What’s New with the Tasadays?

The controversial Tasadays lost their identity as a group because of fallacious media projection and faulty research.

Posted with other reports by Bulatlat

BAGUIO CITY ­– The controversial Tasadays lost their identity as a group because of fallacious media projection and faulty research.

This was the observation made by two anthropology professors from the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City in a recent forum at UP Baguio. The forum, “What’s New about the Tasaday? Implications for Practice in (Public Interest) Anthropology,” was sponsored by the Department of Social Anthropology and Psychology, UP Baguio College of Social Sciences and the Ugnayang Pang-Agham Tao, Inc.) (UGAT, Inc. or anthropology network, incorporated).

In the forum, UP Diliman professors Ponciano Binnagen and Israel Cabanilla, anthropologists and indigenous people’s rights advocates spoke of their 2003 visit to the controversial Tasaday cave to search for the truth of the Tasaday existence. The existence of the Tasadays has been the subject of heated debate for over 30 years.

The “noble savage” in the Space Age

In 1971, during the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos, Manuel “Manda” Elizalde — scion of a wealthy clan — claimed to have discovered a group of “Stone Age” people dwelling in a cave near Mt. Tasaday, South Cotabato, Mindanao. Elizalde virtually made a career out of exposing the “Paleolithic” ways of these people, untouched by “civilization” from the modernizing outside world.

Journalists from noted international publications like the National Geographic, Search, Science News and Asiaweek, Charles Lindbergh and actress Gina Lollobrigida, among others, intrigued and eager to witness the existence of the Tasadays, visited the cave site one after the other. However, in 1973, the area was sealed off to all intruders.

Elizalde left the country 13 years later, after the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship. He died in 1997.

Other journalists would since then see the Tasadays wearing modern clothes. This generated heated debate in academic and media circles, with some dismissing the Tasadays as a hoax and Elizalde as a fraud.

The Tasaday fraud made it to the London-based Guardian’s 10 great hoaxes of the century.

The UP Department of Anthropology and UGAT, Inc. stepped into the debate by organizing an international conference on the Tasaday case in August 1986.

Tasadays: then and now

In the next several years after that, every mention of the Tasadays would give rise to the question of whether or not they really exist.

Further studies proved the existence of the real Tasaday. In a review of Robin Hemley’s Invented Eden: The Elusive, Disputed History of the Tasaday (2003), writer James Paterson stated: “They are not a (Stone Age) tribe, but a remnant of a much larger group which at some point during the past centuries (not millennia) fled deeper into the forest to escape a measles epidemic that is still part of their folklore. In this way they became isolated long enough for their language to have acquired mutations and for them to have forgotten their farming habits and reverted to hunting-gathering.”

Binnagen and Cabanilla, together with National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) representatives, visited the Tasaday Cave in April 2003. On their way to the exact cave site, they encountered wet rice fields and Binnagen saw Manobo peasants. He asked if he could take pictures of them and just then, he learned that the farmers were actually Tasaday-Manobos — a first encounter, for him, with the real Tasadays.

Upon entry into the cave site, Cabanilla immediately observed that the previous depiction of Tasaday cave-dwelling was completely a hoax. “There should be proofs of death — skeletons of their ancestors; stone or metal tools they could have used and buried in the cave; and just by a single look, the cave could never allow survival for as short as one year,” he explained.

As he conducted preliminary exploration of the cave, which was never done before, he explained that it could only have been frequented but never inhabited for long. Food, water, sunlight, shelter and “the view” are some of the survival needs, he said.

The Tasaday cave has only a foot-high riverside that could never allow enough water animals for their food. It allows sunlight to get through for only eight hours at most. The cave’s mouth also provides little view of the surroundings, making it impossible for the dwellers to observe enemies or at least see the other caves. Lastly, the cave is too dusty — cement-like dust falls from the cave ceiling — to offer permanent living.

Binnagen and Cabanilla learned that the Tasaday people, who proudly call themselves as the Tasaday-Manobo-Blit group (some Tasadays married Manobos and Blits), are now struggling for self-determination and ancestral domain (29,247 has. of forest reserve that Marcos had set aside for them in Proclamation No. 995.)

“Despite the controversy they (Tasaday) faced, I think they are actually the victims, and the Tasaday are entitled to claim their rights to their own land and of course, real identity as indigenous peoples of Mindanao,” Binnagen asserted.

The logos-ethos from the Tasaday “hoax”

The controversy affected the Tasadays’ trust in people coming from the “outside. Binnagen said that some of the Tasadays were anxious that another team might come and “exploit” them by selling pictures of their “savage” ways of living. Cabanilla and Binnagen both assured the Tasaday people of the authenticity of their research – to help them claim their domain and identity.

Members of UGAT, Inc. emphasize the importance of practicing ethics in performing studies, research and enthnography on communities. Future anthropologists and archaeologists must ensure that a free prior and informed consent is issued to them before any conduct of study to avoid offending the community to be studied, they say.

“We actually require our members (UGAT, Inc.) and students to provide translation in the language of the community studied so the people themselves understand what their history, ethnicity and identity are about. It’s the least way a researcher can repay the people,” Binnagen said. Northern Dispatch / Posted with other reports by Bulatlat

(Bulatlat Editor’s Note: A former staff member of Elizalde who is now living in the United States, has confessed that the Tasaday “stone age” site was actually a monumental hoax.) (Bulatlat.com)

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