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.