Why Indigenous Traditions Are More Advanced Than Western Culture When It Comes to Gender?

Have you ever heard about baklâ, chibados or māhū? Do you know what a third gender is?

It can often seem as though the world has always been an unwelcoming place for the LGBTQ+ community. But, many cultures around the globe seem to disprove this argument.

Although they are not without their problems, many African, South Asian and Native cultures have a strong history of non-differentiation between people who identify as LGBTQ+ and everyone else.

In Hawaii and other Pacific Islands, the term māhū¹ describes people who embrace both the feminine and masculine traits of their personality. It is is an intermediate state between man and woman or a “person of indeterminate gender”⁴. For Native Hawaiians, gender identities were divided into three: male, female and māhū, the third gender.

Some traditional Diné Native Americans of the Southwestern United States acknowledge a spectrum of four genders: feminine woman, masculine woman, feminine man, and masculine man.

Photo by Datingjungle on Unsplash

Chibados² are third-gender people, born male, who lived most often as women. They were found among the cultures of the Ndongo and other parts of what is today Angola.

They were first described in the west by the Portuguese. Chibados were involved as “spiritual arbiters in political and military decisions” and also performed burials. Portuguese priests and Jesuits described how chibados lived as women and were able to marry other men with no social sanctions. Instead, “such marriages were honoured and even prized.”.

Photo by Andrew James on Unsplash

In the Philippines, a baklâ³ is a person who was assigned male at birth and has adopted a feminine gender expression. They are often considered a third gender. Many baklâ are exclusively attracted to men but are not necessarily gay.

It is the polar opposite of the term tomboy (natively the lakin-on or binalaki) in Philippine culture, which refers to women with a masculine gender expression that are usually — but not always — lesbians.

As we have seen, a third or fourth gender exist in different ancient cultures.

Photo by Monika Kozub on Unsplash

While found in several non-Western cultures, concepts of “third”, “fourth”, and “some” gender roles are still somewhat new to mainstream western culture and conceptual thought⁵.

These concepts are more likely to be embraced in the modern LGBT or queer subcultures.

So, when we look into the many indigenous traditions that establish their origins and culture to pre-colonial times, we see a pattern emerge of “non-conforming” gender-related themes.

Thus, the question is: Who decides what is conforming and what is not?

This blog contribution was made by Eleonora Papini.

Eleonora is originally from Italy, she is passionate about human psychology, sustainable development and international cooperation. Eleonora works as a Project Implementation Officer in a European project about urban sustainable development solutions aimed at valuing the young and female entrepreneurship industry.

In 2021 became also a Data Analyst for the LMF Network and content creator for their blog.

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  1. Independent.ie. (2017). What native Hawaii an culture has to teach about gender identity.
  2. Sweet, James H. (2003). Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the African-Portuguese World, 1441–1770. University of North Carolina Press.
  3. Tan, Michael L. (2001). “Survival Through Pluralism: Emerging Gay Communities in the Philippines”. Journal of Homosexuality.
  4. Llosa, Mario Vargas. (2015). “The men-women of the Pacific”.
  5. McGee, R. Jon and Richard L. Warms 2011 Anthropological Theory: An Introductory History. New York, McGraw Hill.



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