In Bora Bora a few of the service staff were conspicuously tall women whom the trained eye revealed to be men, and who represent ‘the third sex’ in the islands.
According to Francois Bauer, for centuries, traditional families in French Polynesia raised their eldest son as a woman, or Mahu, believing him to have divine qualities, and the best traits of both sexes.
In the 1960′s, when the French began nuclear testing in Tahiti, there weren’t enough women to entertain all of the soldiers, so many of the local men became women. Now that’s what I call hospitality.
Today, the Mahu (MAH-who) are effeminate men who choose to live as women. The term Raerae (ray-ray) is also used, but I’d exercise caution. Originally coined for transsexual prostitutes, Polynesian transsexuals may consider it a term of derision and react accordingly – which I personally witnessed on our trip – so I’d go with Mahu unless they correct you.
Most of the travelers who were on our trip to Bora Bora are gay… I’d say 95%, mostly men, and a single MTF transsexual whom the local Mahu thought could walk on water. They weren’t far off. It’s no wonder we found acceptance everywhere we went, on and off the resort property. They’re leagues away from the U.S. and in this, leagues ahead.