Social media was on fire regarding a racist comment hurled at Kariha last week.
In a statement sent this morning, Kariha said: “Yes, a comment by one individual in the VIP area (which refers to the whole floor area of the stadium in Tonga, as opposed to the side bleacher seating) was made - and that is something that is never nice to hear but has been said by one individual.
“Please also do not confuse what is going around on social media regarding the Miss Heilala (Miss Tonga) and me as Miss Pacific Islands.
“Ever since our arrival here in Tonga, my chaperone and the MPIP PNG Committee Chairlady Molly O’Rourke and I have been treated with much dignity and respect by the Ministry of Tourism, the Minister and also Deputy Prime Minister (who is being falsely accused) and the Miss Heilala Pageant Organisers.
“We have had families and friends support us whether it be to put a fresh flower headpiece together for me to wear, or to sew a pulataha (Tonga Toana wear) for an event.
“The support and love from the Tongan community has been overwhelming. And Tongans really take hospitality to the next level!
“We have many Tongans who have lived and served in PNG who have assisted us in one way or another.
“On Sunday (7 July), at the church service, I was welcomed by the pastor and the entire congregation.
“This is a time to now put aside our differences and unite. For too long there has been a division between the sub-regions of the Pacific which needs to stop. We can't negatively label an entire group because of the harmful actions of a single person.
“And we can't jump to conclusions over one post on social media.
“I am more hurt by the statements of our own people throwing hateful comments at each other. Be quick to listen and slow to anger. We can't let the minority dampen our spirit of Pacific Unity and spoil such an empowering platform, as Miss Pacific Islands Pageant, which preserves cultures and showcases the beauty and intelligence of our women.
“Now, this experience has presented us with the opportunity to use the platform to break stereotypes and boundaries among our own people. God would never have approved of this. We need to see the real enemy, not attack physical people. The true issue lies in the minds and attitude of our people which needs to be addressed at a regional level and we will use the Miss Pacific Islands Pageant platform to do just that.
“We will as a Pageant, not take the route of banning the new Miss Heilala from coming to our Pageant in PNG. As a platform for empowerment, how can we penalise a young woman who is so much an embodiment of the good that can be represented in a nation?
“Many will not agree, but for us as Pageant organisers, we choose to build and work together united. One individual will not distract from the purpose of our Pageant platform.
“To unite, to promote cultural exchange, to educate each other and focus on what really matters; that is our ultimate goal.
“I look forward to welcoming my Pacific sister, the newly crowned Miss Heilala/ Tonga to my home shores of PNG. We must use this experience as a stepping stone to now put aside our differences and begin to work beside one another for the good of our future generations.
“On behalf of myself and the Miss PNG Pacific Islands Pageant, we now ask and appeal to you, our people, to put this issue aside, to stop the sharing of non-factual information; to take a stand - but in a positive way.
“Let us appreciate and celebrate what is possible, unique and beautiful.
“Thank you and God bless us all.”
Photo Facebook/Miss Pacific Islands Pageant. Caption: Miss Pacific Islands and Miss PNG, Leoshina Kariha in Tonga