Human Nature

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 269–281 | Cite as

Materteral and Avuncular Tendencies in Samoa

A Comparative Study of Women, Men, and Fa’afafine
  • Paul L. VaseyEmail author
  • Doug P. VanderLaan


Androphilia refers to sexual attraction and arousal to adult males, whereas gynephilia refers to sexual attraction and arousal to adult females. In Independent Samoa, androphilic males, most of whom are effeminate or transgendered, are referred to as fa’afafine, which means “in the manner of a woman.” Previous research has established that fa’afafine report significantly higher avuncular tendencies relative to gynephilic men. We hypothesized that Samoan fa’afafine might adopt feminine gender role orientations with respect to childcare activity. If so, then the fa’afafine’s femininity might be a proximate mechanism for promoting their elevated avuncular tendencies. Our analyses indicated that fa’afafine had significantly higher willingness to assist in the childcare of nieces and nephews than childless women, mothers, or men, none of whom differed from each other on this measure. Thus, femininity does not appear to explain the fa’afafine’s pattern of avuncular tendencies, nor the women’s pattern of materteral (i.e., aunt-like) tendencies, relative to gynephilic men. We discuss how the fa’afafine “third” gender status might influence the expression of their elevated avuncular tendencies.


Gender roles Sexual orientation Kin selection Aunts Uncles Samoa 



We thank Resitara Apa, Nancy H. Bartlett, Vester Fido Collins, Peniamina Tolovaa Fagai, Liulauulu Faaleolea Ah Fook, Tyrone Laurenson, Jeannette Mageo, Gaualofa Matalavea, Nella Tavita-Levy, David S. Pocock, Trisha Tuiloma, the Kuka family of Savai’i, the Government of Samoa, and all of the individuals who agreed to participate in our study. We also thank three anonymous reviewers and Andrea Camperio Ciani for helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper. We extend special thanks to Alatina Ioelu, without whose help this study would not have been possible. PLV was funded by the University of Lethbridge and a NSERC of Canada Discovery Grant. DPV was funded by an Alberta Graduate Scholarship, a NSERC of Canada Graduate Scholarship-D3, and a Grant-In-Aid of Research from Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.


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© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of LethbridgeLethbridgeCanada

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