From Wikipilipinas: The Hip 'n Free Philippine Encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
hand drill], circa 1970. Photograph by John Nance.

The Tasaday are a small group of indigenous people from the tropical rain forests of South Cotabato in Mindanao who allegedly lived a Stone Age life. Throughout the 1970s the Tasaday received world-wide fame, and then again in the 1980s when Oswald Iten purportedly discovered that they were a hoax masterminded government officials close to President Ferdinand E. Marcos.


Unfamiliarity with tobacco

The small group became known to other forest-dwellers outside their homeland around the 1950s, and in the early 1970s became known to Philippine officials and world media. Throughout the 1970s the Tasaday received the attention of anthropologists and other scholars due to the Tasaday's rare distinction as food-gatherers (they did not rely on agriculture), their unknown dialect, their reported isolation and their unfamiliarity with tobacco: a benchmark for isolation used by anthropologists due to its dense global diffusion since the 15th century.

In the 1980s, claims were made that the Tasaday were a hoax on the grounds that the "Tasaday" were merely members of known local tribes faking a Stone Age lifestyle. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, interviews, scientific research and inquiries by the Philippine government sought to differentiate between the real Tasaday, the hoax claims and the enthusiastic and sometimes overstated reports of the 1970s. Though some past studies had concluded with mixed results, the original hoax claims have been shown bogus and the Tasaday of the 1970s are now recognized as an authentic group surviving with primitive skills for at least seven generations (over 150 years by the 1970s), during which time they developed their own dialect of the Cotabato Manobo language.

Despite their small number in the 1970s and modern encroachment on and reduction of the rainforest in which they live, the Tasaday have survived into the 21st century, though their way of life has changed through contact with local tribes.

First reported contacts

Up until the mid twentieth century, the Tasaday as of 1971 could recall historical contact with two other local groups (known to the Tasaday as the Sandukasand the Tasafangs), apparently with similar lifeways to the Tasaday and also from the forest. Contact with the modern world (e.g. metal, cloth and cultivated foods) was not known to the 1970s Tasaday until the mid-20th century (exact date unknown, possibly the 1950s), when they met and began sporadically trading with Dafal, an itinerant member of various Philippine tribes including the Manobo Blit, Ubu and T'boli. (Note that these peoples, generally living outside the forest, were known to and at least somewhat familiar with the modern world at this time.) It is noteworthy, and helpful in comprehending the Tasaday's long-standing isolation, that many tribal peoples of Mindanao avoid the deep forest due to superstitions or beliefs.

PANAMIN, the Philippine government agency created in 1968 to protect the interests of cultural minorities, was next to become aware of the Tasaday through Manuel Elizalde, Jr., head of the organization. With a small group including Elizalde's bodyguard, helicopteraviator|pilot, a Physician|doctor and local tribespeople for translation attempts, Elizalde met the Tasaday in an arranged clearing at the edge of the forest in June 1971.

In March 1972, an even more momentous meeting occurred between the Tasaday, Elizalde and members of the press and media including the Associated Press and National Geographic magazine, this time at the Tasaday's secluded cave homesite. This meeting was popularly reported in the August 1972 issue of National Geographic by Kenneth MacLeish, which featured on its cover a photograph of a Tasaday boy climbingvines.

Since these first meetings and reports, the group was subject to a great deal of further publicity, including a National Geographic documentary "The Last Tribes of Mindanao" (shown 1972-01-12). The Tasaday became so popular as to attract such famed visitors as Charles A. Lindbergh] and Gina Lollobrigida.

In April 1972, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos (at the behest of PANAMIN and Lindbergh) declared 45,000 acres (182 km²) of land surrounding the Tasaday's ancestral caves as the Tasaday/Manobo Blit Preserve. By this time, eleven anthropologists had studied the Tasaday in the field, but none for more than six weeks, and in 1976, Marcos closed the reservation|preserve to all visitors.

Although MacLeish (1972) records the Tasaday population at twenty four, after establishing genealogy|genealogies, anthropologists agree there were twenty six Tasaday in March 1972 and that one boy had died since the first meeting eight months earlier. More marriage-aged men existed than marriage-aged women, and about half the population were children.

Manuel Elizalde, Jr.'s continued relationship with the Tasaday

To the Tasaday, Manuel Elizalde was known as Momo Dakel Diwata Tasaday, or roughly "Great Bringer of Good Fortune to the Tasaday", an entity the Tasaday say was prophecy|prophesied by their ancestors. Elizalde not only served the Tasaday in his government-recognized position as head of PANAMIN, but privately for many years after his work with PANAMIN had ended.

Prior to the closing of the preserve to visitors, PANAMIN funded essentially all efforts to find, visit, study and protect the Tasaday, with most of the money coming from Elizalde and his family, a lesser portion provided by the Philippine government. As contact between the Tasaday and the world outside their forest virtually ceased with the banning of visitors to the preserve in 1976, so did expenditures on the Tasaday by PANAMIN.

