The Tasaday were a Stone Age cave dwelling people in the Philippines who were not aware of other people on the planet. 

After their discovery in 1971 they appeared in cover stories of the National Geographic Magazine and other publications. 

In 1986 Swiss journalist Oswald Iten exposed the story as a hoax perpetrated by a former Marcos minister. 

Instead of conceding to the findings, some media originally involved in describing the Tasaday as Stone Age immediately refuted the hoax facts and started a cover-up.


Tasaday posing at the caves in 1986 as they did in the 1970s. (photo by Oswald Iten) 

shortcut to the Tasaday


Oswald Iten

A Summary of what the Tasaday in the Philippines were in the 1970s, how the Stone Age hoax has been perpetrated – and most importantly how the cover-up was orchestrated thereafter


I.The Tasaday as portrayed in the 1970s


-  The „gentle Tasaday“ had no word for war or violence, were free of any aggressive behaviour.

-  Only 24 Tasaday lived in caves a Stone Age way of life, isolated for 10'000 years.

-  They slept on bare humid rocks.

-  The Tasaday had no myths, no rituals, no priests, no folklore --  had none of these attributes     that is inherent to any civilisation since 40'000 years ago. But they had one god: MDDT (Elizalde, the Marcos minister).

-  Their caves had no drawings or sings of longer use.

-  They were only gatherers, not hunters. Except for tadpoles they hunted for nothing, not for fish, not for game, did not plant anything 

-  They had no basketsor any container for storageor carrying. 

-  They had stone axeswhich were obviously made with metal tools and were useless after a few strokes. 

-  Women had to call men for helpany time they wished to climb up the caves. 

-  They didn’t know of the existence of other people. 

-  As food gatheres they never stumbled upon the village of Blit 2 ½ milesfrom the caves. 

-  Skeptic scientistsof the National University of the Philippines were prevented from visiting the Tasaday.


II.Arguments of the defenders of authenticity after exposure of the hoax in 1986


-  The main argument of scientists who were with the original Tasaday like behaviourist Eibl-Eibesfeld or ethnobotanist Douglas Yen was that it would have been completely unthinkable them being fooled. But none of them had produced a scientific study withstanding the most rudimentary standards. The ratio between visiting scientists and journalists or stars like Gina Lollobrigida and Charles Lindberg was 1:7. 

-  John Nance showed up at the caves in a helicopter shortly after the reporters of Stern Magazine had been kidnapped. The accopmpanying NBC film crew was presented with now 60 Tasaday individuals. As with the Stern reporters the Tasaday wore banana leaf brassieresand underwear.  

-  The increase from 24 to 60 individuals within a dozen years presented a true population growth miracle. This increase could not be explained by self growth. Therefore it was stipulated that the Manobo of Blit provided the Tasaday with women for marriage. If true this would have meant that women from a materially much higher standing would have given up their social standanding by marrying into a Stone Age society. This indeed would have consisted of a anthropolgical sensation unique in the history of mankind. 

-  John Nance was the most important source for the New York Times which defended the original story in three articles. I was not contacted for opinion or as a source. 

-  Elizaldereturned to the Philippines in 1988 after he was expelled from Costa Rica for sexual exploitation of minors. After he had fled the Philippines in 1983 he supported the campaign of Cory Aquino and so was able to return to his mansion in Manila after her victory. Corruption charges were dropped. He flew former Tasadays from Mindanao to Manila and presented them to film crews.


-  Topping the defenders of authenticity was the National Geographic Magazine with a one page 1970s photo in its centennary issue. The caption read „Recent claims of a hoax have been discredited.“


-  There were also more serious efforts to clear the Tasaday affair. Three international conferences were held, first in  Manila, then in Zagreb and finally the one in Washingtion organized by the American Anthropological Associationand headed by Thomas Headlandof the Summer Institute of Linguistics. In his book about the conference Headland summarized „The eight indisputable facts about the Tasaday“:



III.The eight indisputable facts about the Tasaday:


1.  When discovered the Tasaday didn’t wear loin clothes made from leaves but textile clothing.

2.  The Tasaday stood in traderelations with their neighbours.

3.  Neighbouring farmers regularly bought venisonfrom the Tasaday. Therefore the Tasaday could not have been pure gatherers but hunters as well.

