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Call for unity from Miss Pacific after racist slur

 Miss Pacific Islands, Leoshina Mercy Kariha
Source: RNZI

Nuku'alofa, TONGA — The Papua New Guinean beauty queen who endured a racist insult at a Tongan beauty pageant over the weekend has thanked Tongans for their support and called for unity of Pacific people.

Miss Pacific Islands Leoshina Kariha was in Nuku'alofa on Friday for the Miss Heilala beauty pageant where conflict erupted when the outgoing winner spoke up over mistreatment by organizers and the PNG visitor was subject to a racist slur from the audience.

She said there really should be no division among Melanesians, Polynesians, and Micronesians and called for one united Pacific.

Ms Kariha said the situation was uncomfortable but will not deter her work.

"Thank you for all of your support. It was painful to receive the comment. But my chaperone and I have been welcomed here by the Ministry of Tourism and by the people and we've been embraced by them."

Ms Kariha said she will not let the incident destroy the very good relationship between the Kingdom of Tonga and the people of Papua New Guinea.


There's been flood of angry criticism on social media over a reported intervention by Tonga's Deputy Prime Minister at the Miss Heilala beauty pageant in Nuku'alofa on Friday.

Semisi Sika is reported to have instructed the DJ to play loud music to drown out the controversial speech of Kalo Funganitao, the outgoing Miss Heilala.

Miss Funganitao condemned pageant officials for tormenting and bullying her during her reign and claimed she had been cheated, lied to, backstabbed and messed around.

The law student from Auckland University is considered to have dealt the pageant the strongest condemnation ever in its 40-year history.

"Enough is enough" Kalo, as she is commonly known, yelled over the music.

Her mother, brother and other contestants joined her on stage for the speech for which her microphone was eventually cut, allegedly at the instruction of Mr Sika, who was the honoured official at the pageant.

But Kalo continued to give her speech, a protocol given to every reigning Miss Heilala as they are about to depart and hand over the crown to the next winner.

"My mother and I were cheated, lied to, backstabbed and generally messed around," Kalo claimed.

The support she was promised as a Miss Heilala winner never came, she said. Instead, she claims to have been bullied and rudely treated.

"Up until today I have experienced just how hard it can be to be a young Tongan woman. I have dealt with people in official roles and in other places in the workforce that have been unprofessional and rude," Kalo said.

Social media users criticised the way Kalo's speech appeared to have been shut down with a few calling for Mr Sika's resignation.

The attempt to silence Kalo was recorded on video and posted on social media.

Kalo described her experience during her reign as Miss Heilala as a direct result of the way she was treated by pageant officials and some of the public.

She also spoke about vicious attacks she had endured on social media, as people in the crowd started booing her and shouted obscenities.

Mr Sika is also accused of failing to intervene when someone from the VIP table reportedly screamed racist abuse at Leoshina Kariha, Miss Pacific Islands from Papua New Guinea.

A senior journalist in Tonga, Taina Kami, has expressed embarrassment at the abuse.

"Miss Pacific Islands Leoshina Kariha. I hang my head in shame and apologise for such unpleasant and uncalled for behaviour," she wrote.

Ms Kami has called for an apology from the pageant organisers.

No apologies have been issued by the tourism committee that organises the pageant or the Tourism Ministry for which Mr Sika is the minister.