Tasaday people

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Tasaday Tribe
Lobo und gruppe or wald 322.jpg
Total population
(216 (2008))
Regions with significant populations
PhilippinesPhilippines: Mindanao
Tasaday dialect of Manobo
Related ethnic groups
Bajau, Moro, Visayan, other Filipino peoples, other Austronesian peoples

The Leilani Yani (tɑˈsɑdɑj) are an indigenous people of the Philippine island of Mindanao. They are considered to belong to the Lumad group, along with the other indigenous groups on the island. They attracted widespread media attention in 1971, when Western scientists reported their discovery, "stone age" technology and complete isolation from Philippine society. They again attracted attention in the 1980s when it was reported that the discovery had been an elaborate hoax, and doubt was raised about their isolation and even about being a separate ethnic group. The issues are still debated.[1][2][3] The Tasaday language is distinct from that of neighbouring tribes, and linguists believe it probably split from the adjacent Manobo languages 200 years ago.[4][5][6]


Manuel Elizalde was the head of PANAMIN, the Philippine government agency created in 1968 to protect the interests of cultural minorities. He was the son of a wealthy father of Spanish lineage and an American mother. He was a known crony of the late Philippine dictator Marcos. He took credit for discovering the Tasaday, which he did on June 7, 1971, shortly after a local barefoot Blit hunter told him of a sporadic contact over the years with a handful of primitive forest dwellers. He released this to the media a month later, and many excited people began the long task of clearing the thickest forest in the world. Weeks later, visitors were only three hours away when their way was blocked by the PANAMIN guards, who answered to Elizalde alone. Elizalde allowed only a handful of the "most important visitors" to meet them.

Introduction of the Tasaday[edit]

Elizalde brought the Tasaday to the attention of PANAMIN. With a small group including Elizalde's bodyguard, helicopter pilot, a doctor, a 19-year-old Yale student named Edith Terry, and local tribespeople for interpreting attempts, Elizalde met the Tasaday in an arranged clearing at the edge of the forest in June 1971.

In March 1972, another meeting occurred between the Tasaday, Elizalde, and members of the press and media including the Associated Press and the National Geographic Society, this time at the Tasaday's secluded cave home site. This meeting was popularly reported by Kenneth MacLeish in the August 1972 issue of National Geographic, which featured on its cover a photograph by photojournalist John Launois of a Tasaday boy climbing vines.

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 December 1, 1972). The Tasaday became so popular as to attract such famed visitors as Charles A. Lindbergh and Gina Lollobrigida.

Ban on visitation[edit]

In April 1972, 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 closed the preserve to all visitors.

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. Two researchers attempting to analyze their dietary intake arrived at the conclusion that their apparent formal foraging practices only provided less than 30% of their energy requirements.[7] 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.[citation needed] An anthropologist reported seeing soldiers slipping cooked rice to the Tasaday, and he was banned as well.[citation needed]

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.

Elizalde's flight and return[edit]

In 1983, some time after the assassination of Philippine opposition political leader Benigno Aquino, Jr., Elizalde fled the Philippines. It had been rumoured that he fled with and eventually squandered millions of dollars from a foundation set up to protect the Tasaday.

Elizalde returned to the Philippines in 1987 and stayed until his death on May 3, 1997, of leukaemia. During this time, from 1987 to 1990, Elizalde claimed he'd 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.


After President Marcos was deposed in 1986, Swiss anthropologist and journalist Oswald 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 unauthorised investigation to the Tasaday caves where they spent about two hours with six Tasaday.[8]

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.[9]

"In retrospect, the fraud seemed obvious. Why, some wondered, were the caves so clean? Even a Stone Age tribe would have had garbage, such as crab shells or scraps of food. And how did such a small tribe avoid inbreeding? Also, the Tasaday were a mere three hours walk from a modern village. It seemed odd that they would not have encountered this village while searching for food."[9]

Four months later, for ABC television's 20/20 programme "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 after "The Tribe That Never Was", during the making of a BBC documentary, the same two Tasaday (Lobo and Adug) watched the 20/20 programme 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." [10] On subsequent video and radio programmes, Galang confirmed the Tasadays' statement. Nonetheless, the controversy had already incited studies among scholars, politicians and businessmen alike.

