Over a very long period of time, Kanakanavu, same as the case with Hla’alua, had been categorized as part of Tsou now living Alishan Township of Chiayi County, Jiuomei Village of Sinyi Township of Nanto County. Owing to disparities of their language, they could not communicate with one another with their native languages. Every one of the three peoples has their own distinctive historical memories, legends of origin, rituals, ceremonies and traditional social structure. Upon the government’s approval of the name-correcting application submitted by the peoples of Kanakanavu and Hla’alua, they were officially pronounced as two independent peoples on June 26, 2014. Hla’alua is the 15th and Kanakanavu the 16th officially recognized indigenous peoples.
Some indigenous peoples use the vocabulary bearing the meaning of “human being” to describe themselves, such as “Cou” for Tsou, “Bunun” for Bunun, thus they have subsequently become their tribal name respectively. Kanakanavu people’s term for “human being” is “cau”, however they called themselves Kanakanavu. What is the origin of it? Nothing written or oral has been found about it. Literally speaking, the root of “Kanakanavu” is “-navu”. It is exactly the same as the root of the word for “latiflorus bamboo” in Hla’alua’s language. Furthermore, its prefix “ka-“ implies “residing in or belonging to”, which results in a deduction of the theory that they probably resided in a place of latiflorus bamboo forest. In order to distinguish themselves from others they called themselves “Kanavu”, which means “people residing in or belonging to the latiflorus bamboo forest.” Its singular form is “Kanavu”, while itsrepetitive and plural form is “Kanakanavu” accordingly. Evidences from its Chinese translation can be found in documents, such as “曹族簡仔霧蕃／阿里山蕃（番）簡仔霧社或干仔霧（務）社／卡那布族／卡那卡那布／堪卡那福人”, etc. Even erroneous translation like “Taivuran （逮伕蘭）” had existed in local communities.
Legend goes that a mother by the name of Niun lived with her son Parumaci in poverty and lonely. The mother often sighed and groaned over their misery in living. Parumaci consoled his mother and promised to offer her a comfortable life in the future. Upon his promise, he kicked at the Autumn Maple tree with red leaves all over, and make them fall down to the ground and piled up to become a house one after another. With his one more kick at the tree, all the falling leaves turned into people in hundreds. Consequently Parumaci became the chief of the newly formed village. This is the only record that has something to do with the origin of Kanakanavu.
On the Indigenous Peoples Household List during the Dutch Occupation period, a village by the name of Kanavu (pronounced in Hoklo dialect) has 157 villagers in 37 households in 1647. Another record shows the chief of Kanakanavu attended several times the Regional Meeting (Landdag) convened by the Dutch, and interacted with those of Tapangʉ of Tsou and Takapuran of Bunun. This could be the first everwritten description about Kanakanavu in historical record.
According to records during Japanese Occupation period on their migration history, it is said that the original place of residence of Kanakanavu was Nacʉnga in the east beyond Laonung River, to the east of Patukuana (currently Guanshan). One day a member of Napa’angana family went hunting with a female hound. When they passed a place by the name of Natanasa, the hound gave birth to a puppy. Together they went back to Nacʉnga. Ever since then, the mother hound went back to natanasa with the puppy frequently. Consequently, the Napa’angana family decided to migrate and reside in Natanasa. Other families also followed suit to migrate there with women and children. As a result, it became a rather big village from a small cluster of families. Elders of Kanakanavu orally narrate their origin is from “the direction the sun rises”. It matches the “theory from the East”. Some people in recent years maintain otherwise that their origin was in Tainan, the so-called “theory from the West.” Probably both paths of migration did happen, only the time order is different. People via two different paths were brought to the vicinity of Naruruca (currently Nachilan River), and built up their earliest village at Na’usurana (currently Tengbao Mountain). That is the very village their offspring regarded as natanasa (old home or old village). As compared with the records in the Dutch period, Kanakanavu people have been residing in Namasha area for at least over four hundred years. Undoubtedly they are the indigenous people of that place, and they never have migrated to elsewhere.
