Māori contestants of Miss Earth NZ proud to represent their culture

By Jessica Tyson

It's only weeks away until the final of Miss Earth New Zealand 2021 for three Māori contestants who are proud to represent their culture and protect the taiao, environment.

Miss Earth New Zealand (MENZ) is a beauty pageant competition that promotes environmental awareness, conservation and social responsibility.

The three Māori contestants who have entered are Ngahuia Hona-Paku, Emma Kingi and Eva Wilson.

Ngahuia Hona-Paku is Miss Te Arawa 2020. Source: File

Hona-Paku, of Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Rangitihi, is the current Miss Te Arawa, a title she won after competing in Miss Rotorua 2020. She works as a co-production manager and office manager for communications and marketing company Arataua Media.

She says she entered MENZ to “embrace what is different and to be the change”.

“I’m finding it quite challenging but at the same time finding it amazing to explore different worlds,” she says.

Hona-Paku was raised in New Zealand’s only living Māori village, Whakarewarewa, as a penny diver and concert performer. She says the director of Miss Rotorua, Kharl Wirepa, pushed her to enter MENZ.

“I never saw myself doing this. I thought that my two legs remained on a kapa haka stage and only on a kapa haka stage, Hona-Paku says. "Down to the heels that I wear today, I prefer gumboots, but in saying that I find it amazing that people are out there who are willing to push your boundaries and to push you into other places where you can explore and go deeper into who you are.

“Not only do I carry myself but I also carry my hapū and my iwi and, for me, that is strength, for me that is power.”

Eva Wilson. Photo by Eric Feng, CC Studio NZ

Eva Wilson, of Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, works for Hapai Te Hauora, a Māori public health agency in West Auckland.

“We have regional as well as national contracts and we work through a bunch of different topics including sudi, tobacco, alcohol and other drugs and nutrition and physical activity,” she says.

Wilson competed in the national pageant Miss Five Crowns New Zealand 2018. She then represented Aotearoa internationally at competitions including World Miss Tourism Ambassador in the Philippines and Miss Supranational 2019 in Poland where she won the Miss Oceania title and placed first in interview.

“I’ve always found myself gravitating towards spaces where I can promote my advocacy. As I get older and the more I learn about health, the more I realise that the environment and our health is so intrinsically linked together, so it’s really fun to be able to combine my passion of pageants and the fun side of it to that more serious advocacy side,” Wilson says.

“For me being Māori one aspect is making sure that kaitiaki of certain areas are really respected and that is put at the top of what we’re focusing on when making any decision about our environment.”

Emma Kingi is Miss Taranaki 2021. Source: Facebook

Emma Kingi, of Ngāti Maniapoto, is the current Miss Taranaki and is studying political science and international relations in the hopes of in future becoming a diplomat.

“I want to go into humanitarian crisis politics so it’s a big thing for me about helping people and I really want to get out there and help people in my future career.”

She says entering beauty pageants has helped her become more confident, especially as a public speaker.

“Public speaking is a huge thing in my future career and pageants in general have helped me with public speaking. I owe a lot of that to the Miss Taranaki pageant as well helping me grow in confidence and just being a public figure and having a public presence.”

Miss Taranaki 2021 finalists. Source: Facebook

Kingi says if she is to win MENZ she would like to continue being a role model.

“I would love to be a big role model for younger girls. That has always been a big passion of mine. Currently, with my role as Miss Taranaki I’m a role model to all the younger girls in the younger section of the pageant.”

Eva, Ngahuia and Emma wearing designs by Nikita Samuels. Source: File

As part of the pageant final, contestants will model national costumes designed by Nikita Samuels of KQTA KQulture.

Samuels, who is also the reigning Miss Supermodel New Zealand, is a designer who brings a modern twist to Māori design with the use of recycled and sustainable materials.

“I feel very honoured to be a part of this kaupapa and also be amongst such beautiful diverse girls that are able to wear my kakahu and also express my culture, my talent and give back to our community,” Samuels says.

In making her designs, Samuels upcycles clothes from op shops or from her grandparents or family members’ second-hand clothes.

“I try to be sustainable by making them into something new by taking old pieces and creating a new life.”

She says the MENZ contestants will wear designs made out of harakeke, muka and other traditional fibres.

MENZ director Namphon Bennett says Miss Earth is about preserving the environment, so working with Samuels has been “the perfect marriage in that respect”.

“We’re celebrating New Zealand, Aotearoa so I think it’s really important that we show off the culture that is here and Māori culture that is a big part to play in that.”

The final of MENZ will take place on Saturday, August 21 at the Manukau Performing Arts Theatre in Auckland. The winner will represent New Zealand at the virtual international competition Miss Earth 2021.