Fascinating photographs reveal a rare glimpse into the ancient ‘mahu’ community

Fascinating photographs reveal a rare glimpse into the ancient ‘mahu’ community

Fascinating and vibrant portraits of the 'mahu' on the Polynesian island of Tahiti offer a rare glimpse into the ancient spiritual community who ident

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Fascinating and vibrant portraits of the ‘mahu’ on the Polynesian island of Tahiti offer a rare glimpse into the ancient spiritual community who identify as neither male nor female.  

The extraordinary series of photographs showcase the island’s ‘third gender’ painted in bright colours and adorned in flower garlands and shells as they pose on idyllic beaches against a backdrop of the South Pacific Ocean. 

The images, captured by Swiss-Guinean photographer Namsa Leuba – for her new exhibition ‘Illusions: The Myth of the ‘Vahine’ through Gender Dysphoria’ – offer an intimate portrayal of the fascinating culture who exist outwith the male-female divide. 

In Tahiti, ‘mahu’ are born biologically male but family and friends believe they do not conform to traditional gender roles from an early age. 

Fascinating and vibrant portraits of the 'mahu' on the Polynesian island of Tahiti offer a rare glimpse into the ancient spiritual community who identify as neither male nor female

Fascinating and vibrant portraits of the 'mahu' on the Polynesian island of Tahiti offer a rare glimpse into the ancient spiritual community who identify as neither male nor female

Fascinating and vibrant portraits of the ‘mahu’ on the Polynesian island of Tahiti offer a rare glimpse into the ancient spiritual community who identify as neither male nor female

The group play key spiritual roles in the community, as guardians of rituals, dance and also to provide care for children and the elderly. 

‘Mahu have this other sense that men or women don’t have,’ Ms Leuba, who immerses herself in the culture for six months a year, told CNN. ‘It is well known in (French Polynesia) that they have something special.’ 

The photographer – who met most of her subjects as strangers on the street – interviews them for hours before taking their picture in order to gain their trust.

‘Sometimes I would hear some really (tough) stuff that has happened to them, and it was totally not sexy or glamorous. It was difficult. And others were well-accepted by their family and their community,’ Ms Leuba told the publication. 

Her series of photographs also include people who identify as ‘rae-rae’ – transgender women who often pursue gender reassignment surgery unlike mahu. 

‘For me, it was very important to see (the subject’s) beauty and the power — in my pictures, it’s very strong look, a strong posture — and to (allow them to) make themselves beautiful,’ she said. 

The extraordinary series of photographs showcase the island's 'third gender' painted in bright colours and adorned in flower garlands and shells as they pose on idyllic beaches against a backdrop of the South Pacific Ocean

The extraordinary series of photographs showcase the island's 'third gender' painted in bright colours and adorned in flower garlands and shells as they pose on idyllic beaches against a backdrop of the South Pacific Ocean

The extraordinary series of photographs showcase the island’s ‘third gender’ painted in bright colours and adorned in flower garlands and shells as they pose on idyllic beaches against a backdrop of the South Pacific Ocean

The images, captured by Swiss-Guinean photographer Namsa Leuba - for her new exhibition 'Illusions: The Myth of the 'Vahine' through Gender Dysphoria' - offer an intimate portrayal of the fascinating culture who exist outwith the male-female divide

The images, captured by Swiss-Guinean photographer Namsa Leuba - for her new exhibition 'Illusions: The Myth of the 'Vahine' through Gender Dysphoria' - offer an intimate portrayal of the fascinating culture who exist outwith the male-female divide

The images, captured by Swiss-Guinean photographer Namsa Leuba – for her new exhibition ‘Illusions: The Myth of the ‘Vahine’ through Gender Dysphoria’ – offer an intimate portrayal of the fascinating culture who exist outwith the male-female divide

In Tahiti, 'mahu' are born biologically male but are recognised by family and friends as not conforming to traditional gender roles from an early age

In Tahiti, 'mahu' are born biologically male but are recognised by family and friends as not conforming to traditional gender roles from an early age

In Tahiti, ‘mahu’ are born biologically male but are recognised by family and friends as not conforming to traditional gender roles from an early age

The group play key spiritual roles in the community, as guardians of rituals, dance and also to provide care for children and the elderly

The group play key spiritual roles in the community, as guardians of rituals, dance and also to provide care for children and the elderly

The group play key spiritual roles in the community, as guardians of rituals, dance and also to provide care for children and the elderly

The photographer - who met most of her subjects as strangers on the street - interviews them for hours before taking their picture in order to gain their trust

The photographer - who met most of her subjects as strangers on the street - interviews them for hours before taking their picture in order to gain their trust

The photographer - who met most of her subjects as strangers on the street - interviews them for hours before taking their picture in order to gain their trust

The photographer - who met most of her subjects as strangers on the street - interviews them for hours before taking their picture in order to gain their trust

The photographer – who met most of her subjects as strangers on the street – interviews them for hours before taking their picture in order to gain their trust

Her series of photographs also include people who identify as 'rae-rae' - transgender women who often pursue gender reassignment surgery unlike mahu

Her series of photographs also include people who identify as 'rae-rae' - transgender women who often pursue gender reassignment surgery unlike mahu

Her series of photographs also include people who identify as ‘rae-rae’ – transgender women who often pursue gender reassignment surgery unlike mahu

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