The name of this administrative region changes with the regime. This area was under the jurisdiction of Northern Territory Assembly Area in the Dutch period, Fanshuliao District, Tainan Region (臺南廳番薯寮支廳管轄地) in Qing Government, Jiaxian District, Akao Region (阿猴廳甲仙埔蚊仔只監視區) in the early Japanese Occupation Period, Mayachun Village, Liokuei Police Station, Chishan County, Kaohsiung State (高雄州旗山郡六龜警察分室瑪雅竣社) during the later Japanese Occupation Period, Mayachun Village, Hsiungfeng District, Kaohsiung County (高雄縣雄峰區署瑪雅竣村) in 1946, Maya Township, Kaohsiung County in 1947, Sanmin Township in 1958, Namasia Township in 1998. Kaohsiung City merged with surrounding Kaohsiung County and thus expanded in scale to the top-tier city in 2010, the ‘township’ was changed into ‘district.’ This area is bordered by Taoyuan District to the east, Dapu Township, Chiayi County to the west, Jiaxian Township and Tainan County to the south, and northern part of Taoyuan District and Alishan Township, Chiayi County to the north. The total area is 253 square kilometers and surrounded by mountains. Hsingwang Summit is the highest mountain in the area at an elevation of 2,400 meters to the east. Tengpao Mountain is the most representative place for Kanakanavu, lies at the altitude of 2,200 meters, the younger generation has gradually considered it as the ‘Holy Mountain’ of Kanakanavu.
The Siaolin Village located at the lower parts of Nanzixian River was razed to the ground by the flooding during Typhoon Morakot in 2009. Some Kanakanavu people were the residents there, they were forced migrate to Daai Park after the disaster. Hence the Kanakanavu people reside in Dakanuwa Li, Maya Li, Daai Park of Namasia District separately. Kanakanavu people living apart on account of the jobs or studies as well.
Kanakanavu economic life is based on slash-and-burn farming, hunting and fishing. Traditional crops include millet, dry rice, glutinous rice, sweet potato, taro and corn. Hunting is only for men. The time for hunting expeditions is from September to April of the next year, which is usually the slack season for agriculture. Expeditions are made by individual or group. The purpose for individual is usually find food for one family. But the purpose for a group hunting expedition is usually to find game for the ritual. In addition, Kanakanavu people fish by sticking, netting, fishing, poisoning and surrounding.
The crafts of Kanakanavu present in varied ways. Wood carving such as wood motor, wood bucket, steam bucket, wood carrying racket, wood pillow, stool, pestle and cane, etc.. Rattan and bamboo plaiting for rattan sieve, bamboo water cup, bamboo back bag, rattan mat, bamboo arrow, bamboo cupping and bamboo spoon. Leather and tanning for primary materials are hides from deer, mountain goat and muntjac to make carrying bag, cigarette bag, clothes and accessories.
The Men’s House (Cakʉrʉ) is the representative architecture of Kanakanavu. It is the place for rituals and discussions about politics, military negotiation, education and social matters. No woman is allowed inside. Tribes in earlier time also constructed a “lookout” structure, which were almost never seen again after the Japanese Occupation Period. Houses were built on the hillside slopes or on small plateaus. The main construction materials are wood, bamboo walls and thatched roof. They are built according to the terrain, in depth and horizontal length. There are also stone stoves, hanging shelves, and beds indoors. Records from the Japanese Occupation period show that there are burial places for ancestors indoors. The size of the house is determined by the number of people living in it.
Traditional costumes for men are leather hat, shirt, chest bag, skirt, tank top, leather shawl, leather sleeves, leather overall, leather shoes and hunting bag. During the significant activities to dress up, the front of the leather hat is decorated with red cloth and the rim of the hat is stitched with feathers. The feathers could be an identification of each level and his achievements. Ordinary people can adorn with one to four feathers from eagle and Swinhoe’s Blue Pheasant, chief with five to eight feathers. The shirt is mainly made from red cloth with blue lining.
