Tasaday - Hoax or Genuine

Have you heard about the Tasaday Tribe? (The one which people considered as a Stone Age Tribe.) If yes, do you think this tribe is real? Or just a hoax? If they were not true, then someone was behind this greatest scandal.

Actually, till now no one knows who to believe - the debunkers or the believers. The Tasaday people are the only one who know if they were really true or just paid actors by Manuel Elizalde. Like what Ethnologist Thomas Headland said,
.... the Tasaday were a hoax when viewed as a group of paid actors that paraded around the forest wearing leaves.
.... they were authentic if they were viewed as a forest-dwelling group of people caught in the midst of the media.
For the sake of this discussion, let's think they were in the middle of true and fake. NO BIAS.

About the Tasaday Tribe

The Tasaday tribe is an indigenous people of Mindanao, island South of Philippines. They are considered belonging in the Lumad group together with the other indigenous people found in the same island. These group of people were believed to be living in the caves of the Philippine rain forest, secluding themselves to the others, and are not aware of their surroundings. They were wearing only orchid leaves and have their diet with fruits, fishes and insects. This tribe was called Stone Age Tribe because of their way of living which resembles that of the Stone Age people from the past, and, of course, they use stone tools.

Tasaday language is distinct from that of their neighboring tribes - Manobo in the east and Tboli in the west. They even don't have in their dialect the words war, hate, enemy, conflict and the like. However, in the mid-1980s, according to Linguistics Anthropologist Carol Malony their language was 80% similar to Manobos'.

As of 2008, their population is only 216.


On June 7, 1971, a local Manobo hunter from the village of Blit told Manuel Elizalde about their accidental encounters with this primitive tribe. A month later, he released the discovery in the media. Visitors were very excited in seeing them. But weeks after announcement of the news, the visitors were blocked by PANAMIN guards. They only allow important visitors to meet them.

By the way, Manuel Elizalde was at that time the head of the government agency PANAMIN, which protects the interest of cultural minorities. He also took credit in the discovery of Tasaday Tribe.

In June, 1971, Elizalde with his bodyguard, helicopter pilot, a doctor, a student, named Edith Terry, and a local tribespeople for interpreting purposes, met with the Tasaday people in the edge of the forest.

In March, 1972, another meeting was held, this time in the home site of the tribe, between Elizalde, and members of press and media including the Associated Press and National Geographic Society.

Being brought out to the world, Tasaday became so popular that they caught the attention of all medias, famous anthropologists and celebrities like Charles Lindbergh and Gina Lollobrigida.

Ethno-botanist Douglas Yen, Linguistics Anthropologist Carol Malony, and Father Sean McDonaugh studied the newly discovered tribe.

Anthropologists Zeus Salazar, Gerald Berraman, Alan Barnard and Swiss Anthropologist Journalist Oswald Iten told the media that the tribe was an absolute fake, that they were just making a great show to the whole world.

Studies of the Believers and Debunkers

Ethno-botanist Douglas Yen studies the ways of different cultures in how they utilize plants. He was also a strong believer that the tribe was definitely a genuine Stone Age tribe. He lived with them for about a month and what he found out was that they actually live resembling that of the Stone Age people. Also, according to him, they live by just eating relatively a low carbohydrate and protein foods.

He made an experiment using rice plants. He asked some children about it, and no one had an idea. This proves that they have no exposure to outside world. The rice grow outside there place and yet no one of them discovered it. Tasadays eat a different variety of rice, different from his sample, but they call it in other names. Tasaday was a hunting and gathering civilization and they never planted rice, so children never know it unless they plant some.

Linguistics Anthropologist Carol Malony studied the tribe's language if they were related with others. According to her, their language was 80% similar to Manobos'. Thus, it only mean they have contact with each other or they came from only one tribe but didn't lived longer and evolved together. The media concluded that the two split off around 1200 A.D., meaning they weren't Stone Age Tribe. And this specific conclusion brought out many speculation that the tribe is FAKE.

She also approved to what Yen said that Tasadays had no borrowed words from other languages. If they had, they are good in faking themselves to not saying by a fault any of those words. She also added that upon conversation with children, she found her discovery very strong. It seemed that their language is genuine. There are plenty of rooms for children to come out even a single borrowed word from their mouths in a conversation.

According to Father Sean McDonaugh, he followed them for twenty years, and he had Tboli tribe members with him to examine them. The Tboli tribe found that they were not related to each other.

In 1986, (the time when Marcos government was overthrown) Swiss Anthropologist Journalist Oswald Iten came back to the rain forest accompanied by Joey Lozano, a Filipino reporter, and Datu Galang Tikaw for an unauthorized investigation to the Tasaday cave, they are with six Tasaday for two hours. He saw the cave empty, then Tasadays were wearing T-shirts and jeans, and had footage that they were living in houses (huts). This became the basis of another story of Tasadays - that it was a hoax.

According to him, the Tasaday people were just farmers of Manobo and Tboli tribe, and were forced to live like cavemen by Manuel Elizalde in exchange of payment.
"We didnt live in caves, only near them, until we met Elizalde," they said. "Elizalde forced us to live in the caves so that we'd be better cavemen. Before he came, we lived in huts on the other side of the mountain and we farmed. We took off our clothes because Elizalde told us to do so and promised if we looked poor that we would get assistance. He gave us money to pose as Tasaday and promised us security from counter-insurgency and tribal fighting."
Manuel Elizalde was accused of promising food and clothing to the tribe if they will cooperate with him. He was also rumored that the reason why he made it is just to take their land. (But he was proven to had acquired some lands from other tribes.)

A few weeks later, a team from Dern Stern went there accompanied by the original discoverer of the tribe. There, they saw them again wearing leaves in the cave, with clothes under those leaves. This was supposed to disprove their authenticity.

