‘Labour of love’ book launched

After a decade of story gathering and editing, artists Yuki Kihara and Dan Taulapapa McMullin have published Samoan Queer Lives.

The book is an anthology of fa’afafine’s stories, in their own words, and is being launched at a free event at Tanoa Tusitala hotel from 6pm December 4th, and will be available for purchase at the event, or from Samoa Stationary and Books exclusively afterwards.

Samoan Queer Lives introduces readers to 14 fa’afafine from Samoa, and beyond. Each story is unique, an exploration of their worlds and experiences.

“If there is one thread, I would repeat something that Yuki posted online recently, that Samoan Queer Lives is part of the de-colonisation of Samoa and Samoans,” said collaborator, Dan Taulapapa McMullin.

Poor historical documentation of fa’afafine before 1980, and European laws forbidding transgenderism might have erased the narrative of fa’afafine altogether, were it not for active voices striving to be recognised.

Making space in literature, art and culture for fa’afafine is an attempt to solidify a place in history.

“Our goal is for our queer community to see ourselves, but also very important to us is for our families to see us, because we cannot be separated from our families, and to help our Samoan community as a whole to find healing,” Taulapapa said.

Yuki Kihara is an artist of many forms, and said she primarily acted as the producer on the book: coordinating interviews, negotiating with publishers and so on. But the work is very close to her heart.

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“It really has been a labour of love,” she said.

“What we’re offering here is an alternative history of Samoan life.”

Both Ms Kihara and Taulapapa said the book is as for as broad an audience as possible, to expose readers to the authentic voice of an oftentimes silenced group.

“Anthropologists have been controlling the conversation about Faafafine for quite a while and we wanted to “take back the mic,” said Taulapapa.

“In all of the life stories in Samoan Queer Lives, you will find a universal thread where transgenders, women, and men, found strength in the face of transphobia and homophobia, they found strength in their idealization of Samoan culture, of Faafafine, Faatane, Fafatama, and Tauatane life.”

Part of giving their speakers a voice was not editing their language, Ms Kihara said.

“Some of the interviews we recorded in person and transcribed, but some were written contributions,” she explained.

“So we left their language as it was, as much as possible, as it’s more authentic.”

Samoan Queer Lives will launch where the contributing writers are from, in Auckland and San Francisco next February and in Wellington in March. 

The launch on Tuesday is supported by the New Zealand High Commission.

“And so they should,” Ms Kihara said, laughing.

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