4.  For pure food gatherers the forests of South Cotabato would not have provided for enough food. Rather their gathering territorywould have had to include a large area containing villages and towns, even an airport.

5.  No one has ever observed the Tasaday gathering food for a longer period. But it was hinted several times that the Tasaday were not eating wild yam only but rice as well.

6.  The bambooused by the Tasaday was not of a wild species but of a cultivatedvariety.

7.  The stone axeswere made with metal instruments and clearly unusable.

8.  The Tasaday had not a language of their own but rather a Manobo dialect.


Still not a hoax?


Despite Headland’s statement about the Tasaday speaking a Manobo dialect and not a separate language he still attributes them their own separate ethnic entity. The American Anthropological Association asked an expert panel to analyze the Tasaday question. A report has never been delivered.


Today the face saving mantra painted by the defenders of the original Tasaday story is:


Stone Age NO – separate ethnic group YES


The most interesting attempt of face saving was undertaken by Robin Hemley in his book Invented Eden. He did not negate facts which no longer could be ignored. But mind boggling he accused my interpreter to have falsely translated to me intentionally. That made me and him the real purpetrators of a hoax.

But interestingly he points to two ways of how matters could be settled once and for all:

1.  Linguist Lawrence Reid collected 50 hair samples for DNA analysis. That way the degrees of kinship relation between the Tasaday and the neighbouring Manobo could be clarified or even point to the degree of isolation from the Blit people. But the analysis led to inconclusive results, Hemley claimed.

2.  The offer of a group of archaeologiststo dig in the area of the caves was turned down. The analysis of the mittens could date the timespan of cave use. The truth is that there were no mittens ever described to exist at the caves.

The case could be settled indeed once and for all by


a) DNA testing by an independent scientific outfit

b) Allowing archeologists work at the cave site


Elizalde died in 1997 „after a long illness“. Among the pallbearers was John Nance. Nance himself died in 2010. Since then the activities of the defenders of the original story have phased out.

The Tasaday – A Stone Age Hoax


Paper presented to the 88th Annual Meeting

of the

American Anthropological Association

Washington,D.C., November 15-19,1989


With an appendix: What happened since the AAA meeting



Dr.Oswald Iten



1.What made me investigate the "Tasaday"?

In 1985 I prepared a report for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on the attitude of tribes of the Kalinga/Apayao province on Northern Luzon towards the New Peoples' Army. I remember, when I interviewed President Marcos' Foreign Press Secretary, that I felt that the protection of the "Tasaday" from intruders to be an example of positive action by that government. Never would I have dared to disturb the last two dozen Stone-age cavemen of the world.


Some months later I met the Catholic Bishop of Marbel, South Cotabato, Msgr. Dinualdo Gutiérrez. By chance, I mentioned the "Tasaday", which made Mgr.Gutiérrez laugh and exclaim: "Don't you know the story was faked? Some of my priests know the so-called `Tasaday' personally."


No, I did not believe the words of the Bishop. But when I later reviewed all publications on the subject, very little material of scientific substance had been published. One would have thought that the world's foremost Philippine specialists in the fields of anthropology and archaeology would have jumped at the opportunity to study the world's last Stone Age cavemen. But even those few scientists who went to see the "Tasaday" published very little in the scientific press. It seemed that many of them preferred

Tasaday_VMZ_2018 Bilder klein003jpegto

publish their findings in the mainstream media or PANAMIN publications. Also they accepted working conditions which were unprofessional and should not have been tolerated. It was also clear that most scientists were forced to compete with the endless clicking of photographers' cameras. When we now examine who spent how many days with the "Tasaday", the average number of days(*1) is very few. But even that leads to an overestimation of the real time spent by doing field work because the daily hours allowed to work with the "Tasaday" were usually limited. Six of the total of 12 scientists who visited the "Tasaday" were with them for four so called work days or less. And some stayed only for one or two days. In 1971 the press outnumbered the scientists 7 to 1, later generally by almost 4 to 1.


