After becoming one of the first Tongan immigrants to settle on Maui in the mid 1970s, the Rev. Tevita Malafu sponsored thousands of others who followed from his homeland, at times opening his home to newcomers until they got on their feet.
"People would just randomly call my dad," said his daughter, Ana Makoni. "My dad always asked, 'Are you going to come here and do something good?' They said, 'Yes,' and he would sponsor them."
Assigned the job of preparing the sponsorship documents when she was growing up, Makoni once asked her father about one person she didn't recognize. "A needy Tongan person that needs our help," he replied. "I bring them here for them to have an opportunity."
Some worked in Malafu's tree-trimming business, which grew to become Malafu Contractors.
Known to many as "David,"
the English translation of his name, Malafu died Feb. 18 at Maui Memorial Medical Center, where he had been hospitalized with pneumonia. He was 68.
His funeral Feb. 26 drew more than 1,400 people, with some traveling from Seattle, Oregon, Fiji, Samoa, Australia and New Zealand. The president of the Free Church of Tonga, who usually leaves Tonga just once a year, attended in recognition of contributions by Malafu, who was secretary/treasurer of the Free Church of Tonga on Maui and donated 10 acres of former macadamia nut fields to the church.
Family members arranged for the service to be held at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hall, the largest they could find, in Kahului. But even with 840 chairs set up, people were standing. Some waited an hour and a half in line to greet family members.
"I was in awe of how many people were there," said Lehua Huddleston-Hafoka, who grew up in Kihei with Malafu's son, Steven, and learned of Malafu's reputation in the Tongan community through her husband, who is Tongan. "I just witnessed the utmost admiration, love and respect for a community member who will be sorely missed."
Many attending the funeral brought tapa and lauhala mats, which are given in honor of the person. "That means he was a well-respected and well-loved individual," she said.
"He would be fondly remembered as a very caring and giving person. A lot of people respect him, mostly because of his giving heart."
Huddleston-Hafoka, who is executive director of the Kihei Youth Center, said Malafu inspired others, including an 8th-grade boy who asked her, "How did Mr. Malafu become so successful?"
"I said through sheer hard work. He said he would like to have a business like that."
Malafu did accounting work for the government in Tonga, where he was paid $10 to $15 a month, before saving enough money to come to Hawaii in 1974, when he was 33 years old, Makoni said. He decided to make the move after a son died at age 4 of a heart condition, unable to get needed medical care in Tonga, Makoni said.
Malafu was sponsored by a relative in Laie on Oahu. After the tree-trimming company he worked for had a job that brought him to Maui, he decided in 1976 to move his family to the island that reminded him of Tonga.
On Maui, Malafu's first job was doing landscaping work for the old Intercontinental hotel. Tree-trimming was a side job that included the entire family.
"As little kids, we were his workers," Makoni recalled. "Every house in Kahului and Wailuku, we knocked on doors to see if we could cut their trees. Back then, it was just us. We did all the county jobs, a lot of big jobs, all the golf courses."
While cutting their trees, Malafu met people, including businessmen, mayors and other politicians, who became friends.
Soon he realized he could make more money running his own business.
The family moved to Namauu Street in Kihei when there were only two houses on the street and you could see the beach, Makoni said.
Even though he eventually had four houses, Makoni said that her father continued to live on Namauu Street, dismissing comments about the street's notoriety for criminal activity.
"He said, 'I don't know why they say that. I love this street. Everyone's so friendly here,' " Makoni recalled.
Malafu painted his house white and put up bright lights so it would be visible, saying people could stop for help when they turned onto the street.
When people told him he should live in Wailuku Heights, Malafu would say, "No, God doesn't give us money to go live in those places. He gives us money to help others," Makoni said.
"That was his motto - you give your very best and don't expect anything back. At the end, people will know you did it from the heart."
She said their house had a downstairs room where Malafu would let people stay.
"He would just pick up random people, hitchhikers," Makoni said. "We did have a lot of homeless people who stayed there. They became family afterwards."
Malafu became a U.S. citizen in the 1980s and earned an associate degree in criminal justice from Maui Community College. He was an interpreter for the courts and would often help police and other law enforcement officers looking for people who were Tongan as part of investigations.
"On a daily basis, the police were at our house asking questions - where can we find this person," Makoni said. "He wouldn't try to hide anyone."
At times, he would take officers to houses of people being sought.
Over the years, Kihei police Capt. Tivoli Faaumu - whose father and Malafu worked together in Tonga - would ask Malafu for information in cases involving Tongan suspects.
"He was very helpful on some of the cases," Faaumu said. "He was well respected in the Tongan community. He was very active in the church and trying to help the youth to become better citizens."
His efforts included setting up a "boot camp" to put to work a neighbor who wanted to prove himself before being sentenced for felony drug offenses. "Since he knew my dad, he thought my dad would be easy on him, but it wasn't easy at all," Makoni said. "He was really passionate about that. He always had a thing for giving people second chances."
Malafu retired in 2004, when he had surgery for heart problems.
His son, David, who had been working as a probation officer, took over as company president, with son Steven also helping run the business.
Makoni, who had returned to Maui because of her father's health problems, said her father encouraged her to take a job as community violence prevention program manager at the Maui County prosecutor's office.
"My dad was really about serving others," she said. "He kept saying, 'Ana, you need to help the Tongans. I feel like our Tongan people are just totally clueless. I can see the younger generation is not even into school.' That was two days before he passed."
Malafu is survived by his wife, Ilaisaane Malafu; sons Semisi "James" Malafu, Sitiveni "Steven" Malafu and David Malafu; daughter Ana Makoni; and 14 grandchildren.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.