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On June 7, 1971, an exploration team led by Secretary Manuel Elizalde, Jr. was able to make an initial contact with an unknown Filipino people who inhabit a vast forested area in the rugged mountainous interior of South Cotabato province in Mindanao Philippines.

The discovery of these people is of great scientific interest, particularly to the studies of man’s cultural and technological development, for they are food gatherers whose own technology is still based upon the use of stone tools. Among the most fascinating discoveries about the Tasaday was that they still used stone tools, demonstrating their isolation. But are they real? Or are they a brilliantly sinister scheme by then Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and Sec. Manuel Elizalde Jr. to gain fame, and still timber and gold worth billions?

Manuel Elizalde Jr.,was a wealthy Harvard educated Filipino who perpetrated what may have been one of the biggest anthropological hoaxes in history. In 1971, Elizalde introduced the world to a tiny group of peace-loving, stone age food gatherers, isolated hundreds of years in a Philippine rainforest, that he claimed had no contact with Westerners.

Elizalde made contact with the Tasaday through a tribal frontiersman named Dafal, who reportedly had met them many years earlier on a hunting foray with his father into the deep interior of the forest. The forest was generally avoided by most tribes people who believed it was the domain of evil spirits and savage beasts. Dafal eventually brought the Tasaday bits of metal and cloth in return for a choice forest vine and for helping watch his traps.

Based on few hours of observations and working with interpreters, anthropologists concluded that the Tasaday are a real people who have been isolated geographically and culturally for around 2,000 years.

Though translators from nearby tribes who understood some of their unusual dialect, the Tasaday said the dense, uncharted forest and caves had been their home as far back in time as anyone knew.

Several Tasaday adults tied their hair back with vines to make pony tails, unloosed, it hung waist length. The tallest men stood about five feet tall, the women a bit less. Their dirt-smudged bodies were lean and they said their staple foods were yam-like roots,fruits, nuts, and small fish, crabs and tadpoles from the forest streams. The population numbered 7 men, 6 women, and 14 children (as of 1972).

During the crest of publicity in 1972, President Marcos declared about 19,000 hectares reserved for the Tasadays and subsequently imposed martial law on the Philippines. Under such political conditions, the Tasaday story was carefully orchestrated and diverse criticisms on their authenticity were ignored. No one had time to really do an exhaustive and scientific study on the Tasaday. But when Marcos was ousted in 1986, an opportunity was again provided to visit the fabled Tasaday. In April 1986, Swiss anthropologist and journalist Oswald Iten, accompanied by Joey Lozano, a journalist from South Cotabato, made the first unauthorized investigation to the Tasaday caves and found them deserted. What they documented was long-standing manipulation of the organization of Elizalde to the local Tboli and Manobo peoples who were first abused in 1971 to live in the caves in order to create a false image of cave-dwelling, stone-age people. Lozano knew people in the region never believed the Tasaday were authentic. One of his interviews reported that a Tboli tribesman maintained radio contact with Elizalde and transported rice and other foodstuffs for those posing as Tasaday.

Elizalde fled in 1983, the first of the Marcos cronies to leave the Philippines. Elizalde’s group indicated that millions from their treasury went with Elizalde. Elizalde ended up in Costa Rica, squandered all the money, got hooked on drugs, and died a destitute.

The Tasaday story is a hoax, but the indigenous people involved are real and their exploitation has become one of the reasons why indigenous people in the Philippines are now struggling to retain or regain their land, resources, and self-determination.

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