Sunday, February 4, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 4, 2001

Lusia Ma'afala proud of her 11 children

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Ma'afala Children

Tears of joy flowed at the Waianae Samoan Church where Christopher Fuamatu-Ma'afala and his new bride, Adriana, cried with Chris' mother, Lusia Ma'afala.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

One plays professional football for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Another is a Honolulu police officer twice cited for bravery. A third recently was inducted into her university’s Hall of Fame. A fourth has provided a sibling with a bone-marrow transplant.

They are among the strong and successful children of Lusia Maafala, who raised 11 in all with steadfast faith in God and an unwavering discipline for which she makes no apologies.

And she did it all for the past 22 years without the help of her late husband and in one of Honolulu’s toughest neighborhoods.

The drug dealers and gangs who used to hang around Mayor Wright Homes, a public housing project in Kalihi-Palama bordering North King Street, Vineyard Boulevard, Pua Lane and Liliha Street, claimed none of her kids, she’s glad to say.

"I’m happy with my children and proud of them," the 67-year-old Maafala said between puffs on a cigarette outside Apartment F of Building 8, the three-bedroom Mayor Wright unit she has lived in since 1975.

"They all ended up in good life," she said. "If the Lord wants to take me now, I’m thankful to Him that they are all in good ways and can raise their own children the right way."

Tenari Maafala, 38, a Honolulu police officer who has been honored twice for bravery since 1994, reflects his mother’s courage.

The outstanding athletic achievements of five of his brothers, including running back Christopher Fuamatu Maafala of the Steelers, and sister Tanya Fuamatu, who was inducted last month into the University of Hawaii-Hilo Hall of Fame, were accomplished with the same kind of inner strength their mother needed to enforce her strict discipline.

"My mom is the most important person in my life and the strongest person I’ve ever known - physically, mentally and emotionally," Tenari Maafala said.

Lusia Ma‘afala and some of her sons and daughters pray for Lusia’s ailing son, Nick, at her Mayor Wright home. The adults are, from left, Benson Ma‘afala, Lusia, Leimomi Ma‘afala, Katarina Ieru and Roy Ma‘afala. They gathered to talk about the wedding of Lusia’s son, Christopher.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Kids are my future’

The late Senetenari Maafala, who died of a heart attack 22 years ago, insisted that his wife stay home to raise their children while he worked several jobs to make ends meet.

"I wanted to work but my husband advised me, be patient and take care of the kids,’ " said Lusia, who has 21 grandchildren and another on the way.

"He said the kids are my future, and he was right."

The house rules were strict and disobedience was dealt with harshly, recalled 37-year-old Benson Maafala, who at 5-foot-11, is as tall as his mother.

"We used to get cracks, not spankings," Benson said. "We got hit with belts and sticks. Today, they might call it child abuse.

"When I look at it now, if it wasn’t for what she taught us, we might have been in a gang, jail or dead."

Their mother’s demands were simple.

"I believe you need respect and love to become a good person," she said. "My kids know that God is first and second is their brothers and sisters.

"My children are taught never to answer back to their parents and the younger ones cannot answer back to the older ones."

She says all her children learn one command at an early age: "MOVE!" "Mom calls us just one time," said 36-year-old Leimomi Maafala, the bone-marrow donor for a transplant performed Thursday on her leukemia-stricken brother, Nick. "You better be there."

Lusia Maafala learned those same values from her parents.

Little Roina Ma‘afala, 4, helps her grandmother, Lusia Ma‘afala, take down the laundry in the back yard.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Responsible daughter

Born in American Samoa, the former Lusia Fuamatu grew up in the village of Leone. Her family was poor and she was the second youngest of seven children.

After graduating from St. Theresa School, Lusia became a teacher. But her work extended to her many family responsibilities as well.

"I taught two classes, second and third grades, and after work, I had to go fishing for dinner and up to the mountain to pick bananas," she said. "Then I had to cook and boil them.

"I did it until my parents died. The blessing from my parents is that I got married, got kids and now they’re taking care of me."

Lusia and her husband Senetenari came to Hawaii in 1958 with their two daughters at the time - Punipuao, 2, and Katarina, 1 - and moved in with an aunt in Nanakuli.

The family of four grew to 10 with the births of Albert, Tenari, Benson, Leimomi, Nick and Naomi while living in Nanakuli’s Nakatani Housing.

The ninth child, Roy, was born after they moved to Waipahu.

The two youngest, Tanya Fuamatu and Chris Fuamatu Maafala, joined the family after their move to Mayor Wright Homes in 1975.

There was little money and feeding a large family was difficult, especially during the years in Nanakuli

"Sometimes we eat tea and rice and sometimes we eat good," said Lusia, who cooked 10 cups of steamed rice per meal.

Tenari Maafala noted, "When my mom says we ate good, she means we had canned goods like Spam, sardines and corned beef to go with rice.

"At Nanakuli, we ate tea and rice 85 percent of the time. When we didn’t have tea, we used to boil lemon leaves. We also ate rice with carnation milk and sugar."

Chores, homework, prayers

The move to Mayor Wright brought the family into the heart of the city and all its inherent dangers.

The house rules remained the same, even though the older boys were active in sports and outside the home more than ever.

"For me, it’s not only sports but subject (education) too," Lusia said. "They have to do after-school chores and then homework.

"If they no finish and do it right, they no can go out. And they need to make sure everybody finish bath before prayer time."

Prayer is held in the parlor with family members gathered around in a circle.

"We pray before dinner and in the morning (before school)," Lusia said. "From youngest ones to oldest, we should forever know the Lord comes first in our lives and we need to give thanks to Him."

For all his mother has done, NFL player Chris Fuamatu Maafala wants to buy her a new house but getting her to move from Mayor Wright will be difficult.

"I stay here because I like it," said Lusia, whose sisters, Katherine Faletoi and Nia Tuitele, also live at Mayor Wright. "Everything is close."

A smile appears on a face remarkably unscarred by hard times as Lusia peeks at her grandchildren playing in a crowded parlor.

"The Lord blessed me with all my children," she says before standing up to go back into her house.

Bittersweet time

This has been an emotional week for Lusia. Family members gathered last week at the Mayor Wright home to start making ti-leaf lei for Chris’ wedding yesterday to Adriana Wilson of Waianae. Meanwhile, Nick was recovering from his bone-marrow transplant at St. Francis Medical Center.

Up until now, Nick has been feeling nauseous and weak, and the leukemia has kept him from even walking a few steps.

But because a photographer wants to take a picture of mother and son, and because they cannot be in the same room due to the possibility of infection, Nick does the seeming impossible.

He rises slowly, knowing that the walk from his bed to the door and back again will drain whatever energy he has left. But he wants to give the photographer a better shot.

With their faces pressed up against the window, Nick and his mother reach out to each other by matching palms on the glass.

Both are teary eyed as Nick flashes a shaka sign to his mother and then heads back to his bed.

No words are spoken. And none are needed.

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