From the beginning the "Tasaday" were a media affair. Flocks of journalists courted Mr. Elizalde for the favour of a helicopter ride, seeming to leave their analytical mind behind, even as cries of hoax emanated loudly from the scientific community at large. NBC in exchange for $ 50,000 was rushed to the head of the documentary line. If one includes the myriad of visitors -- movie stars, VIP's, cronies and school children -- the ratio of scientists to other visitors is between 1 to 10 and 1 to 12.


Medical studies(*2) from different parts of the globe indicate that were the “Tasaday” really a people long isolated from the rest of the world, this overwhelming stream of visitors would have killed many of them off by exposing them to diseases they definitely would not have been immune to. This fact was a key ingredient to drop some of my scruples and visit them without government permission.


2. My visit at the caves

I chose the end of the 1986 election for my attempt to trespass into the Tasaday Manubo Special Reserve. That Marcos was deposed came as an unexpected surprise after my arrival in Manila. When I arrived in South Cotabato I was surprised that so many people openly expressed their opinion that the whole thing had been a hoax orchestrated by Elizalde. And some, like the Mayor of Surallah, claimed to have precise knowledge of how the affair was fabricated. On principle I ruled out sneaking in with some member of the old boys network, such as the hunter Dafal or Mayor Mai Tuan, for if the story of the "Tasaday" really was a hoax, I did not expect them to help me shed light on the affair. But I did seek assistance from the Passionist Fathers at Lake Sebu. Both Father Rex Mansmann and Father Sean McDonagh seemed annoyed by any inquiry into the "Tasaday" and both expressed their profound opposition to any such attempt. Fr. McDonagh told me that he considered the "Tasaday" to be a separate ethnic entity. Back in 1984 he wrote that he found "dubious claims that the famous Tasaday are in fact a separate group"(*3). I wondered why he changed his opinion. Was it sheer coincidence that after Elizalde had fled the country his Mission used the "Tasaday" in a successful 1984 grant application for USAID funding(*4)? Had the "Tasaday" become a convenient bit of PANAMIN's legacy which might now be used to trigger the imagination of American donors? USAID came up with 3/4 of a million dollars for the Santa Cruz Mission. During my stay at the Mission I learned that this organisation had become the most potent political and economic institution in the area, filling the power vacuum that was left when Elizalde fled the Philippines. In 1986 the Mission successfully ran its administrator for Mayor of Lake Sebu.


Finally I turned to the priests whom the Bishop had told me about a year earlier. One of them said he had occasionally seen some of the "Tasaday" when they came to the Lake Sebu market but that he had never actually visited their home. He put me in contact with some families where the "Tasaday" used to stay when in town. Two families, one Muslim and one T'boli, agreed to take me to the "Tasaday" houses. They said one could reach the "Tasaday" in just one day's walk. I could hardly believe this, since the earlier reports had led me believe that they must have lived in one of the most remote, inaccessible places in the entire  Philippine archipelago.


On Monday, March 17,1986 I set out on foot from Surallah, accompanied by a group of eight people. With me was a correspondent from the Bishop's weekly newspaper, Mr.Joey Lozano. Some Muslims and T'boli in our group served as guides and, most importantly, as safeguards with the armed bands controlling the area, such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. First, we crossed the hip-deep water of the Allah river. Then, we followed the valley of its tributary, the Lawa river. We spent the night in a farm belonging to Muslims. Early next morning we reached the compound of Datu Galang, an important T'boli chief, called a "Datu" (tribal authority). The Datu said he knew some of the so-called "Tasaday". In fact he said some were his relatives. But they did not live in caves, he said. Instead, they had been routinely instructed by Elizalde, Dafal and Mai Tuan to stay at nearby caves whenever foreigners came. As a reward Elizalde gave them rice and knives. The area where many "Tasaday" lived was not suitable for growing rice, so they eagerly accepted gifts of this unavailable or expensive commoditiy. Originally Elizalde had also urged him to participate in the cavemen group, Galang continued. Elizalde offered him Garand rifles if he would take part. Datu Galang said he could easily take us to his "Tasaday" relatives the next day, and he pointed to a mountain at about 10 kilometers away.


