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Heilala officials pull plug as Kalo Funganitao voices her struggles

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Traumatic farewell speech from Miss Heilala 2018, Kalo Funganitao, as shocked contestants listen. Nuku'alofa, 6 July 2019.

Attempts were made to silence outgoing Miss Heilala, Kalo Funganitao after Miss Heilala organisers unplugged her microphone during her final speech when she started to voice her struggles in the past year, including criticizing them for their lack of support at the Miss Pacific Islands beauty pageant held in Nuku'alofa last year.

Making her final address as Miss Heilala before the crowning of the new Miss Heilala in the early hours of this morning, Kalo described her experience at the Miss Pacific Islands pageant, as “tormenting”.

"My mother and I were cheated, lied to, backstabbed and generally messed around. Instead of focusing my efforts on the pageant I was trying to find answers as to what was going on. I had never felt just a lack of support from people who were supposedly put into roles to help me."

"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 work force that have been unprofessional and rude and just straight out mind-boggling," the law student said.

"There needs to be an upheaval of the restricting current framework because it is not working. There seems to be committee members talking about others and taking photos of their outfits instead for looking out for the contestants especially if have been sitting in an ambulance for two hours!"

Kalo's critical speech, which she read from her laptop on the podium, followed her long vote of thanks to all the people who had helped her.

Drown her out

In a second attempt to silence her, Tonga's Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Semisi Sika, who is also Minister for Tourism, walked over to technical staff and told them to play loud music to drown out her speech, as heard by Matangi Tonga who sat close to them.

"Ta e fasi. Ta e fasi ke le'o lahi," [Play the music. Play the music loud]," he said. 

The technical staff did as they were told, but Kalo raised her voice and shouted to be heard as she continued to voice her opinions, while her mother, brother, and Miss Heilala contestants rallied beside her.

Kalo thanked those who supported her during her reign including her family and friends.

"The love and support of strangers has far outweighed whatever contrasting opinions there have been. I thank those taking time for sending words love and support....Thank you to those working within the Ministry of Tourism who have always helped even if it was a job for someone else to do, those of tried to find answers for me, drivers and others,” she said.

All of a sudden, the music was switched off allowing her to finish her speech without a working microphone, while her supporters in the audience called out to keep going, while others were rowdy and rude.

Outgoing Miss Heilala Kalo Funganitao finishes her final speech at the Miss Heilala crowning event. 6 July 2019.

Suppport and encourage women

At the end of her speech, Kalo and the contestants made their way backstage leaving the MC for the evening, Sulieni Layt, to handle the situation.

He appreciated the support of the families of the contestants.

“The goal of the Miss Heilala contest is to empower women, to support women and to encourage women to be confident, to show their outer beauty and their inner beauty that lies within," he said.

The contestants returned to the stage five minutes later to finish the Miss Heilala event and as they stood there waiting for the winners to be announced, Kalo made her final walk on the side of the stage with her crown and sash, laid them on the podium, and left the venue.

She did not stay to place the crown on the new Miss Heilala's head.

Cyber bullying

During her speech Kalo mentioned her Facebook page.

In a post made recently she talks about the impact of cyber bullying on her.

She said one of the first statements that she made when crowned last year was that she would not tolerate bullying.

"That has not changed, but it seems that my sentiments need to be enforced publicly - again. I am disgusted by the capacity people have for evil, but frankly if you feel empowered by ganging up to bully someone - then you must deal with the repercussions," she stated on Facebook.

"I may only be a law student now, but I certainly know enough to tell you that such acts of cyber bullying is a crime. You should have just continued about your own business, building a bright future for yourselves and your families. That is what I had wished for you, now I just hope that you never treat another human being this way!" she stated.


There are so many things we've learnt from what was happening last night. Here is my take on this matter. Issues:

  1. The officials shouldn't pull out the plug;
  2. Learn how to take criticism from others;
  3. To me as soon as they take the plug off, it shows that Kalo is right. This is not politics;
  4. Put your shoes if she was your own daughter or son. What would you do? I'm sure you would embrace them;
  5. Lesson from Matthew 12:7 (Do for others what you want them to do for you) and Luke 6:31 (Do to others as you would have them do);
  6. The current judging system does not work, so next time change the system. It's very biased! People are watching and they know!
  7. Kalo wasn't raised in Tonga and she is a law student, I think she is doing her Masters degree in Law. What do you expect? She exercises her right not as a winner but as a woman and a human being just like you and me (Human Rights Declaration). Don't be sad and surprise, because she has every right to voice her opinion, just like you and I;
  8. Cultural differences existed in Tonga. This is the evidence;
  9. Tonga is not ready for globalisation. So many things need to be adjusted in order to fit the Tongan system;
  10. Officials did not offer moral and mental health support to the winners;
  11. This incident is an indication of the tips of the iceberg. Something is not right about the Miss Heilala Festival and Tonga. What is it, I don't know;
  12. There is no Police or security officer to keep the peace in the Miss Heilala. Where are they?
  13. From this article, the main reason why Kalo was complaining in my opinion because of issues regarding "Fairness". So, do something about it!
  14. Everyone is entitled to their opinions as much as their counterpart. Is not a one-way street. Tonga needs to face it and move on!
  15. Officials did not screen the winner's speech. I think so;


  1. Officials should offer moral, social and mental health support to whoever wins the Miss Heilala;
  2. Kalo should be mature enough to handle the situation better. She should understand the Tongans. The Tongan people are the most insulting people I have ever seen. To the extent, they can just gossip just before you or around you. This is who they are! So, learn how to accept it and move on with whatever you are doing. Don't dwell on it. Just ignore them and move on!
  3. Next time, instead of using the judges, use the Public Voting System. Run all the competitions and announce the prizes and winners on the last day;
  4. This is more like a Beauty Paegent Show or TV Show to me. So Tonga can still use the judges' system to criticise the competitors, so they can improve, but let the Tongan Public choose who their winners are. Not only that this is fair to the people of Tonga, but to the officials as well.
  5. Police and security officer should be around to keep the peace;
  6. Next time officials should screen all the winner's speech, edit it and give it back to them;
  7. Dirtiness is everywhere, and that's why we needed Jesus;
  8. Jesus is the only "Prince of Peace" and he is the only one who can solve the problems for Tonga.

Once again, thank you Editor for posting this. So many things that young women in Tonga and around the world can learn from this.

From Heather Seini Iese, Stockton, CA: Thank you for posting this article. I am a Tongan woman born and raised in the US and as a young girl I can remember watching clips of Miss Heilala pageant and thinking to myself I wish to be participating in this pageant one day. Fast forward to today I am sadden to see so much controversy around this pageant. What a huge stage for not just these contestants and young Tongan woman but for Tonga and what a disgrace that was publicly displayed. Thank you for sharing this truth! Tonga is a beloved island and us Tongans living in America think highly of our small island but it seems that this is the reality of our people sometimes we are small minded! How traffic is that! We should always carry our heads held high and be proud of our Tongan culture and show respect at all times especially in the face of adversity but clearly those audience members and even the deputy or security head in charge small minded. Tonga owed her an apology, how can we get a petition going in her favor that the kingdom of Tonga get an apology. Our Tongan people you know better than that!
Please do not allow the old ways of our Tongan culture keep you all from spreading the truth and making it accessible for all!