Hawaiian “King” Edmund Keli’i Silva Jr.’s life story reads like a plotline from a film or a novel: An imprisoned king escapes captivity to eventually become his nation’s rightful leader. And like those fictional monarchs-in-waiting, Silva suffered greatly.
By 2004, the 57-year-old martial arts grand master had served nearly half of a 24-year sentence in a Colorado prison for “theft by deception.” The complaint, Silva and his lawyer and personal adviser Lanny Sinkin explained, centered on a $500,000 speculative loan taken out by Silva — who according the Hawaii Reporter was a real estate executive for Century 21 Kaiulani Properties Inc. — from a Colorado resident for the production of an instructional self-defense video for women.
By the time Silva came up for parole in 2004, elders, or kupunas, had traced his family lineage and determined his bloodline was linked to Hawaii’s monarch prior to colonization of the islands under American business and religious interests. That year, Sinkin, who lives in Texas but operates an animal shelter in Hawaii, was approached by the kupunas to help get Silva get out of prison.
In the end, a letter Sinkin wrote to the Colorado parole board, explaining Silva’s royal lineage and offering him work at his animal shelter after he got out of prison, persuaded the board to grant parole in 2005.
“I am convinced that this man was put in prison and was supposed to stay there until the day he died,” Sinkin said. “There is no doubt in my mind that he was a target.”
Outside of the legal details involved in the alleged crime committed by Silva and fictional protagonists in similar straits, one immediately obvious difference between those centuries-old tales and today is Silva doesn’t look or act anything like one might imagine a king to appear and behave.
Easygoing, quick with a laugh and dressed in a green flower print shirt, tan pants, beige socks and brown Docksiders, Silva spoke with the Pasadena Weekly in his room at the Westin Pasadena Hotel as he was preparing for an Oct. 22 black-tie gathering of the Charitable Order of Constantine the Great and St. Helen, which, according to its Web site, “was founded in the year 312 to enable Constantine the Great to recognize and honor those brave warriors who fought at his side against his perceived ‘forces of evil.’” The organization was conveying “Commander” status upon Silva later that night during a gala ceremony at the Masonic Temple in Pasadena.
Since getting out of prison, Silva has been living in Hawaii where there are 10 separate groups claiming ties to the state’s previous monarchal government, according to Honolulu Magazine.
Silva spends his days as a royal might, writing to dignitaries in other countries and taking counsel with such world leaders as former South African President Nelson Mandela, who was himself a political prisoner before rising to head that country’s government with the end of apartheid, and the Dalai Lama, exiled from his home in Tibet, now under communist Chinese rule.
Silva spoke unflinchingly about not only his own history with the law in Colorado, but also the daunting uncertainties he faces with the practical side of governing; issues like implementing a government should the sovereignty movement be successful, and determining how that system would interact with the United States, for starters. Perhaps the most daunting task, however, will be raising the $2.5 billion Silva said is needed to transfer power and run the country.
It was with characteristic humor that he described some advice he received from the Dalai Lama, whom he met in Hawaii. The world-known spiritual leader told Silva that, “The higher you get the more people who will come against you. And if you think for a moment that all politicians are righteous and good, then you are naïve, and if you think corporate America is all perfect and righteous, you are misinformed,” Silva recalled. “The problem with you is, you are too nice,” he remembered the Dalai Lama saying. “I said, ‘I’m not nice.’ He said, ‘You don’t fight back. You are just too nice. So I said, ‘How do I fight this.’ And he said, ‘Just let it run its course and let the people who know you fight your battles in this type of arena. When you talk to people about Hawaii be blunt, be honest, be direct and be sincere.’ He said, ‘I don’t have to worry about that, because you are.’
“He then asked me, ‘What qualifies you to be the leader and to restore the kingdom of Hawaii?’ I said very glibly, ‘My good looks?’ He said, ‘You’re not going to get very far with that,” the youthful looking but now graying Silva recalled with a laugh. “I said, ‘I don’t know, really, because I don’t know how a king ought to act anymore than how human beings should act toward each other. But what I can say is I am willing to learn on the way, be quick to receive advice and use my kingdom to serve, to use my sense of reason and logic and surround myself with people who are smarter than me.’ And you know what he said? ‘You’re a smart man.’”
A proper foundation
A substantial hurdle that Silva faces is the fact that, unlike South Africa, Hawaii is no longer a nation; it’s a state, America’s 50th state, as of 1959. And while self-determination may be a desired goal of world leaders in underdeveloped and developing countries, Hawaii’s increasingly popular movement toward sovereignty is often met as much by derision from “howleys,” or “haoles” — a native Hawaiian term for foreigners, particularly Caucasian colonizers — as it is embraced with hope by natives, many of whom firmly believe that the day is near when the island’s former kingdom will be restored.