In 1983, some time after the assassination of Philippine opposition political leader Benigno Aquino, Jr., Elizalde fled the Philippines. Though it had been rumored Elizalde left with and eventually squandered millions of dollars from a foundation set up to protect the Tasaday, Elizalde actually returned to the Philippines in 1987 and stayed until his death on May 3, 1997 of bone marrowcancer. While back in the Philippines, from 1987 to 1990, Elizalde said he spent more than one million U.S. dollars defending the Tasaday against hoax claims. During this time, Elizalde also founded the [Tasaday Community Care Foundation, or TCCF.

Press, hoax claims and debunking the hoax

After President Marcos was deposed in 1986, Switzerland|Swiss anthropologist and journalism|journalistOswald Iten, accompanied by Joey Lozano (a journalist from South Cotabato) and Datu Galang Tikaw (a member of the T'boli tribe to serve as chief translator, though he did not speak Tasaday), made an unauthorized investigation to the Tasaday caves where they spent about two hours with six Tasaday. Upon returning from the forest, Iten and Lozano reported the caves deserted and further claimed the "Tasaday" were simply members of known local tribes who put on the appearance of living a Stone Age lifestyle under pressure from Elizalde. Four months later, for American Broadcasting Company|ABC TV's 20/20 program "The Tribe that Never Was", two young Tasaday men (Lobo and Adug) told the 20/20 interviewer (through Galang, hired by 20/20) they indeed were not Tasaday. These claims of a hoax thrust the Tasaday into worldwide headlines again.

Two years later, during the making of a BBC documentary film|documentary, the same two Tasaday (Lobo and Adug) watched the 20/20 program with a group of other Tasaday and confessed to the gathering that they had lied to the interviewers because, "Galang said if we would say what he told us we could have cigarettes, clothing, anything we wanted."[1] On future video and radio programs, Galang confirmed the Tasadays' statement. Nonetheless, the controversy had already incited studies among scholars,politicians and businessmen alike.

Among academics, the authenticity of the Tasaday was now being challenged on three counts:

  • were the Tasaday (who numbered 26 in the 1970s) a wholly separate (culturally, genetics|genetically, etc.) people, or simply a few members from a local tribe?
  • did the Tasaday really live as a Stone Age people, or were they faking it?
  • did the Tasaday really live in isolation from the modern world until the 20th century?

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, research based on various data resulted in mixed opinions on these points. Most of this research was conducted without dedicated field work or actual visits to the Tasaday or their homeland, but rather amounted to analysis of various second-hand data. One of the more well-known hypothesis|hypotheses from this group of researchers has been called the "half-a-hoax" hypothesis, which asserts that the Tasaday were indeed a unique group subsisting mainly with Stone Age skills, but a group that was not as isolated as was originally reported [2]. Other research, conducted through actual field work and visits with the Tasaday ranging from days to months, has produced anthropological, linguistic, archaeology|archaeologicaland ethnobotanical evidence which establish the Tasaday's separate existence for at least seven generations (150 to 200 years) at the caves where researchers saw them in 1972 - 1975, thus discounting the hoax claims, validating their status as a genuine and separate people, the reality of their Stone Age lifestyle and their long-standing isolation from the modern world [3].

While scholars debated, the hoax claims were also being challenged outside science|scientific circles. In 1987, the Philippine Congress held a four-month-long public investigation into the hoax claims, during which Elizalde arranged for a Tasaday woman to be present to support the original claims. The investigation concluded in favor of the original claims and denounced the possibility of a hoax. In 1988, President Corazon Aquino also conducted an inquiry and announced that the Tasaday were genuine and had nearly been victimized by unscrupulous scholars and businessmen who wanted their logging|timber- and mining|mineral-rich land. After the investigations, the Philippine National Museumand other official organizations began listing the Tasaday among the Philippines' indigenous people.

The Tasaday of the 1970s

According to MacLeish (1972), the Tasaday were unique because, "As Stone Age cave dwellers... Their like has not been found before in our time and, outside the limits of their unscarred wilderness, may never be found again." Though romantic and perhaps overstated, the article alludes to the fact that the Tasaday of the 1970s and certainly before the mid-20th century spoke their own dialect, gatherer|gathered wild food, stone tools, lived in caves, wore leaf|leaves for clothes, and settled matters by gentle discussion and consensus. Their chief provisions at this time (some of which are still depended on today) were as follows:

Food and drugs

From plants

  • biking (food) a wild yam; Tasaday staple food until the mid-20th century when they learned of natok, etc. from Dafal (see below)
  • wild bananas
  • bui vine
  • flowers "one red flower and one yellow one" (MacLeish, 1972), though D. E. Yen documented in 1972 Tasaday knowledge of a couple hundred local plants, some no doubt being edible
  • Berry|berries
  • wild ginger'

