Two long weeks ago, at the Opening Ceremony of the Rio Olympic Games, one man became a legend.
Amid the thousands of elite athletes with dreams of glory who proudly paraded through the stadium that night, it was this one man, this particularly chiselled and glistening man, who captured the attention of the world.
That man was Tonga’s flag-bearer, taekwondo champion Pita Taufatofua.
Social media erupted when Taufatofua marched into the stadium wearing nothing but a ngatu (tapa cloth), a kafa (a belt gifted to him by his late aunt), a megawatt smile and lashings of coconut oil, which he slathered on in the Tongan tradition.
Mr Tonga single though. I could be his personal coconut oil applier.— Whoa Lala! (@PimpetteLala) August 11, 2016
Can we still talk about that naked flag bearer covered in coconut oil????— Dennis H (@DennisHou) August 10, 2016
Tonga you done good. #rioolympics2016
Two weeks after Taufatofua’s brief but showstopping Parade of Nations appearance, online travel searches to Tonga have skyrocketed and demand for coconut oil — an integral part of culture on the island — is reportedly through the roof.
Several Pacific beauty brands have reported a whopping increase in coconut oil sales since the Opening Ceremony, the New Zealand Herald reports.
One brand, Pure Fiji NZ, reported larger orders than normal in the past week, telling the Herald: “Everyone seems to be going crazy over coconut oil at the moment.”
Another brand, Island Rose Dream — which sells products made from coconuts from Tonga — said it had received dozens of orders for its coconut oils, moisturisers and scrubs in the past fortnight.
Founder Rosie Akauola-Fine said Lolo Tonga — Tongan coconut oil — had many benefits as a moisturiser, sunscreen and hair product. It was also used for massaging sore muscles and for applying liberally to dancers during traditional cultural performances.
“It’s been used for centuries and it’s used to glisten the body to beautify the dancer,” she told the Herald.
Coconut oil is also a staple in many other cultures across the Pacific and South-East Asian regions.
Taufatofua said he wore the oil to honour his ancestors and the people of Tonga.
“For us, it was important to get our culture out to the world,” he said on the USToday show.
“I said to them, I want to march in what our ancestors wore 200 years ago and this is what it was.”
He said on Facebook that when he chosen as flag-bearer, he “wanted to wear something very special to me”.
Meanwhile, inquiries about Tonga through cheapflights.com.au soared 68 per centcompared with the week before the Rio Games.
Thousands of curious travellers have also been visiting the country’s official tourism website and social media pages in the past week.
Tonga Tourism spokeswoman Tupouseini Taumoepeau said the website’s homepage has been updated to include a large image of Taufatofua in his traditional finery.
“Publicity over the last few days by Pita Taufatofua has definitely opened up international interest of Tonga and their curiosity about Tonga, which we hope, over time, will increase bookings and open up new tourist markets to Tonga,” she told theHerald.
As well as being a top-notch travel ambassador and accidental coconut oil spokesman, Taufatofua is also a champion athlete who is his country’s first taekwondo fighter to compete at the Olympics.
The Australian-born athlete, who is based in Brisbane, will compete in the men’s over 176-lb event on Saturday night.