On december 15th, 2018 at the Zenith Arena in the city of Lille, France nearly 18,000km away, an event that electrified French Polynesians was held. Vaimalama Chaves, a 24 years old Tahitian beauty, was crowned Miss France 20 years after Mareva Galanter. A coronation that thrilled the French Polynesian public, who came in their thousands to greet her when she returned home for the christmas holidays.
What were your first impressions after your coronation ? Did you realize what had happened straight away ?
Vaimalama Chaves : To be honest, it was the same as Miss Tahiti, total confusion. So much emotion….it’s hard to put into words, it was just so intense. It didn’t really sink in that I was Miss France, even when they passed me the sash and placed the crown on my head… It’s difficult to explain….I can’t find words that convey how wonderful it was, really fantastic. I think that you can’t really take it all in because it’s not you that has changed, you stay the same, but it’s the way others perceive you that has changed, so it makes it hard to comprehend. Even today, it seems incredible.
What is your favorite memory of the evening ?
My best memories are from just before the evening started, when along with the other girls, we were all mutually encouraging each other. We were all on the steps, it was the moment. Come on, it’s starting, we made it, here we go… Then there were the two moments when they called out Tahiti, when we got down to twelve candidates, then the last five. And then the final moment, when I was waiting with Ophély (Miss Guadeloupe, the first runner-up, editor’s note) as they announced the name of the elected Miss France.
You were very quickly swept away by a flood of new obligations ; what was that like ?
I understood that Miss France is naturally in great demand. I knew that afterwards there would be a lot of television and radio appearances, as well as interviews, that the public would want to get to know me and reveal any secrets I had. That filled me with pride, mainly because it gave me many opportunities to talk about French Polynesia on a national scale. As for the rest, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do!
We saw you rapidly at ease with the French media, you even dazzled them with your many talents… How did you feel you were received, and were you really as comfortable with the whole thing as you appeared ?
Everyone was really welcoming. I think it’s because of Miss France’s status, but it all went very well. I have nothing to hide, I don’t pretend to be anything other than myself, no pretenses, and it seems to have been appreciated.
What frame of mind are you in today just a few weeks after your election ?
I am nostalgic, thinking back over the events that I experienced with the other Miss France candidates. I miss them enormously. In fact, we have stayed in contact, we talk or write every day. There was a very nice cohesion between all the girls in the competition, we all got on well. Of course, I had more in common with some than others, but it was all very friendly. I send them photos of French Polynesia and they’d all like to come here. They all know the destination through the widely diffused myth of paradise. And so I suggested that we organize something, try to create a marketing event that would be a good source of publicity for the company (Miss France, editor’s note) with a partner… and then come visit !
Even if it’s unlikely that French Polynesia can make an event location like the Zenith appear out of nowhere for the next Miss France election in 2020, we could maybe consider something else…
T’attendais-tu à l’extraordinaire accueil qui t’a été réservé lorsque tu es rentrée au Fenua pour les Fêtes ? Qu’est-ce qui t’a le plus touchée ?
I knew that I would get a warm welcome, but I didn’t expect so many people, at the airport as much as during the procession. Above all because it was so hot during the procession! The people stayed standing up throughout the event and I was really touched to see so many come along to support me, demonstrating their joy because of my coronation. That’s what was most touching, to be able to share so much with French Polynesia.
What do the next few months hold ? Are there certain things that you particularly want to experience ?
My agenda is so busy, so packed that I can’t take it all on board too far in advance, and so I only get the information little by little: it’s easier for me that way.
We know that you are a young woman who likes to set herself challenges; what are your next ones ?
The challenge, oh it’s a daily affair when you see the workload that goes with being Miss France. The main challenge that I have set myself is to end the year with a reputation of being a Miss France who is truly dedicated to the causes that are important to her, be it education, personal development or the fight against obesity. I would like people to remember me as a cool, warm, sociable, accessible Miss, that anyone can approach, and that people can identify with. It is a genuine daily challenge, and it is one that I intend to undertake until the end of my year’s reign.