Anthropologists Zeus Salazar who also believed that Tasaday were not true. He studied the tools that the Tasaday were using. He found out that those tools were not made just like that used by people in Stone Age, that those tools cannot be used in daily activities. With these discovery he concluded that they were fake, and was just used as props for the show.

Anthropologists Gerald Berraman also studied their stone tools. He didn't found any remains of old tools in the cave. Tasaday tribeman told him that after 1970s, they stopped creating stone tools because they were given knives by explorers who visited them. However, this reason, for Barraman, was unbelievable because if they started to use these tools at around 1970s then there should be any remains of their old tools somewhere. He also found out that these people don't have hunting tools nor any rituals and folklores which for him, was an important ways in survival.

Ban to Visitations

In April 1972, (same year when Martial Law was declared) Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos (at the behest of PANAMIN and Lindbergh) declared 19,000 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 issued a decree to close the preserve to all visitors in ... protecting the Tasaday and other unexplored cultural communities from unauthorized entry. This declaration was rumored that Elizalde persuaded Marcos to do such.

One of the reasons for the closing was a number of suspicions that arose. Apparently, their dead were left in the forest under a layer of leaves, yet no bones, compost, or the like were found. Secondly, although the Tasaday had claimed to be living in the jungle at their cave shelter full time, there was no garbage or sign of human waste. Elizalde claimed that among the 24 remaining Tasaday, there was no wife-sharing, adultery, or divorce. Their diet was claimed to be all forage, i.e., wild fruit, palm pith, forest yams, tadpoles, grubs, and roots. The calories in such a diet are less than the amount needed for survival, so they should have been paper thin. The apparent yams that they survive on were experiencing a shortage around the area where they lived. When dietitians and health advisors suggested further research, they were promptly banned from the Tasaday's home. An anthropologist reported seeing soldiers slipping cooked rice to the Tasaday, and he was banned as well.

Prior to the closing of the preserve to visitors, PANAMIN funded essentially all efforts to find, visit, and study, the Tasaday, with most of the money used to "protect" them coming from Elizalde and his family, with 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.

Rise of Controversy

In a TV program (ABC Televion's) 20/20 two young Tasaday, named Lobo and Adug, told the interviewer, through their translator Datu Galang Tikaw, that they were indeed not Tasaday. Because of this claim, the hoax of Tasaday became the headline worldwide.

Two years after them, in BBC Documentary, they interviewd again the same Tasaday. They showed the video of their interview with the 20/20 program together with other Tasadays. They confessed that what they said in the interview was not true, Galang told them to say those words in exchange of cigarettes, clothing, and anything they wanted. But Galang confirmed those statements.


At the time when Swiss Anthropologist Journalist Oswald Iten came back to the rain forest and found Tasaday wearing clothes and living in houses, it was about 15 years later from the time they were discovered and televised, and had contact with outside world. So in those years, it is possible that they had changed their ways. It doesn't mean that they were cavemen, will be cavemen forever; they were wearing leaves, and will wear leaves forever.

And at the time a team from Dern Stern came back after Iten's encounter, they saw them wearing leaves again. Its not a problem if they wanted to go back in wearing leaves again. Especially, if some of them find clothes irritating (just like Tarzan when he wore a cloth).

Lawrence A. Reid (U. of Hawai'i, Dept. of Linguistics, Emeritus) writes that he spent 10 months with the Tasaday and surrounding linguistic groups (1993–1996) and has concluded that they probably were as isolated as they claim, that they were indeed unfamiliar with agriculture, that their language was a different dialect from that spoken by the closest neighboring group, and that there was no hoax perpetrated by the original group that reported their existence. In his paper 'Linguistic Archaeology: Tracking down the Tasaday Language' Dr. Reid states although he originally thought that an individual Tasaday named Belayem was fabricating data, he later found, after a detailed analysis of the linguistic evidence, around 300 of Belayem's forms were actually used in Kulaman Valley, Manobo (Manobo languages), that Belayem had never visited and did not even know about. Reid also concluded that the Tasaday had not been isolated for a thousand years. He speculated that they split off from the Kulaman Valley Manobos, perhaps about 150 to 200 years ago. They might had fled into the jungle to escape any of disease, and war.

Ethnologist Thomas Headland says that the Tasaday were a tribe that was caught in the midst of a changing world. Headland edited a book composed of all the anthropological articles and data analysis along with the various arguments about the Tasaday and reached the conclusion that the entire Tasaday episode was the result of exaggerations and miscommunications among the media. He said that he doubted the accusations that the Tasaday were paid to live half-naked in the rain forest as dwellers and that he does believe they were a discovered tribe, but not a Stone Age tribe.

According to Headland, the Tasaday tribe incident was the result of the noble savage attitude toward a newly discovered tribe that came during the late 1960s resulting from the wars and the need for peace in the world. Headland also said that the Tasaday were a hoax when viewed as a group of paid actors that paraded around the forest wearing leaves. He said they were authentic if they were viewed as a forest-dwelling group of people caught in the midst of the media. Anthropologists instantly worshipped the Tasaday because they were seen as a new area of study. During this time, everyone thought this tribe was unique because the tribe had no words for war and hate in its society. This belief made way for the conditions of self-fulfilling prophesies that the researchers experienced causing them to only record data that related to their individual theories.

Now the tribe is okay. They are gaining population again, and they learn how to farm.

And its up to you if you believe some of the above information.

By the way, I had watched a documentary by Kara David in I-Witness (GMA): Tasaday Revisited 30 years. She asked Lobo if Tasaday truelly were Tasaday, and he answered a big YES, that they were.

For more about them, click here



  1. Ang hoax talaga ay yung China's claim sa west Philippine sea at Spratley's Islands.


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