SCENES FROM TONGA'S MISS SOUTH PACIFIC PAGEANT

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By Richard J. Coleman

[Editor’s Note: Samoa News veteran journalist Richard J. Coleman traveled with the American Samoa delegation to the Miss South Pacific. He filed the following report filed upon returning to the Territory.]

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (November 11, 1999 – Samoa News)---As the grand finale of many individual island pageants, the annual Miss South Pacific Pageant is known for many things including the observable truth that none of the contestants ever publicly compete against each other during this pageant.

In fact, despite the hoopla around them, the contestants almost always prefer to be friends with one another instead of being cutthroat competitors. This Pacifica cultural trait could make for a dull showdown.

If it weren’t for the entourages.

The real competition exists among the groups of supporters behind each contestant and it can get loud and ugly when any contestant's honor or pageant placement is on the line.

The 1999-2000 Miss South Pacific Pageant was recently hosted by the Kingdom of Tonga and coordinated on the island of Tongatapu by the Tonga Visitors Bureau and the Tongan Tourism Association.

The winner was Miss Cook Islands with the first runner-up being Miss Tonga, the second runner-up being Miss Papua New Guinea, the third runner-up was Miss Samoa, and the fourth runner-up was Miss Fiji.

Disappointingly, Miss American Samoa Vaisa‘asa‘a Galea‘i, a 23-year old teacher at Leone High School, was not a finalist.

Miss Cook Islands will go on to represent her island country in the Miss World contest. Miss Cook Islands, it was generally agreed, deserved to win because she represents the contemporary island image that many, if not all, tourism associations and visitors bureaus are seeking to promote.

GETTING THERE

The American Samoa contingent accompanying Miss American Samoa numbered about 15 or 16. It was the largest support group for any one contestant at the pageant, including Miss Tonga.

This group was headed up by Juliette Spencer Sword, the president of the Miss American Samoa, Inc. She did double duty as a member of the pageant's board of directors.

The second largest, and equally loud, was the Samoa contingent that accompanied Miss Samoa Taralina Gae‘e. There were about 10 or 12 in this group, including a newscaster from FM98, which carried the pageant live to Upolu and Savai‘i.

PARADE

The first throw-down occurred the morning of the day of the parade through downtown Nuku‘alofa. After being bused to the outskirts of the town, the 11 contestants and their supporters discovered, much to their dismay, that there were not enough floats (about five or six) to accommodate each contestant.

Miss Fiji's father threw a hissy fit because his daughter did not have a float of her own. Pageant officials pleaded with the two of them to share the Tonga Tourism Association's float with Miss American Samoa.

The Miss Fiji contingent angrily returned to the International Dateline Hotel where all contestants and support groups were being housed. It was publicly announced later, after the parade, that Miss Fiji had "taken ill" and couldn't take part in the parade.

So, Miss American Samoa lucked out and had a float to herself and three of her supportive underlings. The rest of the group surrounded the float and walked (!) the full five miles to the Nuku‘alofa waterfront without incident or pause.

Many of the other contestants grumbled about the float shortage, but they did not "fall ill" and shared the floats.

The American Samoans were unique crowd-pleasers because we brought bags of hard candies, which were thrown from the float into the crowds lined up on the sidewalks to cheer the parade on.

It got very loud around our float as hundreds of school kids scattered to chase down the candy. Several kids followed the float until the candy was gone.

Later that afternoon, the 11 contestants gathered in the hotel lobby for their individual interviews with the pageant's judges. After waiting for about an hour, the contestants were told that their interviews were being re-set for the next day.

Why? Because one of the judges had forgotten about the interviews and had left Tongatapu without telling pageant officials, requiring them to find a last-minute replacement.

FASHION SHOW

Later that evening, there was to be a fashion show with all the contestants acting as models. The fashions would include sarongs and indigenous outfits. Most importantly, the contestants would not be judged, or so everyone thought prior to the fashion show.

Imagine their surprise then when, towards the end of the show, the announcer announced that the results of the judging in two categories would be revealed momentarily.

In the sarong review, Miss Cook Islands took first place, Miss Hawaiian Islands took second, and Miss Solomon Islands took third. In the indigenous dress review, Miss Cook Islands again took first place, Miss Tonga (whose outfit was remarkably similar to Miss American Samoa's) took second, and Miss Fiji took third, reportedly as a consolation for being "ill" earlier in the day.

This, of course, should have been the first indication as to who would ultimately get the top title. But too many of the support groups, including MASI, were upset and furious at the sudden judging and Mrs. Sword, on behalf of MASI, complained strongly at the next morning's board of directors meeting.

PAGEANT

On the day of the pageant, the calendar of events got shuffled early on without explanation and so it came as no surprise later when word circulated through the International Dateline Hotel that the pageant's start-time was bumped to 8 p.m. from 7 p.m.

It actually kicked off at 9 p.m. with the Tongan anthem being played by the Royal Corps of Musicians promptly after the arrival of the Crown Prince-Regent Tupouto‘a. The Prince is reportedly chronically late to many public functions, particularly when the King, his father, is off-island as he was then.

Once underway, the first half of the pageant was plagued with sound and light problems brought on by intermittent power outages caused by inadequate wiring. New lights installed for the pageant required far more electrical power than the wiring in the cavernous Queen Salote Memorial Hall. The problem was detected, but not until just before the start of the pageant.

After the first power outage, MASI Vice President Lupelele Laussen rushed across the street to buy candles to light up Miss American Samoa's dressing room. She shared the candles with the other contestant dressers.

An embarrassed Miss Samoa upheld her dignity very well on stage when she and the audience discovered that the sound engineer had somehow misplaced her music, which she urgently needed during the Talent category of the pageant. After several false starts, the engineer eventually found the right cassette tape.

Shocked into silence by Miss American Samoa's failure to place as a finalist, the MASI supporters were in a somber mood on leaving the Hall. Many had greatly anticipated that she would bring home the pageant title. No one expected that she would not at least be a finalist.

Surprisingly, Miss American Samoa was in a rather upbeat mood as she was very relieved, not that she lost, but that the whole thing was over. She did do her best, especially in the Talent category when she sang "We Are One" with a strong and confident voice.

Back at the hotel after the pageant, all the contestants gathered joyfully to wish each other well and to congratulate those who exceeded their individual expectations by placing as winner or runner-up. Many of them made plans to spend what little time they had on Tonga together.

All the pageant visitors were besieged with gifts of watermelons, which were being harvested daily, and pineapples. The American Samoa contingent gave their melons away because of having to deal with connecting flights and then facing agricultural restrictions. The Samoans, however, chose to brave it all and shipped their melons with their luggage back to the home country.

The American Samoa contingent returned early last Tuesday morning. Their luggage followed later that day or the next morning.

Items from the SAMOA NEWS, American Samoa's daily newspaper, may not be republished without permission. To contact the publisher, send e-mail to

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