In 1823, Malo moved to Lāhainā, Maui where he learned to read and write. Malo soon converted to Christianity and was given the baptismal name of David.
On September 5, 1831, classes at the Mission Seminary at Lahainaluna (later known as Lahainaluna (Upper Lāhainā)) began in thatched huts with 25 Hawaiian young men.
Under the leadership of Reverend Lorrin Andrews, the school was established by the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions “to instruct young men of piety and promising talents”. It is the oldest high school west of the Mississippi River.
When Sheldon Dibble arrived to Hawai‘i in 1836, “connected with the Mission Seminary at Lahainaluna, and being called to teach History as one branch of my department of instruction”.
He had found it “quite objectionable that the scholars, whilst they were becoming acquainted with other nations, should remain to a great degree in ignorance of their own.”
Dibble made an “effort to collect the main facts of Hawaiian history,” he “selected ten of the best scholars of the Seminary, and formed them into a class of inquiry.”
Dibble “requested them to go individually and separately to the oldest and most knowing of the chiefs and people, gain all the information that they could on the question given out, commit each his information to writing and be ready to read it on a day and hour appointed.” (Dibble, April 28, 1843) One of the leading students was Malo.
“(David) Malo was the son of Aoao and his wife Heone, and was born at the seaside town of Keauhou, North Kona, Hawaii, not many miles distant from the historic bay of Kealakeakua, where Captain Cook, only a few years before, had come to his death.”
“The exact year of his birth cannot be fixt’d, but it was about 1793, the period of Vancouver’s second visit to the islands. … During his early life Malo was connected with the high chief Kuakini (Governor Adams), who was a brother of Queen Kaahumanu …”
“… and it was during this period specially that he was placed in an environment the most favorable to forming an intimate acquaintance with the history, traditions, legends and myths of old Hawaii, as well as with the meles, pules and olis that belong to the hula and that form so important and prominent a feature in the poesy and unwritten literature of Hawaii.”
“Such good use did Malo make of his opportunities that he came to be universally regarded as the great authority and repository of Hawaiian lore.” (NB Emerson)
Malo was ordained into the Christian ministry and settled down in the seaside village of Kalepolepo on East Maui. (Trinity) His book, Hawaiian antiquities (Moolelo Hawaii – 1898,) addressed the genealogies, traditions and beliefs of the people of Hawai‘i.
In the “Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition,” Admiral Wilkes (1840,) commenting on books about Hawai‘i, said, “(s)ome of them are by native authors. Of these I cannot pass at least one without naming him.”
“This is David Malo, who is highly esteemed by all who know him, and who lends the missionaries his aid, in mind as well as example, in ameliorating the condition of his people and checking licentiousness.”
“(A)s Malo aged, and perhaps because he spent so much time pondering the old traditions in writing Hawaiian Antiquities or wading through Lahaina’s crowds of seamen on leave, he became increasingly exasperated with the rising tide of haoles as the Hawaiians died and kept on dying.”
“In a letter to native friends, he wrote: If a big wave comes in, large and unfamiliar fishes will come from the dark ocean, and when they see the small fishes of the shallows they will eat them up.”
“The white man’s ships have arrived with clever men from the big countries. They know our people are few in number and our country is small, they will devour us.” (Malo; Vowel)
Malo died October 21, 1853. “The death of the well-known native preacher, David Malo, is one of those events which throw sorrow upon the hearts of the friends of the native race.”
“Seeing a white object on the very summit of Mt. Ball (a hill above Lahainaluna School), a day or two since, I inquired what it was.”
“It was David Malo’s tomb. And why was he buried in so strange spot? He wished it. He said this land would fall into the possession of foreigners.”
“Land in Lahaina would be valuable. The graveyards, enriched by the remains of the natives, would be coveted, and the contents of the graves scattered abroad.”
“He wished not his bones to be disturbed. Let him be buried on that summit where no white man will ever build his house.”
“And so his grave has become beacon; and if his spirit ever lingers over it, he can survey, as from lofty watch-tower, his former home, and the scene of many of his labors.” (Sereno Bishop; The Friend, November 16, 1853)
Malo’s grave is on Pu‘u Pa‘upa‘u (sometimes called Mt Ball) – that is the hill above Lahaina with the ‘L’ (standing for Lahainaluna, the school that Malo attended).