Press Enter to the main content


  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • line icon
  • plurk icon
  • Print
  • Back to previous page


For a long time, the Kanakanavu people, Hla’alua people, and Tsou people living in Alishan Township of Chiayi County and Jiumei Community in Xinyi Township of Nantou County were all grouped as the Tsou (Cou) people. Due to the large language differences, lack of communication among the three ethnic groups each with their respective languages, and individual historical imagination, legends of origination, rituals, and traditional social structure, after the Kanakanavu people and Hla’alua people applied for “name rectification”, the government officially announced on June 26, 2014, that these three are individual and independent ethnic groups. From then on, the Hla’alua and the Kanakanavu peoples have been listed respectively as the 15th and the 16th indigenous groups in Taiwan. Currently, the officially registered Kanakanavu population has 356 people (as of January 2020).

Geographic Distribution

Some ethnic groups name themselves according to the term “mankind” in their respective languages, such as “Cou” for the Tsou people and “Bunun” for the Bunun people. Although the term “mankind” in the Kanakanavu language is “cau”, they call themselves “Kanakanavu”. There is neither a written record nor oral history regarding this origin. Morphologically, the stem “-navu” is almost identical to the Kanakanavu term for the “Taiwan giant bamboo” (Dendrocalamus latiflorus). As the prefix “ka-” suggests “to live” or “to belong to”, some Kanakanavu people infer that Kanakanavu people may have lived in a Taiwan giant bamboo forest when they gradually formed a village, and they called themselves “Kanavu”, i.e. “people living in the Taiwan giant bamboo forest”. While “Kanavu” is an expression of singularity, and “Kanakanau” is a reduplicative, i.e. an expression of plurality. The Chinese transliterations found in related literature include: Cao-Jianziwufan / Alishanfan Jianziwushe or Ganziwushe / Kanabu Community / Kanakanabu / Kankanafu, and some other people called them “Taivuran” (a mistaken demonym).

There is one story about the origin of the Kanakanavu people. “A mother called Niun lived with her son Parumaci together. As life was tough and lonely, Niun often sighed in front of Parumaci, complaining about how hard life was! Parumaci comforted Niun, promising to give her a happy future. On saying this, Parumaci stood up suddenly and kicked the trunk of a karu sʉrʉ (Jiatan tree) with red leaves. All the leaves fell down and overlapped one another. Then, they became a house. Parumaci kicked the tree again, and the fallen leaves became men, hundreds of men, and Parumaci became their chief, forming a village.” This is the only legend relating to the Kanakanavu origin.

According to the “indigenous people household records” during Dutch occupation, in 1647, there is an entry about the “Jianziwushe” (Holo pronunciation of Kanavu): 157 people in 37 households. There are also records showing that the Kanakanavu chief attended the local meetings convened by the Dutch colonial government several times. At that time, the Kanakanavu had exchanges with the Tapangʉ Community of the Tsou people and Takapuran Community of the Bunun people. These records may be the first historical records of the Kanakanavu people.

Regarding the migration legend, records of the Japanese colonial government said, “The Kanakanavu people originated from Nacʉnga, a place in the yonder east of the Laonong River, i.e. east of Guanshan (Patukuana). Later, when a member of the Napa’angana household went hunting with a female dog, that dog gave birth to a puppy at Natanasa. Then, he took the mother dog and the puppy back to Nacʉnga. However, as the mother dog took the puppy to Natanasa alone back and forth several times, that Napa’angana person simply moved to Natanasa. Later, other members of the household took women and children to start up families at Natanasa and eventually formed a village. As the population grew, they finally formed a clan”. In oral history, elders often mention about “the direction where the sun comes up”, which coincides with the “from the east” theory. However, some modern Kanakanavu people also claim that they came from Tainan area, i.e. the “from the west” theory. Perhaps both migration routes existed, except at different times. Despite the route differences, the destination at Naturuca (Nazhilan River today) is the same, i.e. the community began at Na’usurana (Mt. Tengbaoshan today). That community is the Natanasa (former home or former community) in Kanakanavu history, matching the records during Dutch occupation. The Kanakanavu people have settled in Namasha (Namasia) for at least 400 years. Indubitably, they are a Namasha indigenous group that has never left Namasha.

The geographic name of Namasha (Namasia) has been changed according to the polity changes. During Dutch occupation, it was called the “Northern Assembly District”. In the Qing Dynasty, it belonged to the “Fanshuliao County of Tainan Prefecture”. During Japanese colonization, it was first belonged to the “Wezizhi Surveillance Area, Jiaxianpu, Ahou Prefecture” and then “Mayajunshe, Liugui Police Substation, Qishan County, Kaohsiung Prefecture”. In 1946, it belonged to “Mayajun Village, Xiongfeng Precinct, Kaohsiung County”. In 1947, it belonged to “Maya Township, Kaohsiung County”. In 1958, it belonged to “Sanmin Township, Kaohsiung County”. In 1998, it belonged to “Namasha Township, Kaohsiung County”. After the merger of Kaohsiung County and Kaohsiung City in 2010, all administrative districts of Kaohsiung County were abolished, and all “townships” were re-planned as “districts”, and all “villages” as “boroughs”. Covering an area of 253km2, Namasha District neighbors Taoyuan District of Kaohsiung City in the east, borders Dapu Township in Chiayi County in the west, links to Jiaxian Township of Chiayi County and Tainan County in the south, and connects with the northern point of Taoyuan District of Kaohsiung City and Alishan Township of Chiayi County in the north. Namasha District is surrounded by mountains, “Xingwang Mountain” with an elevation of 2,400m in the east is the tallest mountain in the district. “Mt. Tengbaoshan” with an elevation of 2,200m is in the south. It is a landmark to the Kanakanavu people and has gradually been considered a “sacred mountain” of the Kanakanavu people.

