A revisionist look at the Tasaday people, “discovered” during the 1970s in a remote region of the Philippines and declared Stone Age survivors, but later dismissed as a hoax.
When government minister Manuel Elizade first heard of them in 1971, the Tasaday were a group of about 24 people living in Southern Mindanao’s caves and using stone tools. From approximately 1971 to 1982, Elizade permitted visits to the Tasaday by anthropologists and journalists, chief among them John Nance, whose book The Gentle Tasaday publicized this supposed “lost tribe” to Western readers. But after Elizade, a supporter of Ferdinand Marcos, closed the Tasaday reserve to outsiders and fled the country in 1983, rumors began to surface that the tribe had been hired by Elizade and Marcos to play a role, perhaps because the politicians wanted control of the timber on Tasaday land, or the great mineral wealth supposedly located within the tribal preserve. Allegations that Nance was linked to the hoax ruined his journalistic career. When Hemley (English/Univ. of Utah; Nora, 1998, etc.) arrived in Manila in 1999, he was fairly convinced that the Tasaday did not exist. After consulting with anthropologists and journalists who studied the tribe in the 1970s and eventually meeting some of the original members, however, he concluded that many of the original story’s discrepancies appeared to be the results of an overeager media, not of a sort of Piltdown fakery. Yes, the Tasaday had lived in caves in the rainforest and used stone tools; they became a media construct, a news story sought by an obsessed public, through no fault of their own. They remain impoverished today, but their numbers have increased due to intermarriage with a nearby tribe. Since Elizade’s death in 1997, the only member of the outside world they trust completely is John Nance, who has remained in contact.
A sobering look at the power of the media to transform the perception of a people, and a reminder that the truth is seldom simple. (8 pp. b&w photos, not seen)