Located on the eastern half of New Guinea, the second largest island on the planet, and where Asia and Oceania meet (PNG is localed in Oceania), Papua New Guinea was ruled by the Germans and the British until 1902, and by the Australians until 1975, when it finally gained independence. It was then also when Papua New Guinea started competing in international beauty pageants.
“Miss Papua New Guinea Red Cross Quest”, PNG’s national pageant, was born as a major fundraising activity of the Papua New Guinea Red Cross Society. It was incorporated by an Act of Parliament in March, 1976. This Act provided the Society with certain mandates to provide community and humanitarian services to people in great need of help.
Eva Regina Arni, the first Miss Papua New Guinea, won the Miss Asia Quest (later known as Miss Asia Pacific) title in 1975, which became reason for a big celebration in the country. In the following year, Eva was sent to Hong Kong, when Papua New Guinea debuted in Miss Universe and in the Grand Slam. Hope for a second international victory ceased when the Top 12 semi-finalists were called by presenter Bob Barker: Miss Papua New Guinea failed to advance in the competition, a pattern that would follow until it stopped competing in Miss Universe and Miss World.
In 1977, after participating in Miss Universe, Sayah Karakuru was responsible for her country’s debut in Miss World, in London.
In 1980 it was the last time Miss Papua New Guinea participated in both pageant: from 1981 on, Miss PNG would either be sent to Miss World (1981, 87, 88, 89, 90), or to Miss Universe (1982, 83, 84, 85, 86).
Its last Grand Slam competitor was Nellie Ban, who competed in Miss World 1990.
The Papua New Guinean beauty contest kept on being held until 2007, but no longer its winners competed in any Grand Slam beauty contests from 1991 on.
In a country where over 800 languages are spoken (the average is 3 spoken languages per person), and a true El Dorado for Anthropologists, its unique beauty standard was not exacltly what would reach success in western based beauty competitions back in the 1970’s and 1980’s: Miss PNG was usually way shorter than the average Miss World or Miss Universe contestant, and at times considerably chubbier as well. In some regions of the country, for instance, women with big feet are considered attractive!
As a result, not a single representative of the country got the status of “favorite” or placed among the semi-finalists of Miss World or Miss Universe when the country competed in both pageants.
When Papua New Guinea had to deal with separatist forces on the island of Bougainville in the 1990s, over 20,000 people were killed in the conflict which ended in 1997. Although the national pageant remained alive during such difficult times, its winners no longer were sent to Miss World or Miss Universe.
It was then that Miss PNG winners started rather competing in Miss South Pacific, a contest which promotes the beauty and culture of women from the Pacific islands. There Papua New Guinea had some success, including special awards winners and even a 2nd runner-up, Helai Moana Oala, in 1999.
In today’s Papua New Guinea, concerns have been raised over high levels of crime and violence, especially gender-based. The incidence of HIV/Aids is extremely high, and diseases such as cholera and malaria are endemic. There has also been criticism of Papua New Guinea’s human rights record.
Why should then Miss Papua New Guinea be back to Grand Slam pagants, especially Miss World and Miss Universe?
It’s one of the largest and most populated nations in Oceania, and one of the planet’s most culturally diverse places. Times have changed from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, globalization is a reality. People are more open to all kinds of beauty. Pageants like Miss World promote social activities and charity more than ever beafore, what would be perfect in a country where so much can be done for the least-privileged.
Although it faces problems, just like all other countries on earth, Papua New Guinea is one of the most beautiful places to be explored by those who appreciate nature. Some unique animals, like the tree-kangaroos, can be found on the mountains of the “land of the unexpected”. Big international beauty pageants can be a window for the outside world for Papua New Guinea, and vice-versa.
We would certainly love to see the beautiful and exotic women from Papua New Guinea returning to the ‘big league’.
Don’t you agree?
Special thanks to Alberto Dubal for his valuable contribution and to Pageantopolis.com.