By CHRISSILLA KABE TALIS in Suva
ENGAN-born Miss Fiji Merewalesi Nailatikau is the new Miss South Pacific 2009-10.
Miss Nailatikau, 24, beat 11 other contestants, including Miss PNG Antonia Singut, to become the first Melanesian to be crowned winner in Suva, Fiji, on Saturday night.
Earlier, she was also awarded with the Best Talent, Best traditional-inspired costume and the Best interview with the media and on stage.
Miss Cook Islands, Engara Gosselin, who took first runner-up, won the award for the Best Sarong.
Second runner-up was Miss Aotearoa Pacific Paretaunu Randall; third runner-up Miss Solomon Millicent Barty; and fourth runner-up was Miss Samoa Tusisaleia Pomele.
In the other special awards, Miss Singut was named Miss Internet, Miss People’s Choice went to Miss Nailatikau, and Miss National Tourism was Miss French Polynesia, Aruhoia Biret.
Miss Elegance went to Miss Tonga, Paea Wiliams.
Miss Nailatikau was born in Enga province where her father, a doctor, was working at the Sopas Hospital.
The Nailatikau family left PNG when she was five years old.
She told The National yesterday that she was excited about returning to the country of her birth next year, when PNG hosts the Miss South Pacific Pageant.
When asked what it was like being the first Melanesian to win the title, she said: “I feel good and glad that this is a great opportunity for all of us to showcase our abilities, and I am sure I’m not going to be the last.”
Since the inception of the pageant in 1986 in Samoa, the pageant has been dominated by Polynesian countries.
Miss Nailatikau is a communications officer with Transparency International in Suva.
The 12 queens have had to go through six judging events in the week-long event.
Meanwhile, Miss Singut and her team are due back in Port Moresby today.