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Contenders to the Throne

Sovereignty has been an elusive goal, but some Hawaiians aren’t waiting around. We take a look at local groups who are already operating their own functional Hawaiian governments—kings, queens and ministers of the interior.


(page 4 of 4)

Figueroa’s claim of recognition from U.S. government agencies is similar to claims to legitimacy staked by other Hawaiian kingdom governments. Many of the Hawaiian nationals we spoke with told triumphant stories of encounters in which the chief of police or a district court judge or some other authority figure was convinced of the legitimacy of the Hawaiian kingdom. Kahau says she was inspired to move her seat of government to Iolani Palace when some of her council officials appeared before the state Legislature, and the legislators clapped for them “in their official capacity,” thereby recognizing the Hawaiian kingdom government.

As we went to press, the specifics of Figueroa’s election were in flux. Figueroa said he would soon be traveling back to Hawaii meet with various Hawaiian independence faction leaders (who he said he was not at liberty to reveal) about revising the slate of candidates and possibly rewriting the constitution. He also said the voting period would likely be extended, although he did not explain how adding new candidates halfway through an election wouldn’t invalidate the entire process.

In any case, Figueroa vows never to give up on creating an independent Hawaiian government. “I will be relentless, and I will move this process forward the way I deem possible to have the most positive results,” he says. “Everyone who knows me, and looks me in the eye, says, Rich, the passion, it oozes out of your eyes!”

The Once and Future Kingdoms

Sai, Kahau, Figueroa—and just about anyone involved in a Hawaiian Independence government—all share a sense of optimism about their chances for success. There’s an unshakeable faith that justice will win out in the end, no matter how daunting the obstacles may appear.

James Akahi, king of the Kingdom of Hawaii on Maui, was convicted this year of breaking into Iolani Palace.

Photo: Courtesy of Honolulu Star-Bulletin


“In the past 10 years or so, just about every avenue of escape for the United States has been sealed off,” says Leon Siu. “They can’t claim ignorance, since they admitted wrongdoing in the apology resolution. They can’t use the argument that what they did was in our best interest. And they can’t say that it was in the past, and we should just move on. International law doesn’t work like that, there’s no expiration date. Very soon they won’t be able to hide behind the ignorance of the rest of the world. I think it’s quite imminent that this will happen.”

The optimism may be shared, but the kingdom itself, not so much. Each of the independence groups is convinced that it, and it alone, is the rightful heir to the kingdom. Compromise is unthinkable, and consensus not needed; either one falls in line and joins his or her real Hawaiian kingdom government, or one becomes irrelevant.

How, for example, does Keanu Sai respond to the claims of other Hawaiian Independence groups?

“I don’t,” he says. “It’s either within the law or not within the law. How does the president deal with the claim that Texas should secede? He doesn’t have to. How does a senator deal with someone saying that Barack Obama is not the president? They don’t have to. You don’t have to entertain these notions that are not reality.” 

Many Nations

We profiled three of the most distinctive Hawaiian kingdom governments, but they’re by no means the only ones staking claims on the leadership of Hawaii. These factions range from the well-established and well-known to the tiny and obscure.

Leon Siu serves as minister of foreign affairs for two Hawaiian kingdom governments, one on Oahu and one of the island of Hawaii.

Photo: Mark Arbeit

The Nation of Hawaii Led by Bumpy Kanahele. One of the most well-known factions, thanks to his 1990s standoff with the state. Fifteen years later, the Nation is still alive and well, operating a community called Puuhonua o Waimanalo (Refuge of Waimanalo) on the 45-acre property secured by Kanahele as a result of the standoff. www.hawaii-nation.org

The Reinstated Hawaiian Kingdom Government Led by Henry Noa, prime minister. This government has been operating since 1999, complete with an updated constitution. The group was most recently in the news this spring, when three members of the government, including Noa, were sentenced to community service for illegally entering (reclaiming, in their words) the Kahoolawe Island Reserve in 2006. hawaii-gov.net

The Kingdom of Hawaii Led by Dennis Ragsdale, this government focuses heavily on the importance of international law, especially as outlined in Emerich de Vattel’s classic text The Law of Nations. www.pixi.com/~kingdom

The Hawaiian Kingdom (Ke Aupuni o Hawaii, Ko Hawaii Pae Aina)  This government consists primarily of a Cabinet Council acting to restore the full function of the Hawaiian kingdom, although it has also set up a Supreme Court for the Hawaiian Islands, with which to enforce the laws of the land. Foreign minister Leon Siu has been working to raise awareness of the government internationally.

Norman Keanaaina, king of the Kingdom of Hawaii on the Big Island.

Photo: Kirk Lee Aeder

The Kingdom of Hawaii  Led by James Akahi, who claims to be king based on a direct lineage from Kamehameha the First. Akahi, who is known as Akahi Nui, was first coronated in 1998, and gained notoriety last year when he and others from his government broke into Iolani Palace, and he attempted to chain himself to the throne. www.freehawaii.org

The Kingdom of Hawaii (Aupuni Hawaii)  Led by Norman Keanaaina. This government, based on the island of Hawaii, has about 20 officials and claims a few hundred followers. Keanaaina also claims the monarchy as a direct descendent of Kamehameha the First, and has been active in attempting to reclaim lands in Kona.

The Kingdom of Hawaii  Led by Edmund Silva. A small faction on Hawaii Island; not much is known about this government.


(Thanks to Leon Siu, who keeps a running inventory of active Independence groups in Hawaii.)              

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