Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai, Te Rito Journalism cadet
A beauty queen from Samoa has been named this year’s Miss Pacific Islands, taking home the same crown and title her mother won almost 30 years ago - the first mother-daughter duo to do so.
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
Miss Samoa, Moemoana Safa’atoa Schwenke, won the title at the 35th Miss Pacific Islands pageant held in the Micronesian state of Nauru throughout last week, with the finale held over the weekend.
Daughter of the Pasefika
Seven contestants competed for the crown this year - representing American Samoa, Tonga, Palau, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, the Marshall Islands and Samoa.
The opening night featured the talent category.
Miss Samoa stole the show with a siva afi fire dance that showed off Schwenke’s incredible skill as one of the top siva afi dancers in the world.
Unlike other international beauty pageants, the Miss Pacific Islands pageant has a sarong section - rather than a swimwear category - and a traditional wear category - rather than evening wear - which sees traditionally inspired cultural wear brought to life by talented Pasifika designers.
The much-anticipated interview category also involves questions that relate specifically to issues that affect or impact the Pacific region.
“Our culture is our superpower,” Schwenke said as she answered her interview topic on culture.
“Our culture shapes our identity, values and beliefs...the ways of today may change, but the foundations will always remain the same.”
The 23-year-old is a proud daughter of Samoa and Oceania.
She was born in Samoa and raised between Samoa, New Zealand and Australia, where her family have been based for several years.
Like mother, like daughter
Schwenke follows in the footsteps of her mother, Mary Jane McKibbin-Schwenke, who won the same title in 1997, when it was known as Miss South Pacific.
McKibbin-Schwenke, like her daughter, was also representing Samoa as Miss Samoa at that pageant.
Kiwis might also recognise her for her appearance in the 2006 New Zealand-made film Sione’s Wedding, in which she played the character Princess.
She has remained a well-known figure in the Samoan community, both in the motherland and abroad, actively promoting Samoan and Pacific dance and culture through the company she and her husband started in Australia: The Matavai Cultural Arts Centre and, in particular.
Schwenke won prizes in categories including best traditional wear, people’s choice award, talent and interview.
The new Miss Pacific Islands is a creative and performing arts practitioner who has been recognised since 2013 for her work as a senior tutor at the Matavai Pacific Cultural Arts Centre, where she promotes and preserves Pasifika culture.
In all her endeavours, she remains steadfast in her commitment to serving her villages, family, Samoa and the broader Pacific community.
Schwenke holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Indigenous Studies and Environmental Humanities from the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, and she is also known as a climate change warrior, advocating for the Pacific region in the climate change space.
Hero Image: The new Miss Pacific Islands is Miss Samoa's Moemoana Safa'atoa Schwenke. Photo / Miss Samoa Pageant