Besides the feathers on leather hat, traditional ornaments for men have frontlet, ear drops, headwear, wristlet and so on. It is said that Kanakanavu men were much more fond of ornaments than women in the past. The ornaments for female have eardrops, neckwear, wristlet, beaded necklace. Women wear headscarf in order to move conveniently. Wearing the hat decorated with colourful wreaths in the ceremony. The costumes for women also include shirts, skirt, breeches. Kanakanavu’s costumes are similar to Tsou in Alishan Township at the time when they were categorized as Tsou. In order to avoid confusion, the female costume has slightly modified based on the discussions of Kanakanavu people and their literature. Especially the great adjustment on the colors, we hope to restore the original color of Kanakanavu.
Legends say that Kanakanavu had hereditary chief (Ra’ani), vice chief (Kara’ani), general (Vasʉ), chief priest (’Ʉrʉvʉ) for one of each position before. The head of power and legislature in the village is organized by a group of elders called Elders’ Council (Mamarurang). Currently, there are seventeen clans as follows: ’Amunuana, Ka’angaina, Kapuana, Ka’aviana, Kakapiana, Napaniana, Numangiana, Navirangana, Na’uracana, Kacaupuana, Kanapaniana, Kanapangana, Na’upana, ’Ikuana, Namaitana, Naturingana, ’Utungana. There are sixteen Chinese family names: Hsiao, Weng, Peng, Chiang, Yang, Chung, Wang, Yu, Tsai, Kung, Fan, Lan, Shih, Chen, Chin, Hsieh. There are seventeen traditional male given names: ’Akori, ’Angai, ’Apio, ’Avia, ’Atai, Riau, Pani, Pa’ʉ, Pori, ’Uku, Mu’u, ’Una, Piori, ’Uangʉ, Pusinga, Cimseeng, ’Upa. And sixteen traditional female given names: ’Akuan, ’Ari(e), ’Apu’u, Kai, Kau, Kini, Kiua, Kuatʉ, Na’u, Rangui, Paicʉ, Pi’i, Vanau, ’Usu, ’Uva, Savoo.
The family house in Kanakanavu called tanasa. The word family (cani pininga) in Kanakanavu’s literally means ‘a plaza’, which also means ‘people living under the same roof’. In other tribes (such as Tsou or Bunun) there are obvious clan differences, and big communities splitting into smaller communities. A large social circle surrounds the center of the community, forming an organized hierarchical relationship. And Kanakanavu tribe is comprised of several families of equal status. In the society of Kanakanavu, each family has a patriarch called marangʉ. Traditionally, the patriarch always occupied by man, so called patrilineal. Village duties are divided according to physical strength. Heavy and dangerous work is managed by men, while house chores and making clothes are managed by women. Both men and women can do farm work.
1. Religion and Faith
According to Kanakanavu religious concepts, there is a spiritual world (tinaravai). There are two kinds of spirits, the good living spirits (’incu) stand on the right shoulder of a person and the bad living spirits (’ucu) stand on the left shoulder. These spirits inhabit in a different world from humans. Human life is referred to as ‘mamane’, meaning anything that one can see and touch. The spiritual world can only be sensed when you’re your heart. The ‘ravai’ and ‘vai’ in Tinaravai is used to refer to the spouses of siblings. As seen from the literal meaning of such words, the Kanakanavu tribe view themselves as equal to the spiritual realm, and not as opposing forces. When the traditional Kanakanavu tribe arrive at a new place, especially if among the mountains into the jungle, they will twist off a small piece of food and stick to the end of wood or stone during meals. Before drinking wine, the index finger will stir the wine outwards in a motion called ‘maritamu’, and a spell will be uttered as blessing. These are efforts to interact with the ‘tinaravai’, a way of asking for blessing.
