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.