The name means King Malila in the Tongan language. Tu'i Malila was born around 1777 and then given by Captain Cook to the Tongan royal family upon his visit to Tonga. Tu'i Malila remained in their care until death on 19 May, 1965 due to natural causes. The tortoise was estimated to be 188 years old at this time. During Queen Elizabeth II's Royal Tour of Tonga in 1953, Tu'i Malila was one of the first animals shown to the monarch on her official visit to the island nation.
In the Tongan National Center on the island of Tongatapu, there is a preserved radiated tortoise labeled Tu'i Malila. Little other information is given in English, but the Center staff attest to the fact that this is indeed the body of the famous tortoise.