Born in the early-1800s, Boaz Mahune was a member of the lesser strata of Hawaiian nobility, subordinate to the high chiefs or aliʻi. He was a cousin of Paul Kanoa, who served as Governor of Kauai from 1846 to 1877.
He adopted the name “Boaz” after a figure in The Book of Ruth in the Bible, after his conversion to Christianity (it was sometimes spelled Boas.)
Boaz Mahune was a member of the first class at Lahainaluna Seminary, graduating in 1835 after four years there. His classmates included historian David Malo and royal diplomat Timothy Haʻalilio.
He was considered one of the school’s most brilliant scholars and was one of the ten chosen to remain as monitors, teachers in the children’s school and assistants in translating.
Mahune (with others from Lahainaluna) drafted the 1839 Hawaiian Bill of Rights, also known as the 1839 Constitution of Hawaiʻi. This document was an attempt by King Kamehameha III and his chiefs to guarantee that the Hawaiian people would not lose their tenured land, and provided the groundwork for a free enterprise system.
It laid down the inalienable rights of the people, the principles of equality of between the makaʻāinana (commoner) and the aliʻi (chiefs) and the role of the government and law in the kingdom.
Many refer to that document as Hawaiʻi’s Magna Charta (describing certain liberties, putting actions within a rule of law and served as the foundation for future laws.) It served as a preamble to the subsequent Hawaiʻi Constitution (1840.)
It was a great and significant concession voluntarily granted by the king to his people. It defined and secured the rights of the people, but it did not furnish a plan or framework of the government. (Kuykendall)
After several iterations of the document back and forth with the Council of Chiefs, it was approved and signed by Kamehameha III on June 7, 1839 – it was a significant departure from ancient ways.
As you can see in the following, the writing was influenced by Christian fundamentals, as well as rights noted in the US Declaration of Independence.
Ke Kumukānāwai No Ko Hawaiʻi Nei Pae ʻĀina 1839 (Declaration of Rights (1839)
“God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the earth, in unity and blessedness. God has also bestowed certain rights alike on all men and all chiefs, and all people of all lands.”
“These are some of the rights which He has given alike to every man and every chief of correct deportment; life, limb, liberty, freedom from oppression; the earnings of his hands and the productions of his mind.”
“God has also established governments and rule for the purpose of peace; but in making laws for the nation it is by no means proper to enact laws for the protection of the rulers only, without also providing protection for their subjects; neither is it proper to enact laws to enrich the chiefs only, without regard to enriching their subjects also, and hereafter there shall by no means be any laws enacted which are at variance with what is above expressed, neither shall any tax be assessed, nor any service or labor required of any man, in a manner which is at variance with the above sentiments.”
“These sentiments are hereby proclaimed for the purpose of protecting alike, both the people and the chiefs of all these islands, while they maintain a correct deportment; that no chief may be able to oppress any subject, but that chiefs and people may enjoy the same protection, under one and the same law.”
“Protection is hereby secured to the persons of all the people, together with their lands, their building lots, and all their property, while they conform to the laws of the kingdom, and nothing whatever shall be taken from any individual except by express provision of the laws. Whatever chief shall act perseveringly in violation of this Constitution, shall no longer remain a chief of the Hawaiian Islands, and the same shall be true of the Governors, officers and all land agents.”
The Declaration of Rights of 1839 recognized three classes of persons having vested rights in the lands; 1st, the Government; 2nd, the Chiefs; and 3rd, the native Tenants. It declared protection of these rights to both the Chiefly and native Tenant classes.
Mahune is more specifically credited with nearly all the laws on taxation in the introduction to the English translation of the laws of 1840, not published until 1842.
Later he was Kamehameha III’s secretary and advisor. When the king attempted to start a sugar cane plantation at Wailuku on Maui, Mahune was the manager. The project was not a success.
Mahune returned to Lāhainā, where he acted as a judge for a time. About 1846 he went back to his home in Honolulu to work for the government. Mahune died in March 1847.