It is now part of the collective memory of its people that Canaman, like other communities, was thickly forested ages before the Spanish colonization. According to Jesuit anthropologist Frank X. Lynch, the town’s name derived from “cana,” a kind of tree used as building material, suffixed with “man.”
Bicol historian and Canaman native Dr. Danilo M. Gerona argued that the town’s name derived from a kind of wood used as a decorative material such is in houses and altars. Bicol historiographer Jose V. Barrameda recounted that early settlers along Bicol river such as those in Mangayawan were boat builders. They used red luan (Philippine mahogany) which is used to be abundant in the area.
Canaman’s antiquity is demonstrated by the native terms carried by many early barangays. Poro, the largest barangay in terms of land area, came from an ancient Bikol word for island. Kapoporoan is the old term for islands while kaporoan is for archipelago. Calambog, now San Jose East and San Jose West, is a variety of mambog tree. Baras derived from a heap of palay accumulated during threshing. Taculod, now Del Rosario and San Vicente, is an ancient term for little humps of land. Tibgao came from a specie of hemp while Gogon, now Sta. Teresita, is a grass.
Canaman has been in existence as a thriving Christian community for over 400 years. Through the centuries, its landscape has transformed into a developing suburban town from a cluster of isolated barangays of timbers and kamaligs along the trail of Kulakog’s masculinity, the Bicol River.
From a mere visita of Nueva Caceres, Canaman became a doctrina during the third Franciscan Chapter meeting held in Manila in June 1583 presided by Fray Pablo de Jesus. This marked the birth of the municipality as a vibrant Christian community. The first concrete church was constructed in 1590s through its first parish priest Fray Pedro Matias de Andrade who was later elected fifth bishop of Nueva Caceres in 1613. It was dedicated to Our Lady of Assumption which feast falls on the 15th of August. The church was reconstructed in 1669 during the tenure of Fray Acacio de la Concepcion.
For centuries, the town remained as one of the most faithful subjects to Spain in the province. Even in the late 19th century, the absence of a strong intellectual base preserved the municipality’s highly conservative outlook both in politics and in religion. In 1900, militant taga-Canaman burned their church after they heard that Americans are closing in. It was an act of self-immolation and effort to save the old church from desecration at the hands of the invaders. Several taga-Canaman were suspected of collaboration with the Filipino Revolutionary Army which resulted to the establishment of a garrison in the town and the replacement of the local force. The municipality was dissolved in 1902 however six years later Canaman regained its former status as an independent town. This was through Rep. Tomas Arejola, brother of Gen. Ludovico Arejola and over-all commander of the Filipino Revolutionary Army in Ambos Camarines.
On 8 March 1942, taga-Canaman formally organized the Tangcong Vaca Guerilla Unit, one of the least known local fighting forces in the province in response to Japanese oppression. The guerilla unit was founded by Elias V. Madrid in barangay San Nicolas. Maj. Juan Q. Miranda, his nephew, served as the Commanding Officer while Leon SA. Aureus, from Libmanan acted as the Executive Officer. Miranda became the representative of the district after the War and he authored the cityhood of Naga.
The battle for the liberation of Naga launched on 9 April 1945 produced an authentic hero in 22 year-old guerilla Lt. Delfin C. Rosales whose roots were from Canaman.