A Tongan Drag Show

The Kingdom of Tonga is often described as a conservative and Christian country,  rich in tradition and culture.  That’s very true.  But some people who consider themselves conservative, Christian and traditional in the USA might be very surprised at one of the traditions in this island nation.

Traditionally in old Tongan culture, when a family did not have any young girls to do “women’s work”, they would raise a young boy to do that work.  This boy is called a “fakaleiti”, which literally translates as “Like a Lady”.  While this probably still happens, the fakaleiti of today are more often than not gay men who dress like women and often perform jobs that are traditionally done by women.

I should make it clear that not all fakaleiti are gay.  And not all gay Tongans are fakaleiti.  Some fakaleiti are married to women and have children of their own.  If you go to a restaurant or store in Tonga, it is not uncommon to be helped by a man who is wearing women’s attire.   You will also see these men walking around town just like anyone else except for the way they dress.   It is an accepted part of the culture here .Tongans watch the fakaleiti show

Every Wednesday night during the winter tourist season, some of the fakaleiti ham it up for the  tourists at a local Vava’u bar called Tonga Bob’s.  The “Fakaleiti Show” is a must see for many visitors to Vava’u and while the show is not a traditional Tongan event, it still brings out plenty of locals to watch.

A fakaleiti performsThe way the men dress during the show is NOT the same way they dress in town.  This show is for the audience and the guys go out of their way to entertain.

The tourist season is winding down and this week marked the final fakaleiti show of the year.  It was my second time to attend.  I went to the first show of the season last year and the last show this year.  It was a fun night and because many of the tourists are gone, a lot of Tongans squeezed into the bar to watch.

Tongans love to laugh and yes, they laugh at the fakaleiti.  But that’s the point to have a good time and not take it too seriously.

Also in the audience for the final show of the year were some members of the French navy who have a small boat docked here this week.   You will see some of them in this selection of video clips from the show.

Vava'u, Tonga Drag Show (Fakaleiti Show) from Steve Hunsicker on Vimeo.


One other note.  Every year there is a fakaleiti festival on the main island of Tonga called the Miss Galaxy Festival.   It’s a huge mainstream event that features fakaleiti from all over Tonga and attracts major International sponsors like Air New Zealand and WestPac Bank.

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  1. Regular NZ visitor to Tonga, and a gay man (although I don't broadcast that in Tonga, hehe). This is fantastic. I'm always sad that my trips have never coincided with Miss Galaxy. This little drag show looks hilarious. I love what a good time they're all having.

    Thanks for helping Tonga, Steve. I often consider volunteering to Atenisi, but have too many family commitments in NZ atm.

    Take care, and thanks for this blog.