Nowadays, Kanakanavu mostly believe in Christianity, which has divided into numerous denominations including Presbyterians, Seventh Day Adventist, Catholicism, True Jesus Church. Now they are very unfamiliar with the traditional beliefs mentioned above, only when participating in rituals would they follow the movements of elders and echo with the sound.
2. Traditional Ritual
The rituals are divided into three categories, the most important ritual is related with millet cultivation, followed by the Hunting ritual and Offers to Hunted Heads, in addition to the river ritual and infant ritual held by the family or clan as a unit. These rituals had never been celebrated again since the interference of government and people converted to Christian until the Kanakanavu resumed the Mikong Ritual (Mikongu) and River Ritual (Pasiakarai) thirty years ago and has since become the annual rituals now.
It takes Mikongu as the core through all the rituals. Legends say that the millet seedsare given by the God of Earth (Tapucarake) . According to the elders’ words, the God of Earth is short in stature. The twigs will only bend while climbing up the Pigeon pea and they always live in burrows. At one time, people ran out of food. Legends say one day a Kanakanavu man was hungry and he came to the wilderness to look for food like yam (namnsi). As he dug deep in the ground, he found a large hole. Driven by curiosity, this Kanakanavu man crawled into the hole. Before long, he was greeted by the God of Earth (Tamuunai). The God of Earth treated him very well and he lived such a long time in the hole. The God of Earth taught him the method of farming. The God of Earth gave the man a pack of millet while the Kanakanavu man is going back to earth. At last, he told the Kanakanavu man that from then on, he had to invite the Gods to taste the new millet at the harvest. Kanakanavu people keep the promise to invite them and give an entertainment to them every year. One day the God of Earth disappears all of a sudden, nobody knew where they went. People still hold Mikong Ritual after harvest to pay gratitude to the God of Earth.
Like other tribes, Kanakanavu also have their own taboos, more notably the following: before leaving home or engaging in important words, sneezing and/or farting is forbidden. If accidentally transgressed, adults have to quickly say “kuarʉsu!” meaning “bless you!” and will proceed to sit down and have chat, pretending to forget someone has done anything wrong. When relatives pass away, to say that they are “nimacai (dead)” is forbidden, and only “niaraka (spoilt)” can be used, or “’acecu (gone).” The deceased cannot be addressed by name. To refer to the deceased, “na” has to be added in front of the name as a sign of respect and commemoration. Hunting equipment used by men has to be hung on high places, and women and children are forbidden to touch. Women are not allowed to enter a men’s gathering, etc..
The youngster at eighteen years old should attend the rite of passage in the Men’s House in the past. The elders would give a dagger and a girdle as presents to them. The elders would also offer the admonition as follows:
Do not deceive, as no one likes to get along with a dishonest people and no one will believe him as well.
Do not steal, even though you have only done the stealing once, people will avoid the one and he will have no friend forever.
Do not drink too much alcohol, people often get drunk won’t have a healthy body, will live a dog and cat life, and keep his family in hardship.
Work hard, no pains no gains. Opportunity favors the prepared mind.
An old man’s sayings are seldom untrue and humility comes before honor.
Cherish the food or you won’t be rich. Be adequately low-key in helping the needy.
It is easy to understand the content of these admonitions and Kanakanavu put much emphasis on the cultivation of a person.
Kanakanvu as an independent tribe, has been established for three years, and like the rest of the indigenous groups, faces many challenges such as its vanishing language and dwindling population in the form of diluted bloodlines. Relations with similar tribes become blurred, and ethic consciousness is no longer taken seriously. Traditional culture and knowledge is rapidly diluting, and tribal pride is fading with time. Tribal boundaries and social circles are increasingly compressed, putting this tribe to the test. But the Kanakanavu people are extremely tough. For thousands of years they have been the minority, yet their survival today points to an inherent wisdom and ability in their existence, and will be well-equipped to progress in the face of future.