Newly crowned as Miss Indonesia, Qory Sandioriva of Aceh went through a range of emotions after winning the pageant. (JG Photo)
Up Close With Miss Indonesia
What does Socrates have to do with a beauty pageant ? In the case of recent Miss Indonesia-Universe winner Qory Sandioriva, a question about the ancient Greek philosopher posed by a judge during the contest showed her to have a level of intelligence that goes beyond the controversy her triumph has generated in Aceh, the province she represented.
“I think Socrates was someone who upheld the supremacy of law,” the 18-year-old beauty said. “Despite being penniless, he was honest and would not take advantage of other people. That should be an example to our leaders.”
For Qory, that sentiment might be the kind of thing she would like to be known for, rather than appearing in the contest without a headscarf — a fact that has been seized upon by some Acehnese clerics to denounce her title as something that brings “shame” to Aceh’s traditional I slamic values.
“I don’t wear a headscarf because I think hair is part of a woman’s beauty,” she said during the pageant earlier this month.
Struck that such a well-spoken, poised and elegant young woman could be the object of such controversy, we sought out Qory for an exclusive interview.
Qory, b orn to a Sundanese father and an Acehnese mother but raised in Jakarta, defends her decision to represent Aceh, despite having never lived there. She says provincial officials approved of her entry, something pagea n t spokesperson Mega Angkasa confirmed, saying that Qory was a “descendant of the province” and therefore eligible.
“The headscarf has been a sensitive issue in the contest,” Mega said, “but the public should know that in 2002, Aceh’s representative was also headscarf-less.”
After beating 37 other contestants, Qory received prizes, including a new car, an apartment and Rp 10 million, which she donated to victims of the earthquake in West Sumatra.
The French literature student at the University of Indonesia plans to spend her year absorbed in promotional activities and charity work, as well as preparing for next year’s Miss Universe pageant.
Below are excerpts from our interview:
Q: So, what has changed in your life since you were crowned Miss Indonesia-Universe?
A: I have to be more careful of what I do and how I look now. Since I am now representing Indonesia, I have to show Indonesian people and the world that I can be a good example. I should show the true sense of what it means to be an Indonesian woman.
Is that a heavy burden for an 18-year-old?
I think as long as I enjoy doing it, although it’s heavy and tiring, it’s not a burden at all.
What drove you to join the pageant? What was the process?
It was my friend who lodged my application. I didn’t actually have enough confidence to do it. Looking at the other candidates and former winners and the requirements to have the three basic Bs — Beauty, Brains, [good] Behavior — I was kind of far behind. Some of the entrants had masters degrees, while I had only graduated from high school. So it was a total surprise when Yayasan Putri Indonesia [which organized the pageant] called me to be a finalist.
So you could say it was a happy accident?
[Laughing] Yes, it was. Especially, the fact that I am representing a sensitive province, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam. It was not an easy task for me.
Because we have a different stand on the headscarf approach. I was finally brave enough to join the contest because I thought, I am running for the country, not just the province. Nevertheless, I love Aceh, and now that I am the winner of this contest, I dream of showing the world its potential.
How will you achieve that when so many Acehnese and ulema resent you because of the headscarf controversy?
I will allow people the freedom to think of me as they like. I don’t have to parade my goodwill. I have a huge admiration for Cut Nyak Dhien [an Acehnese heroine], but did she wear a headscarf? No. But do people still remember her bravery? Always. Therefore, [wearing a] headscarf should not be forced. I think this is what is happening in Aceh now.
Acehnese are also like other Indonesians, they would like to have their freedom. I think the implementation of qanun [Shariah law] and bylaws is not representative of all Acehnese. In seeing Indonesia as a whole, I think the implementation of Shariah law could lead to disintegration, because then Christians, Hindus and Buddhists would also ask to implement their own laws.
What was it that happened on the stage to fuel the headscarf controversy?
It was a mistake. I said I took off my headscarf, when in fact I don’t wear a headscarf on a daily basis. Standing there on the stage, I was so nervous. I never imagined I would win the contest. I kept thinking, would the board choose me, an Aceh representative, with the controversy? So I was very groggy that night. I meant to say I got permission to join the pageant, not that I got permission to take off the headscarf.
Who did you ask permission from?
The local tourism board in Aceh. I said I didn’t want to enter the pageant wearing a headscarf, because I don’t want to be a hypocrite. Why should I cover up when I am still committing sinful acts [in other parts of my life]? What does a headscarf mean when my attitude is headscarf-less?
What was their reaction when you said you didn’t want to wear a scarf?
They said that I should be aware of the attitude of Acehnese people [that wearing a headscarf is important].
In the Miss Universe pageant 2010, will you put on a bikini?
No, I will wear a one-piece swimsuit. This is the rule from the Indonesian board, and I think I don’t have to show too much skin to be able to achieve something in the pageant, just like Artika Sari Devi [Miss Indonesia 2004 who reached the final 15 of the 2005 Miss Universe pageant].
From 2006 to 2009, Indonesian contestants wore bikinis during Miss Universe contests, which sparked controversy. According to Mega Angkasa, the public relations manager, it was all their personal improvisation and a violation of the board’s rules.
What do you think of public cynicism toward beauty pageants?
Everyone has the right to an opinion. In the Miss Indonesia-Universe pageant, they have respectable judges. We are judged from when our 10 day “quarantine” begins — not just on stage. Nobody is perfect, but a person can be better when they are in a competition, so a pageant is one of the ways to make yourself better. I don’t mind cynics, I think they don’t know the process, and don’t want to know.
Will you use an interpreter to avoid mistakes like Nadine? (Nadine Chandrawinata, Miss Indonesia-Universe 2005, said “Indonesia is a beautiful city” in the 2006 Miss Universe contest.)
I think so. Stefania [the current Miss Universe from Venezuela] doesn’t speak English at all, but she won anyway.
Who is Qory Sandioriva aside from her title as Miss Indonesia-Universe?
I am good at pencak silat [a traditional Indonesian martial art]. I was a champion at pencak silat in high school. Also, actually I once thought I wanted to be an Armed Forces general. I think that’s very respectable, especially for a woman. I want to be a diplomat, and I am thinking of being a representative in France. I would like to show the world how beautiful Indonesia is.
Any bad habits?
I fall asleep easily. Many people call me Ms. Pillow [laughing].