In 1993, on the 100th anniversary of the admittedly illegal overthrow of the kingdom of Hawaii by United States corporate and military forces, President Bill Clinton and the 103rd Congress issued a formal apology to the people of Hawaii in the form of a joint resolution that acknowledges Hawaii was illegally taken and sought to “provide a proper foundation for reconciliation” with the United States.
However, the document offers no remedies to any legal claims against the US. Nor does it bestow upon Hawaii any right to set up its own government. It also fails to address the provisions and possible subsequent violations of any of the treaties that the Hawaiian monarchal government had with a dozen European nations, as well as Japan, Samoa and the United States prior to the 1893 US takeover. By that time, the Hawaiian monarchal government had five separate treaties with the United States, the last one approved in 1884, according to the Hawaiian Kingdom Government Press, a product of Silva’s group.
In that period in history, the US was well adept at breaking treaties with its own Native American inhabitants, as well as its neighbors in Latin America. At times, it temporarily took over weaker states, using military force 103 times between 1798 and 1895 “to intervene in the affairs” of such countries as Argentina, Nicaragua, Japan, Ryuku and the Bonin Islands, China, Angola and Hawaii in 1893, according to historian Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.”
In preparation for the bestowment of the “Commander” honor at the Order of Constantine event in Pasadena, Silver distributed booklets containing information about himself, the kingdom’s need for money, the sovereignty movement, the history of US involvement in Hawaii and other documents pertaining to that relationship. The booklet also contains an outline for a nonaligned monarchal government — king, ministers, an attorney general, a judicial branch, a central bank and an elected legislature — that would form with the recreation of the Hawaiian kingdom.
Many details of the switchover are sketchy, as one might imagine, but in essence, all existing businesses and service agencies would remain as they are, as would the islands’ basic infrastructural support systems, with the United States assuming the role of “protector,” as Silva put it, not owner.
“The restoration of the Hawaiian Kingdom represents more than the return of stolen property. … It is more than restoring the sovereign political status of a nation. The restoration of the Hawaiian Kingdom is a matter of making pono — making things right before God. It is correcting a wrong and bringing restoration and healing. It is restoring spiritual balance, order and peace,” Silva and Sinkin wrote in position paper called “The Basis for Restoration of the Hawaiian Kingdom.”
“Apologies mean nothing unless they are followed by corresponding actions,” the document continues, referring to the 1993 joint resolution. “The appropriate action to undo its unlawful violation and occupation of Hawaii would be for the United State to conduct a peaceful and orderly withdrawal from Hawaii and allow the true independent nation, the Hawaiian Kingdom, to resume its separate and equal station among the nations of the Earth.”
“When I talk to my people about sovereignty, many of them don’t want the United States involved in our future. The US can be a protector. Originally, that is what they were supposed to be,” Silva said. Instead, the US took over.
“Not one Hawaiian killed any American citizen. Not one native Hawaiian did any harm to the government of the United States. All harm came from them to the Hawaiian Islands. The Hawaiians were displaced. Many of our women were raped, children were molested. I could go on. The list is very long of the atrocities that have happened,” Silva continued. “To talk to kupunas, our elders today, they would say we have learned much from the US government. But it is time for us to govern ourselves. It’s time to replace our government and restore our king.
“There is a lot about the United States that I really love,” Silva said. “What I am hoping for is to enter into a dialogue that will meet everyone’s expectations in a good way.”
Silva admits it’s been a challenge. “We work on a shoestring and a prayer. The kupunas and everybody put in what they can to help how they can, because no one wants me to take a regular job, because they want me to go forward with the kingdom, because they can’t serve two masters at one time. My House of Nobles said, ‘We will help you,’ and they’re struggling themselves. So I have quite a bit of challenges.”
The man for the job
When he was first accused in Colorado, Silva was extradited from Hawaii to stand trial, where he was represented by a public defender. He had also asserted his citizenship in the Hawaiian kingdom, challenging the trial judge’s jurisdictional legitimacy to try him after the investor demanded immediate repayment of her loan.
Silva said the video was already completed but not yet marketed. Silva further said he offered the investor a share in his real estate business to settle the dispute, but she refused and pursued prosecution.
For these reasons, Sinkin believes the proceedings were politically tilted against his client. Going a step further, Sinkin said the complaint was so weak that it might have even been tossed out of a civil court, because the video was completed and the loan was considered “speculative.”
Sinkin said the prison time that Silva received in Colorado — four times the normal maximum sentence for such offenses — and the lengths to which the state went to keep Silva incarcerated, “convinced me that he was the person to do the job” of restoring the Hawaiian monarchy. “The resources they used against him in prison show that they believed he could do it, too.”
For more on Silva and the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, visit KingdomofHawaii.info.