Miss Tahiti : 60 years celebrating the beauty of vahines
A subject of fascination since the end of the 19th century, the Edenic representation of the « Tahitian vahine » has fueled a myth that exists to this day. Just like tattoos and dance that were prohibited around the 1820s, the Polynesian’s outer appearance has been profoundly shaped by the Protestant missionaries, who obliged them to cover up their bodies in ample dresses that hid their silhouette. It was not until the 1950s, with the renaissance of traditional dance, that women could again freely express their femininity. In 1956, Madeleine Moua created her dance troupe “Heiva”, revolutionizing the “Tiurai” (today the Heiva i Tahiti, the festival in July, created in 1880) and laying the foundation of “Ori Tahiti”, a Tahitian dance where the movement of the hips mirrors the undulating motion of ocean waves.
In 1960, a handful of young women presented themselves as competitors in the very first Miss Tahiti election. For almost sixty years now, this iconic event has captured the hearts of the Polynesians, allowing our vahine to represent French Polynesia at prestigious beauty contests like Miss France, or even sometimes Miss World and Miss Universe. Nowadays, this election is an important annual event, lighting up the Polynesian cultural and media calendar, it has become an institution. There is a pre-selection phase in this pageant, with fierce competition between the different communes, as to “whose” Miss takes the title.
The Miss Tahiti election pays homage to the natural grace and charm of Polynesian women. However, Miss Tahiti is much more than just a beauty queen, she is an ambassadress for the Polynesian people, who elect her every year in May or June. Among the selection criteria, chosen by the Miss Tahiti committee, the candidates must demonstrate a desire to represent their fenua (country), a connection with the Polynesian culture and a respect for all the communities that make up the French Polynesian population. If, as it is explained on the committee’s website, « historically, Miss Tahiti is one of the most attractive women in the world, she must also be a symbol of kindness, gentleness, elegance and beauty». A challenge that Polynesian women carry off well, given the results of the Miss France beauty contest, ten or so Miss Tahitis have won this prestigious title or that of one of the runners-up. Six of them won Miss France: Marie Moua Tapare, an uncontestable Miss France in 1965, Edna Tepava in 1974, Thilda Füller in 1980, Mareva Georges in 1991, Mareva Galanter in 1999, and last but by no means least, Vaimalama Chaves (Miss Tahiti 2018), in 2019. Since 2013, our beauty queens have gathered runners-up titles, winning first runner-up in 2013, 2014, 2015 and second runner-up in 2016 and 2017. You can understand why the French Polynesians were so impatient to see one of them take the supreme title, a feat Vaimalama brilliantly achieved in December 2018. With six winners, Tahiti comes in second as the committee that has received the most Miss France titles, behind Paris. As you can tell, feminine beauty is particularly celebrated and adulated here in French Polynesia, since the election of Teuira Teura (married name Bauwens) in 1960, who sadly passed away at the age of 82 in June 2015. Since then, 58 young women (there was no election in 1967) have climbed the podium, up until the most recent 2018 election.
The first Polynesian woman to climb the international podium, Marie Moua won 4th runner up in the Miss World and 3rd runner-up in the Miss International competitions. She then worked for the Department of Tourism and was a councilor for the town of Punaauia on Tahiti’s West coast. Elected in 1979, Thilda Fuller was the 50th Miss France in 1980, but she stepped down after three days of her reign, for personal reasons. The title was thus given to the first runner-up, Miss Jura. This despite a special title having been created especially for her, that of Miss France Outre-Mer (Miss Overseas France). Later, she was a finalist for the 1980 Miss Universe election, but under the title of Miss Tahiti. In June 2007, she was elected as a member of the French Polynesian Assembly. The crown has also sometimes returned to the same family.
Miss Tahiti 1974, Edna Tepava is Mareva Georges’s aunt, Miss France 1991. It is also notable that Leiana Faugerat, the current director of the Miss Tahiti committee, is actually the daughter of Moea Amiot (married name Faugerat), Miss Tahiti 1975. For some, this title has been a trampoline to an international career. Mareva Georges, Miss Tahiti 1991 and Miss France 1992, was a member of the 2004 Miss France jury. The wife of Paul Marciano a fashion designer and entrepreneur, she modeled for her husband’s brands. Today she works in the United States promoting Tahiti as a tourist destination. She also presents an American television show about water sports. Finally, she is a woman deeply involved in various different types of charity work. As for Mareva Galanter, Miss France 1999, she has become a singer, actor and model.