David Malo, one of the early native Hawaiian scholars, was the son of Aoao and his wife Heone, and was born in Keauhou, North Kona Hawai‘i; his father had been soldier in the army of Kamehameha I.
The exact year of his birth is not known, but it was about 1793, around the time 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 Ka‘ahumanu.
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.
In 1831, he entered Lahainaluna High School (at about the age of 38;) the school opened with twenty-five students, under the leadership of Reverend Lorrin Andrews – he graduated in the class of 1835.
From about 1835, he started writing notes on the Hawaiian religion and cultural history, along with other members of the school and instructor Sheldon Dibble.
Malo came to be regarded as the great authority and repository of Hawaiian lore and was in great demand as a story-teller of the old-time traditions, mele, and genealogies, and as a master in arrangements of the hula.
The law which first established a national school system was the “Statute for the Regulation of Schools” which was enacted on October 15, 1840, and was reenacted, with some important amendments, on May 21, 1841.
Malo was appointed as the general school agent for Maui; he was then voted to be in charge of all the general school agents, therefore becoming the first superintendent of schools of the Hawaiian kingdom (where he served at least until the middle of 1845.
He was described as “tall and of spare frame, active, energetic, a good man of business, eloquent of speech, independent in his utterances.”
“He was of a type of mind inclined to be jealous and quick to resent any seeming slight in the way of disparagement or injustice that might be shown to his people or nation, and was one who held tenaciously to the doctrine of national integrity and independence.”
After being ordained to the Christian ministry, he settled down in the seaside village of Kalepolepo on East Maui where he remained until his death in October 1853.
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.”
“At the same time he sets an example of industry, by farming with his own hands, and manufactures from his own sugar cane an excellent molasses.”
In the introduction to his book, the trustees of Bishop Museum acknowledge they “are rendering an important service to all Polynesian scholars.”
They also suggest the book “form(s) a valuable contribution not only to Hawaiian archaeology, but also to Polynesian ethnology in general.”