From animals

  • larva|grubs from rotted logs
  • frogs and tadpoles
  • freshwater crabs
  • little fish

For chewing

  • betel a spice chewed with palm nuts (also known as betel nuts), bui vine, powdery calcium oxide|lime fromsnail animal shell|shells, and other ingredients

Showed to the Tasaday by Dafal

  • ubud (food) the pith of young palms
  • natok also from palms
  • deer, pigs, monkeys, mouse|mice killed in traps

Tools and ornamentals

  • rattan cordage* stone tool|stone axes for smashing hard fruits, stems, rotted logs
  • digging sticks
  • stone scrapers
  • bamboo tongs
  • bamboo knife|knives
  • making fire|hand drill and fireboard, tinder, etc. for making fire

The following items were shown or given to the Tasaday by Dafal and/or PANAMIN:

  • bamboo sections for storing/carrying water
  • bolo knife|bolos or iron bush knife|knives
  • animal traps including deadfalls and balatiks
  • bamboo mallets for making natok
  • kubing] a musical instrument similar to a Jew's harp
  • and arrows which the Tasaday did not find very useful
  • cloth
  • brass earrings (before they knew of brass they wore earrings of plant material)

The Tasaday today

File:Tasaday on motorbike 1997.jpg
By 1997, the Tasaday had acquired some very modern habits. Photograph by John Nance.

Three main factors shaped the Tasaday of the 1970s into the people they are today: want for marriage-aged women, reduction of the rainforest by outsiders, and displacement of other tribal peoples traditionally elsewhere in Mindanao who found sanctuary in the Tasaday/Blit Preserve. By some counts, these displaced Mindanao peoples numbered 3000 strong.

Prior to the Tasaday's meetings with Dafal and Elizalde, males outnumbered females, leaving men without wives and boys without anyone to marry in the future (the Tasaday were at that time monogamy|monogamous). After Tasaday contact with the greater outside world, circa 1980, a Manobo Blit woman married into the Tasaday. This woman later arranged many marriages between the Manobo Blit and the Tasaday, thus beginning a strong cultural mingling between the two groups. Following a cultural rule generally observed throughout Mindanao, the community of people who stays in place and receives immigrants from outside holds their name and property, thus the Tasaday remain today a separate entity from the Blits.

Gradually, the Tasaday began learning more modern characteristics: they ate cultivated food, wore textile|fabric clothing, used money, lived in thatched housing and began relying on metal tools. In 2004, the Tasaday cultivated their first agriculture|crops from newly terraced rice paddies.

As of 2001, the Tasaday numbered slightly greater than 100 people, 14 of whom were among the original 26 encountered in 1971. By 2005, the Tasaday numbered more than 160, living in three related but distinct communities a short distance from one another inside the forest, whereas the Manobo Blit number probably close to 600 and live outside the forest, though still within Tasaday/Manobo Blit Preservation|preservation boundaries.

The Tasaday's fight to preserve their homeland

In 2004, the Tasaday held off fresh attempts by outsiders to obtain their timber, minerals and land and are continuing to become more capable in dealing with the outside world. A major effort is currently underway to bring all the other tribal peoples living within the preservation (some 13 different communities) into an alliance with the Blit and Tasaday. This will enable the alliance to obtain the Philippine government's Certification of Ancestral Domain, which is considered the best legal means for the Tasaday and others to hold onto their land.

Sticking to the Story

In an article from Philippine Daily Inquirer dated September 1, 2009, the Tasadays maintained that they were indeed Tasadays. Lobo Bilangan, who once graced the cover of the National Geographic Magazine, said that they are real Tasadays and not hoax that many claimed they are. This was seconded by Mafalo Dudim, hired by Elizalde as a translator at the time, said that Tasaday and Manobo language are almost similar.

See also


  • MacLeish, Kenneth. (Aug. 1972). "The Tasadays: Stone Age cavemen of Mindanao". National Geographic 142 (2), 218-249.
  • Nance, John E. (circa 2001). "Friends of the Tasaday". Retrieved 18 March 2005.
  • Headland, Thomas N. (2003). "Tasaday hoax controversy". Retrieved 18 March 2005.
  • Nance, John E. (1975). The Gentle Tasaday: A Stone Age People in the Philippine Rain Forest. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ISBN 0-15-134990-8.
  • Headland, Thomas, N. (1992). The Tasaday Controversy: Assessing the Evidence. Washington DC: American Anthropological Association. ISBN 0-913167-51-7.
  • Berreman GD. The Tasaday Controversy. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK. 1999, pp 457-464.
  • Tasaday tribesmen stick to Stone-Age story. Philippine Daily Inquirer. (accessed on September 14, 2009)

External links

Categoery:Communities of culture