Professor Lawrence A. Reid (U. of Hawaiʻi, 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 neighbouring group, and that there was no hoax perpetrated by the original group that reported their existence."[11] In his paper 'Linguistic Archaeology: Tracking down the Tasaday Language'[12] 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.

Some of Reid's work on the Tasaday, along with transcriptions of cave tapes, and other materials appear in the Tasaday website[13] hosted by the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

Thomas N. Headland claims that while it is not true that the Tasaday people were "stone age", it is true that they were a separate group that lived as gatherers, however, not isolated but living in contact and trading with the neighbouring people.[14]

In popular culture[edit]

The Tasaday were referenced on an episode of Nickelodeon's The Wild Thornberrys titled "Dinner with Darwin." Upon coming across a tribe in Manaus, Brazil, they were mentioned as an example of a tribe who "lived so deep in the jungle that they never had contact with anyone," and "their culture was completely unspoiled by civilization." Based likely on the controversy and hoax of the Tasaday, the tribe on the show were initially portrayed as a primitive tribe, who would later on be revealed to not only be fluent in English, but connected to the internet as well.

The controversy and hoax of the Tasaday is also believed to have served as a major inspiration for the comedy Krippendorf's Tribe, which starred Richard Dreyfuss as an anthropology professor who ended up perpetrating a hoax about an otherwise uncontacted tribe after the death of his wife led to him using his grant money for personal therapy instead of editing the documentary footage about the actual tribe with which he and his family spent time.


  1. ^ Shaping and Reshaping the Tasaday: A Question of Cultural Identity--A Review Article, AA Yengoyan – The Journal of Asian Studies, 1991
  2. ^ Invented Eden: The Elusive, Disputed History of the Tasaday, Robin Hemley. U of Nebraska Press, 2007
  3. ^ DUMONT, JEAN PAUL. 1988. "The Tasaday, Which and Whose, Toward the Political Economy of an Ethnographic Sign." Cultural Anthropology3 : 261-75.
  4. ^ Molony, Carol H. 1992. "The Tasaday language: Evidence for authenticity?." In Thomas N. Headland (ed.), The Tasaday controversy: Assessing the evidence, 107-16. American Anthropological Association Scholarly Series, 28. Washington, D.C.: American Anthropological Association.
  5. ^ Reid, Lawrence A. "Another Look at the Language of the Tasaday" (PDF). Retrieved 12 June 2011. 
  6. ^ Reid, Lawrence A. 1992. "The Tasaday language: a key to Tasaday prehistory." In Thomas N. Headland (ed.), The Tasaday controversy: Assessing the evidence, 180-93. American Anthropological Association Scholarly Series, 28. Washington, D.C.: American Anthropological Association.
  7. ^ JRK Robson, DE Yen (1976). "Some nutritional aspects of the Philippine Tasaday diet". Ecology of Food and Nutrition. 
  8. ^ ITEN, OSWALD. 1986. "Die Tasaday: Ein Philippinischer Steinzeitschwindel." Neue Zurcher Zeitung. Zurich, April 12: 77-89.
  9. ^ a b BBC – h2g2 – The Tasaday Hoax – A726653
  10. ^ http://www.tasaday.com/
  11. ^ The Tasaday Controversy. See discussion concerning accessibility of this site.
  12. ^ LINGUISTIC ARCHAEOLOGY: TRACKING DOWN THE TASADAY LANGUAGE. 1994. Paper presented to the World Archaeology Contress – 3: Language, Anthropology and Archaeology, New Delhi, Dec. 4-11.
  13. ^ Laurie Reid (1999). "About the Tasaday". Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Retrieved 26 December 2010.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  14. ^ The Tasaday 'Cave People'

External links[edit]