Anger as Tongan beauty queen’s bullying claim speech disrupted

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TVNZ’s Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver reports on organisers trying to shut down the outgoing Miss Heilala Queen during her final address. Video: TVNZ

By Kalafi Moala in Nuku’alofa

Angry criticism has flooded social media over a reported intervention by Tonga’s Deputy Prime Minister – including calls for his resignation – 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.

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

READ MORE: Auckland student pulled off stage for speech against bullying at Tonga beauty pageant

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


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“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 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.

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

She 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.

The attempt to silence Kalo was recorded on video and posted on social media. She was ushered off the stage and was unable to crown the new Miss Heilala.

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.

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 Sika is the minister.

  • This article is published under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.
  • More Tongan stories
Kalo Funganitao
2018 Miss Heilala Kalo Funganitao … condemned pageant officials for being “tormented and bullied” during her reign. Image: Kalo Funganitao/RNZ Pacific
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