We mentioned passing this parade in our main Upalu post. This was the day before the Miss Samoa pageant, and each contestant had a float and a dedicated following. There was a little bit of singing, a lot of throwing candy (the good candy, Jazz got hit by Twix bars and was super happy) to the crowds, and a great deal of rivalrous enthusiasm. We had already bought our tickets at this point, but the parade made us feel like we’d definitely made the right choice.
We showed up on time, which was apparently much too late, and we found seats up in the nosebleeds. We were house left, under a perilously low support beam, and in front of a bunch of air conditioning units that were, for some reason beyond our understanding, turned off. This still gave us a good view of the stage, and a much better view of the incredibly enthusiastic audience. Each contestant seemed to have brought a whole contingent of fans, who applauded wildly and waved signs and cell phone lights, more like what you’d expect at a sporting event than a “sedate” beauty pageant.
The pageant started with a presentation of the candidates, all in identical pink wraps. Each Miss was announced, first in Samoan and then English, and walked between the two escorts to bow to the audience. The bowing was one of many signs to come of what a conservative culture this is. Note also the unpainted patch on the wall: you’ll see a lot of that in these photos. There were eight candidates, several of whom hailed from major overseas cities like Sidney, Aukland, and LA. There were even two from Melbourne, one of whom had to go as Miss Samoa Victoria (the Australian state Melbourne is in). The remaining three were local, two from Upalu and one from the neighboring island of Savai’i.
The first event was a fashion show. We’re still not entirely clear on whether the candidates were being judged for this vs their dressmakers, or maybe something about how well they wore it? Regardless of the scoring, we were fascinated to see the first candidate walk out in this extremely bushy overlayer and then drop it on the stage to reveal a dress.
This turned out to be the thing to do: nearly every outfit came with multiple layers, which the Miss would drop on the stage in the most conservative burlesque performance we have ever attended. Then she would walk away, and a guy would run up, grab the discards, and sport them backstage via the emergency exit house right.
By the third contestant we had caught onto the drill.
And then Six and Seven broke the mold, Six with a dress that only peeled open, and Seven with a dress that didn’t change at all. Iconoclasts!
Fortunately number eight restored order to the world with her three-layer number.
And then, when we thought all the surprises had dropped, the contestants were paraded back to the stage for a group display, and sneaky Contestant Two had sprouted wings! Such cheek.
As an interlude during what turned out to be a costume change, we were treated to a pretty riotous dance performance. Once again, we were struck by how much more skin it’s acceptable for the men to show.
And speaking of showing skin, the next event was the sarong competition, Samoa’s conservative answer to the bikini contest. The announcers had long blurbs to read about each sarong, the designer and the symbolism, as though to emphasize what a Big Cultural Deal sarongs are. Contestant Six, in her short green sarong, drew disapproving “cover yourself!” anti-catcalls from the crowd, and there was a mostly-laughing uproar when Seven accidentally flashed a bit of underwear. Eight’s bare back was apparently allowed, though. Note also the traditional tattoo patterns on One and Two’s legs, rarely spotted under Samoans’ longer skirts.
And then back to the men for the interlude, with their group name written across their butts like the 90’s Juicy trend. Jumaga dance group.
Possibly the most interesting event was the talent show. Ironically this is where we have the fewest pictures, because the house lights were turned down and the contestants relied heavily on lighting effects and a fog machine. The performances varied widely: a modern-dance rendition of a savage (complete with twirling machete) being transformed into what we assume is a Good Christian Woman by a literally-glowing bible; a medley of two songs from Grease sung in Samoan (the red high heels being the only shoes on stage all night); a spoken-word performance tightly choreographed to some intense music and lighting effects; and an acrobatic floor show complete with splits and heavy back bends. Just wild.
Fashion show round two, the evening dress section we think, featured even more emphasis on the costumes’ symbolism. In most cases the meaning was lost on us, beyond that just about everything was somehow tied back to Christianity, ideally via use of the number three.
And then there was this outfit, a tribute to all the contributions of Chinese immigrants to the Samoan people and culture.
Not sure about the meanings of these two dresses, but check out the huge flowers.
All throughout this process, there was just such an inordinate amount of bowing. Here’s candidate 8, the same one who had done the gymnastic floor show in the previous event.
And last, and definitely least, came the Q&A. This was quite painful for a number of reasons, chief among them that the questions (randomly drawn) varied enormously in both difficulty and well-formed-ness. Some were more softball than others, but all were variations on a theme: How would you use your platform as Miss Samoa to encourage kids to stay off drugs? What would you tell Samoan kids to make them want to work in agriculture? How will you use your platform to protect Samoa from global warming? Every candidate asked for the question to be repeated, an applaudable stall tactic. Some were terse and cogent, and some rambled, but each one was relieved when they put the microphone back down again. Though perhaps not as relieved as the audience.
An interesting historical note: there had been a lot of vaccine reluctance in Samoa, due to deaths related to a measles vaccine some time ago. The previous Miss Samoa, who spent three years on the throne due to COVID blocking the contest, had spent a good deal of her tenure traveling to remote villages to encourage people to take the COVID vaccine, with great effect. So the premise that the winner might accomplish something with the platform is not as outlandish as it sounds, even if “solve global warming” is maybe a little overambitious.
And that was it! When it became apparent to us that there would be several long, Samoan-language speeches while the points were tallied, we booked it out of the venue to beat what was sure to be heavy traffic. We were back on the boats before they got to the awards, and we found out that the winner was number 8; our favorite, but we had been sure that the floor routine would lose her the conservative vote. What do we know. More, we suppose, than we did at the start.