We started early the next morning with a group of Datu Galang's relatives, all of them with the long hairstyle typical of T'boli men. They served as hunters along the way, maintaining a lookout for tadpoles and wild fruit which, in fact, became a staple of our touring diet, as it had for the "Tasaday" in the early reports. The area was heavily sloped, dotted here and there with little gardens for the principal foods, corn and root crops. There was also forest, but most of it appeared to be secondary forest such as the kind that results from slash and burn agriculture, which the local T'boli and Manubo of the area practice. If there ever was a reservation established, it certainly did not result in protecting the forest. We came to “nipa” huts every few kilometers where we would stop so that our T'boli guides could chat with their T'boli and Manubo friends. In this area both ethnic groups routinely intermingle and intermarry.


After an easy four hour walk from Datu Galang's settlement -- Tobak -- we arrived unannounced and unexpected at the foot of Mount Tasaday. Galang led us straight to a nipa hut in which we made the acquaintance of Lobo, Lolo and Natek, three brothers whose faces were familiar to me from the countless photographs of past times. Their family was tending its own garden. The clothing of the three brothers, especially their shabby T-shirts, differed in no way from those of the other inhabitants of the area. They described themselves as T'boli and Manubo halfbreeds. Their father, Bilangan, so familiar from reports on the "Tasaday", is a first-degree cousin of Datu Galang. The three brothers recognized all of the people in all of the photographic reports from the early 1970's, pictures which they were seeing for the first time. Before their father arrived they did reveal that Elizalde, Dafal and Mai Tuan had instructed them to do lots of climbing around on jungle vines for the benefit of photographers.


When Bilangan joined us, he introduced himself as a "Tasaday" and answered our initial questions just as Elizalde would have wished. Only when he spotted Datu Galang did he drop his reserve. He knew nothing of the fate of Elizalde, who had fled in 1983 reportedly taking PANAMIN's millions with him. Nor was he aware of Marcos' downfall, which had occurred three weeks before our encounter. "We didn't live in the caves, only near them, until we met Elizalde," he told us. They also call the mountain Tasaday. The caves have ritual significance for them and they had tried to keep its existence secret. But hunter Dafal had revealed the existence of the caves to Elizalde.


"Elizalde forced us to live in those caves", Bilangan continued, "so we'd be called cavemen. Before that we wore regular clothing, though very shabby. Before Elizalde came I lived in a nipa hut on the other side of the mountain, and we did `kaingin' farming" (slash and burn agriculture).


Lolo, Lobo, Natek, Bilangan and Gintui, another former "Tasaday" who joined us, related how Elizalde had promised them a great deal of aid and wealth if they would remain in the caves. Before each visit from an outsider, Elizalde or his aides would fly out to the "Tasaday" to make sure that everything was as it should be. Datu Mafalu, a son of Datu Dudim of Blit (both described by Nance), also joined our group and detailed how he had sometimes maintained a radio transmitter in Blit for Elizalde. He also described how he was in charge of transporting rice and other foodstuffs to the "Tasaday". He said he was fully aware, from the beginning, that the whole thing was a swindle.


For years Elizalde was the mightyest man these people have ever met. He appeared as master over life and death. Even though Elizalde had not shown up for a number of years the "Tasaday" continued to live in fear of retaliation should they do anything contrary to his orders. The guards Elizalde left to prevent outsiders from sneaking in remained in place. "Kumander Machinegun", named after his weapon, was PANAMIN's chief guard. He did not withdraw from the Mount Tasaday area until Elizalde fled the country.


The following morning we walked for an hour until we reached the fabled caves. This stretch could still be called a tropical rain forest, the only one we had encountered on our journey so far. By now we must have been a company of nearly 30 people, since many people living nearby joined us. Most of the trail we walked along consisted of a small riverbed which passes just below the caves. For the short slope from the river up to the caves, our path had to be cleared with machetes because the trail up to the caves had obviously not been in use.


