Each ahupua'a in Hawai'i was purposefully named. The naming of Ka‘ūpūlehu is recounted in a mo'olelo (story) concerning two young girls who were found by an old woman roasting breadfruits in the upland village of Manuahi.
The mo'olelo describing the naming of Kaʻūpūlehu appears in the book Kona Legends published by Eliza D. Maguire in 1926. She was the wife of John Maguire, founder of Hu'ehu'e Ranch, which began operations in the Ka‘ūpūlehu area in 1886. In the preface of her book, Maguire writes:
"There were a number of old people living then who showed us these different places with their tales and legends. I have translated them as they were told, in the simple language of the people living amongst the rural simplicity of life, cultivating their little gardens of taro and sweet potatoes, sugar cane and bananas."
Captured through the writings of Eliza Maguire, this mo'olelo has been shared with the many learners who have come to the lands of Ka‘ūpūlehu.
The Two Girls Roasting Breadfuit at Manuahi
This story picks up from the legend concerning the Fishpond of Pā‘aiea, which tells of the appearance of an old woman, who after being denied fish from the head fisherman, mysteriously disappeared into the uplands. This same old woman then came upon two girls roasting 'ulu (breadfruit) in the upland village of Manuahi located on the western slope of Hualālai.
The old woman saw the two girls, Kolomu'o and Pāhinahina roasting breadfruit on a fire. The old woman inquired with Kolomu'o, "na wai kāu ‘ulu?" (for whom do you roast your breadfruit?) Kolomu'o replied, "this 'ulu here is for my god, La'i." The old woman responded, "is La'i a powerful god?" The young girl replied, "she is the god of my parents, and yes, she is powerful."
The old woman then turned to Pāhinahina and asked, "na wai kāu ‘ulu?" The young Pāhinahina responded, "this 'ulu here is for Pele." The old woman instructed Pāhinahina to remove her 'ulu from the fire. However, Pāhinahina explained that she did not think her 'ulu was cooked. The old woman assured Pāhinahina that her 'ulu was indeed cooked and ready to be enjoyed. Pāhinahina followed the orders of the old woman, and to their delight, the 'ulu was cooked.
The old woman then asked the whereabouts of the girls' homes. The old woman then told Pāhinahina that upon her parents return from their work for the ali'i (chief), she was to have them put up lepa or kapa flags around their home. Pāhinahina's parents returned home and followed the orders of their daughter.
That night, it was discovered that the old woman who made the mysterious requests was none other than Pele herself, goddess of Hawai'i's volcanic fires. In the year 1801, a fire was observed at a placed called Ka-Waha-O-Pele (the-mouth-of-Pele). The fire soon appeared in the 'ohi'a forest at a place called Ka-Iwi-O-Pele (the-bones-of-Pele). Pele's fires were then seen at a place below Kīleo. A stream of molten lava poured from the earth and covered a portion of the home of Kolomu'o. Pele's fires continued their tracks to the sea, sparing the home of the young Pāhinahina, who made her offering of 'ulu to her goddess, Pele.
The name Ka‘ūpūlehu is derived from the longer Ka-'ulu-pūlehu, which literally translates as "the-roasting-breadfruit."