When typhoon Morakot hit on August 8, 2009, Xiaolin Village down the stream was buried by the mud carried down by the Nanzixian River. A few Kanakanavu households were also affected and thus relocated to “Daai Park” in Shanlin District. Therefore, today the Kanakanavu people are spread out in Dakanuwa Village, Maya Village, and Daai Park in Namashan District for employment and study.


Slash-and-burn and fishing are the respective major and minor economic activities of the Kanakanavu people. Traditional crops include millet, upland rice, glutinous rice, sweet potatoes, taro, and corn. Hunting, including individual and group hunting, is a male-dominant activity. The Slack season starts from September to April the following year. Finding food for the family is the main purpose of individual hunting, while sourcing sacrifices for rituals is the central target of group hunting. The Kanakanavu people catch fish with spears, nets, hooks, poison, and enclosures.

1. Crafts

Carpentry works take the forms of wooden mortars, wooden buckets, steamers, wooden back racks, wooden pillows, wooden benches, wooden pestles, and wooden sticks. Weaving includes rattan and bamboo weaving, with works including bamboo rice baskets, bamboo water bottles, bamboo back baskets, rattan and bamboo mats, bamboo bows and arrows, bamboo cups, and bamboo ladles. Tanning and leathering works include carrying bags, tobacco bags, and clothes made with deerskin, sheepskin, and muntjac skin.

2. Architecture

Cakʉrʉ (the Assembly Hall) is where the Kanakanavu people discuss public affairs. It is a mens-only place for discussing affairs including rituals, politics, military, education, and socialization. In earlier times, there was the “watchtower”. It almost became extinct after Japanese colonization. The Kanakanavu people prefer building family houses on a hillside or a platform with wooden columns, bamboo walls, and thatch roofs. Based on the terrain, there family houses can be vertically rectangular or horizontally rectangular. Inside the house there are the stone stove, hanging racks, and beds. Records of Japanese colonization show that there were graves of ancestors in the house. The size of a family house varies according to the number of the family members.

3. Clothing

Traditional men’s clothing includes animal skin headgear. People must dress up for important events. A red stripe of cloth stripe is worn along the forehead on top of the headgear to hold feathers. Ordinary people carry 1-4 long feathers of the eagle and Taiwan blue pheasant, elders can carry up to 5-8 pieces, as a sign of social class and merit. The upper garment is usually red in color, with a blue inner lining. There is also the chest bag, waist skirt, vest, leather cape, leather over-sleeves, leather dungarees, leather shoes, and hunting bag. Apart from the feathers on the leather headgear, traditional men’s accessories include the headband, ear pendants, headwear, and wristwear. It is said that the Kanakanavu men loved ornaments more than Kanakanavu women in the past. Women’s ornaments include earwear, neckwear, wristwear, and beaded chest lace. They wear headscarves to facilitate movement. Kanakanavu women wear headgear decorated with colorful wreathes for important events. There are also the upper garment, skirt, and knee pants. When the Kanakanavu people were classified as the Tsou people, the clothing of both men and women was almost the same as that of the Tsou people in Alishan. To avoid confusion, after literature review and discussion with village people, minor modifications were made to the women’s clothing, in particular, the colors saw more changes with the hope to restore the traditional colors of the Kanakanavu culture.


It is said that the Kanakanavu people used to have an hereditary system for Ra’Ani (chief), Kara’Ani (deputy chief), Vasʉ (marshal), and ’Ʉrʉvʉ (priest), one of each. The “elder council” formed by Mamarurang (the elders) was the highest political and legislative body. Today, the Kanakanavu people have 17 family names: ’Amunuana, Ka’angaina, Kapuana, Ka’aviana, Kakapiana, Napaniana, Numangiana, Navirangana, Na’uracana, Kacaupuana, Kanapaniana, Kanapangana, Na’upana, ’Ikuana, Namaitana, Naturingana, and ’Utungana. Chinese family names include:Hsiao, Cheng, Weng, Peng, Chiang, Yang, Chung, Wang, Yu, Tsai, Kung, Fan, Lan, Shih, Chen, Chin, Hsieh. There are 17 traditional men’s names: ’Akori, ’Angai, ’Apio, ’Avia, ’Atai, Riau, Pani, Pa’ʉ, Pori, ’Uku, Mu’u, ’Una, Piori, ’Uangʉ, Pusinga, Cimseeng, ’Upa; and 16 women’s names: ’Akuan, ’Ari(e), ’Apu’u, Kai, Kau, Kini, Kiua, Kuatʉ, Na’u, Rangui, Paicʉ, Pi’i, Vanau, ’Usu, ’Uva, Savoo.

