The Great Tasaday Cave Dweller Hoax?

In 1971 a small group of people were discovered deep in the rain forest of Mindanao, the Philippines. They were living in caves and wore little or no covering. They were said to be gentile and “unaware that there were other people on the planet.”

Manuel Elizalde was the Special Assistant for Oversight of Minorities and a key figure in the firestorm surrounding the cave people and the one who took charge of this group of 26 to “protect them.” National Geographic published several articles about the group. And celebrities such as Charles Lindberg and Gina Lollobrigida visited the tribe by helicopter at a clearing in the jungle. Click image.

Anthropologists early on believed these cave dwellers lived here for thousands of years. They did, at times, live in these caves. They made fire. And when Elizalde first introduced them to anthropologists and scientists the cave dwellers used “stone axes, wore tiny G-strings, and ate only wild foods that they found in their forest abode–roots, wild bananas, grubs, berries, and crabs and frogs fished by hand from small streams.”

Elizalde set up a camp near the caves with a crew of 41 to observe the cave people. Independent scientists and anthropologists were not allowed in. A group of selected scientists were allowed to visit for a few days and then make their reports.

President Ferdinand Marcos closed the site to outsiders on December 16, 1972. After the fall of Marcos in 1986, journalists “slipped into the area. They found the Tasaday living in regular houses in the area, wearing western clothes, and tending gardens just like those of other Manobo people in the southern Philippines,” (Headland)

ABC’s 20/20 “exposed the hoax in ‘The Tribe That Never Was’.” Producer Judith Moses said that the Tasaday were warned when visitors were coming so they could pretend to be primitive. The Tasaday controversy continues, using the same facts but not necessarily arriving at the same conclusion.

Professor Headland provides “Eight Little-Known Facts” about the controversy. See the complete list by clicking on streams above:

“Since the Tasaday had trade goods (cloth, brass, iron tools, glass beads, tin cans, etc) before they were ‘discovered,’ they couldn’t have been isolated. The public was told that they wore only leaves, and all the published photographs showed them dressed that way; but that was because Elizalde asked them to switch from cloth to leaves when he contacted them. Anthropologists also now know that the axes were fakes, made up on the spot solely for impressing the visiting journalists…if they had been out of contact with other people for hundreds of years, they would speak a separate language. But the fact is, they speak the same language (called Manobo) as that of thousands of other farmers living in southern Mindanao, with only minor dialect differences.”

Professor Headland’s conclusions:

“While there are still some uncertainties about just how the Tasaday lived before they were ‘discovered’ in 1971, we may at least conclude today that these 26 people were neither uncontacted Stone-Age cave dwellers nor farmers brought into the forest and paid to imitate a crude lifestyle of archaic prehistoric man.

“The evidence we have [in 1993] suggests that the Tasaday were a group of hunter-gatherers. But rather than being ultra-primitives, they lived the first half of the twentieth century much like other hunter-gatherer groups in Southeast Asia.

The Tasaday did live separate-but neither alone nor isolated–from Manobo farming groups. They visited and traded with outsiders, and especially  with the farmers living in the village just two-and-a-half miles from the Tasaday cave. And they were once farmers themselves, a century ago, descendants of Manobo farmers who separated from an agricultural village sometime in the 19th century, and moved deeper into the rain forest near where they live today.

It just may be that Manuel Elizalde could have seized the opportunity to  use  the Tasaday  for his benefit.






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