Outgoing Tongan beauty queen calls speech 'one of the most empowering moments I have ever had'

Auckland law student Kalo Funganitao has remained resilient and a "proud Tongan" following her final address at the 2019 Miss Heilala pageant in Tonga.

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Organisers tried to shut down outgoing Miss Heilala Queen during her final address. Source: 1 NEWS

The 2018 winner delivered a speech where she spoke about being bullied during her reign, and a lack of support from pageant organisers. 

A video of the speech went viral after she continued speaking despite her microphone being cut. 

It was followed shortly by loud music to drown out her voice. 

"I spoke out when I did because I had been through enough," Ms Funganitao told 1 NEWS.

"My family had sacrificed so much and had to endure watching the constant battles take a toll on me."

Ms Funganitao, a student at Auckand University, says she owed it to herself to end her reign by "not being silent", instead calling for change for future pageants and contestants.

"When people started voicing that they wanted my address to end, I felt perhaps that I should stop, but when the DJ was directed to play music over me … I had to finish and only then would I exit the stage.

"It was the scariest and one of the most empowering moments I have ever had."

It comes after the beauty contest was rocked by claims of racism after someone in the VIP stand allegedly yelled out "you're black and ugly – disgusting" to Papua New Guinea's Leoshina Mercy Kariha. 

The current structure of the Miss Heilala pageant is deemed problematic by some, but not a reflection of the entire Tongan community, with supporters across the world taking to social media to express their admiration for Ms Funganitao.

"I wanted people to garner a better understanding of my experiences because they did not see 95 per cent of what went on," she said. "I was dealing with it all behind closed doors.

"Many will not talk about it because of the negative lens we are viewed with as a result, or because it is easier to just leave it as it is, but there needs to be restructuring of how this pageant is run, who is in charged and the purpose of it.

"The Tongan pageant is supposed to showcase the national flowers of the nation. The beauty of these women are not based upon what is outside, but rather the beauty inside."

Ms Funganitao expressed immense gratitude for those who stood by her, highlighting the unifying spirit of Tonga despite events over the weekend.

"This does not represent all of us. We are some of the most hospitable, humble, loving and passionate people on the planet.

"It is the actions of only a few that I have shed light on because I was in a position to do so."

Despite the ordeal, Ms Funganitao enjoyed getting to know this year's contestants, adding that they formed a "true sisterhood."

"When I finished my address, turned to walk out with my mother and brother, I saw that they had joined me, too.

"They stood with me physically and metaphorically."

Last year, the 2018 contestants turned their back on Ms Funganitao - an issue which was raised in her final address.