In the Kanakanavu language, a family house is called “tanasa”, and a family is called “cani pininga”, meaning “a square”, referring to “people living under the same roof”. In other ethnic groups (e.g. Tsou or Bunun), there are clear definitions for a clan, a household, and a family. There are sub-groups within a main ethnic group and branches under a sub-group, forming a hierarchical structure. The Kanakanavu people form an ethnic group through parallel households. In Kanakanavu society, every family has a marangʉ, the family head. Traditionally, the marangʉ must be a man, i.e. patrilineality. Community affairs are shared through the nature of laborworks. Men are responsible for heavy and dangerous works, while women are in charge of house chores and sewing. Both men and women may engage in farming.


1. Religion

Traditionally, the Kanakanavu people believe in tinaravai (the spiritual world). On the right shoulder is ’incu, the kind spirit, and on the left shoulder is ’ucu, the evil spirit. These spirits and people live in two different worlds. People live a world called mamane, i.e. a world that can be seen by the eyes and touched by the hands and feet. Spirits can only be felt. Morphologically, “tinaravai” is the compounding of “ravai” and “vai”, appellations of the spouse of siblings and lineal siblings. Semantically, the Kanakanavu people value the parallel relationship between the spirits and people and dislike confrontation. Traditionally, after arriving at a new place or venue, particularly in the deep mountains and forests, the Kanakanavu people will put a small piece of food on a piece of wood or stone before eating and shed wine in the air with their fingers before drinking, while saying words of blessings at the same time. This process called “maritamu” aims to share and interact with tinaravai and pray for blessings.

Most Kanakanavu people believe in Christianity, although with a small population, they go to different churches, including the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Catholic Church, and True Jesus Church. The tinaravai belief is less known to or has never even been heard of by modern Kanakanavu people. When attending rituals, they simply follow what the elders do.

2. Traditional Rituals

There are three major groups of traditional rituals: rituals relating to millet growth, rituals relating to hunting and head hunting, and rituals relating to the river and babies based on a family or a household. Due to government intervention or the Christianity belief, some rituals were almost discontinued. It was not until 30 years ago that Mikongu (the Millet Ritual) and Pasiakarai (River Ritual) were recovered. Today, they are annual rituals attended by all Kanakanavu people. The mikongu is the core of the above rituals. It is said that it was the dwarves (Tapucarake) who gave millet seeds to the Kanakanavu people. According to seniors, the Tapucarake were short. When they climbed on the hyacinth beans, the branches only bent without falling. The Tapucarake always lived in underground caves. One year, there was no food for human beings. One Kanakanavu person was searching for food in the forest and accidentally dug into the home of the Tapucarake, and the cave sank. As the Tapucarake did not hurt him, he lived there for a long time. Meanwhile, the Tapucarake taught him farming and how to grow plants. When that Kanakanavu person wanted to go home, the Tapucarake gave him a pack of millet seeds and said, “After harvesting millet, please invite us, we want to try your new crop!” That Kanakanavu person kept the promise and invited the Tapucarake to his place every year. Later, the Tapucarake disappeared suddenly, and no one knows their whereabouts. However, the Kanakanavu people did not forget to prepare food for them. Although the Tapucarake never showed up again, the Kanakanavu people hold the ritual as usual.

Like all other ethnic groups, the Kanakanavu people follow traditional taboos. More important taboos include no sneezing and no farting (audible) before going out or engaging in important work. If they accidentally offend a taboo, adults must say “kuarʉsu!”, meaning “Bless you!”, immediately. Then, they will sit down and chit-chat, pretending to forget someone has offended a taboo, before doing the next thing. Also, when a relative passes way, it is a taboo to say “nimacai”, meaning die. Instead, one should say “niaraka”, meaning break down, or “’acecu”, meaning leave. In addition, one should not directly call the name of the deceased but should add the prefix “na”, expressing respect or memory, to his/her name. Moreover, hunting tools must be hung at height away from the touch of women and children, and women are not allowed to enter the assembly hall. Traditionally, 18-years-old Kanakanavu people are taken to the assembly hall for the puberty ritual. Elders give them a small knife and a waistband. They must listen to the elder’s advice: “Do not cheat, be honest. No one will believe in liars. Do not steal, once a thief, no one will make friends with him and avoid him forever. Do not drink too much, drunk people have bad health, bad husband-wife relationships, and difficult family ties. Be hard working, lazy people can only envy others, and chances are always for the hard-working people. Respect elders’ advice, ignore the advice and you will become unwise, and modesty will be rewarded with assistance. Cherish food, those who do not cherish it will never get rich. Give a helping hand to those in need and do not boast about it”.

None of the advice is hard to understand. It is for sure that character education is important to the Kanakanavu people.