From sumo wrestling in Japan to captaining the Tongan rowing team, hale parents the Falevai’s share their journey to BYU–Hawaii
Written by
Will Krueger
Elder Alani and Sister Ma’unga Falevai.
Image By
Chad Hsieh

Church service missionaries Elder Alani and Sister Ma’unga Falevai from Tongatapu, Tonga, have been serving as hale parents for three months. Sister Falevai said her husband “has done it all,” including sumo wrestling for several years in Japan, leading a Tongan rowing team, winning championships in the two Samoa’s and Tonga, and spending more than 30 years as a police officer.

Becoming a Tongan sumo wrestler

Sister Falevai said, “The King of Tonga came to visit Alani’s high school. A Japanese company came with him to pick some boys for sumo wrestling. The sumo was first introduced to Alani’s college, Tonga College, because it was an all-boys school.”

Elder Falevai said only four people were selected from Tonga to go to Japan. Two from Tonga College, one from the police force, and one from the army. Elder Falevai recalled, “I stayed in Japan for a few years. I was living in Tokyo, but we were traveling everywhere in Japan. We had six tournaments per year.”

As a 19-year-old Tongan in Japan in the 1970s, Falevai shared, “It was hard at first. The training was really tough. They wanted me to get big and eat a lot. I wasn’t the biggest because I focused on my technique.

“I learned how to speak Japanese while I was there. I had a neighbor who helped me learn. I knew if I didn’t know the language, I wouldn’t know much about the country [and] culture.”

Sister Falevai said her husband can still speak Japanese and he speaks to Japanese students in the hales. The Falevai’s also have a son, named Minaminoshima, who also became a sumo wrestler. Elder Falevai gave him training in Tonga before he went on to live in Japan for six years.

Resuming life in Tonga

Upon returning to Tonga from Japan, Elder Falevai married his wife, who later converted to the Church and was baptized. The King of Tonga recruited Elder Falevai to become a police officer, where he spent 34 years on the police force working on various islands in Tonga.

Sister Falevai has a bachelor’s in food and nutrition and apparel textiles and a master’s in business administration. She was a high school teacher in math, science, home economics and design technology. She left the Kingdom as the Acting Chief Education Officer and head of Education Management of Information System Unit at the Tonga Ministry of Education 2014 to 2015. The Falevai’s have eight children; seven boys and one girl. Their girl, Lupe Falevai, is the youngest child and attends BYUH. Five of their eight kids have attended BYUH.

During his time on the police force, Elder Falevai also captained the Tongan rowing team consisting of a crew of 42 members. The team went on to compete and win several championships throughout the Pacific.

As captain, Elder Falevai said, “I encouraged everyone to fast and pray before our races and tournaments. Only a few in the crew were members of the Church. The entire team would join together to fast and pray.”

Nathan VanBuskirk, a freshman majoring in history education from California, is a residential advisor and works with the Falevai’s in Hale 3. He said, “I was surprised when I found out about his background. He comes off as a pretty quiet man. I was shocked to hear about all the stuff he has done in his life. He doesn’t talk about himself much. We only know about it because his wife has talked about it.”

The Falevai’s in Hawaii

Sister Falevai said they did not plan to live in Hawaii. “We came for our son’s wedding in November 2015. After the wedding, everyone wanted us to remain in Hawaii. We had no more kids in Tonga and our grandchildren were here. We immediately filed for permanent residence, and it was granted in 2016.”

As new hale parents, Sister Falevai shared, “We want to help out in anyway and serve the students here in the hale. Polynesians are reacting to us well. We are serving and bringing our Polynesian spirit with us.”

VanBuskirk added, “Elder Falevai is a really nice and humble man. He’s always smiling. He’s calm and peaceful. He is hardworking. Sister Falevai does so much for us too. We are grateful to have the Falevai’s as Hale parents.”

Date Published
June 18, 2019
Last Edited
June 18, 2019