, as long as their sexuality remains unspoken and invisible, which is more difficult for RaeRae. We describe the phenomenon and its context and the sociocultural hypotheses. We retain a reference connected to tacit knowledge of Polynesian sacrificial rites: Mahu did not undergo sacrifices the victims of which had to be men. A general discussion must be envisaged concerning the DSM-5, transgender identity and stigmatization. For instance, in Hawaii, people who identify as transgender continue to suffer high rates of violence, sexual assault and discrimination. The description contributes to an investigation of the limits of considering gender as binary; rather, it is a continuum not governed by the medicalization and psychologization of a cultural feature, which is also recognizable in other cultural areas including among the Amerindians. Studying RaeRae and Mahu in Polynesia means agreeing to confront the binary concept that structures and divides the world into two categories of gender and sex, male and female, just like grammatical gender in French. Examples from other cultures include the new half in Japan, muxe or muché among the Zapotecs of Tehuantepec, woubi in Côte d’Ivoire, femminielli in Italy, ladyboys or kathoeys in Thailand, natkadaw in Myanmar, hijra in India and Pakistan, khounta in Arab Islamic culture, and in Canada and the USA, agokwa among the Ojibwa, and ikoneta in the Illinois language. Mahu, or transgendered individuals and transvestites, were in fact viewed by the ancient Hawaiians as a normal element of the old social culture that preceded missionary days and American and French military missions. Mahu were not merely tolerated; they were regarded as a legitimate and contributory part of the ancient Polynesian community.

Translated title of the contributionRaeRae and Mahu: Third polynesian gender
Original languageFrench
Pages (from-to)193-208
Number of pages16
JournalSante Mentale au Quebec
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Gender identity
  • Mahu
  • Polynesian culture
  • RaeRae
  • Transgender

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Phychiatric Mental Health
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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