The caves themselves were completely abandoned. There were no middens, no hearths. The scaffolding of the lower cave, which had been constructed by the "Tasaday" in the 1970's -- after they could no longer bear to sleep on the humid rock -- was now rotten. With apparent delight Lobo climbed up a tree and into the middle cave, as he had done as a child for photographers 15 years earlier. The former "Tasaday" were pleased that our visit had broken the conspiracy of silence imposed by Elizalde, and that they would now be able to restore the caves to their original, ritual function. Bilangan explained that they believe that their ancestors originated in these caves. Therefore his people still present offerings to their forefathers before harvesting or hunting.


All the "Tasaday" agreed that Manda Elizalde had instructed them to call him MOMO DAKEL DIWATA TASADAY --"Great Man, God of the Tasaday". (This term was referred to so frequently by Nance that he coined the abbreviation MDDT for it.) A story from the legendary Mexican Quetzalcoatl was borrowed, to the effect that the "Tasaday" had a myth which prophesied the arrival of a foreign man who would bring them everything they needed...but only if they never left the caves. This was supposed to explain why the "Tasaday" had remained in their caves for centuries, though such unhealthy living quarters was thoroughly inconsistent with the humid climate of the area.


To reach the caves from the nearest major airport (Surallah) thus took about one and a half days of easy hiking. I wondered why no scientist had ever asked to do the same thing in order to know the neighbouring communities better. Obviously Elizalde did everything to prevent this, by claiming that the only means of access was the helicopter. This made it possible to conceal the "Tasaday's" real location and their proximity to other Manubo and T'boli swidden agriculturalists. If a scientist, even a fine ethnobotanist like Dr.Yen, had walked in, I am sure he would have realized that the presumed gatherers he was studying were inhabitants of an area populated by settlements, hamlets and even a town (Surallah) for their gathering spree. The only other possible explanation for their supposed ignorance of other men would have been that they walked around in tiny circles. Yen would have also found an explanation for his observation that a small child living on Mt.Tasaday would be familiar with the food rice without necessarily having seen an unthreshed rice stalk. The fact that the "Tasaday" were eating rice allegedly without having ever tasted it should have made him suspicious anyway. Tribal people in particular tend to be very reluctant to touch unfamiliar food. From my studies in the Sudan this poses problems even when feeding victims of starvation, as experienced by aid agencies operating in famine stricken areas all over the world.


If any of the researchers had used their good solid legs and common sense to walk to the caves, the results for Manda Elizalde would have been disastrous. That's why he prevented it. An armed attack on any adventurer was sure to occur along the way. A hiking scientist would have observed that the people of the general area were no different from the "Tasaday". The local tribesmen also had long hair, also knew how to utilize forest produce, also possessed tattered or little clothing. It really did not take a genius choreographer to stage the hoax: What it took was Elizalde's ability to be the almighty power in the area, to have a helicopter at his disposal as no one had before, to possess unlimited numbers of firearms (Elizalde's family was the Philippine licensee of Colt Firearms), to parcel out patronage and power to his loyal followers and gifts to his faithful subjects. This continues today. It was not a matter of paying actors for a role in a difficult-to-learn stone age play. It was a matter of having a few local tribesmen exchange their shabby clothes for orchid leaves, of making them sit around in caves, collect food in the forest as they normally would do anyhow and smuggle rice into the camp to fill their bellies. The individuals selected for this role did it with a gun to their head and rice at their mouth. They were not sneaky "impostors", they were helpless local tribesmen intimidated by Elizalde. The only trick in maintaining the fiction was to make sure that no scientist was able to investigate independently: This was accomplished by the helicopter shuttle service, the disturbing flow of journalists and hordes of other visitors, and by imposing fieldwork under highly controlled conditions. No language had to be invented and taught to 24 individuals; most of the translations were done by one person (a brother of co-organizer Mai Tuan), who could have been instructed not to use terms for agriculture, war or enemy and make sure that no experts with thorough knowledge of either T'boli or the local South Cotabato Manubo dialects investigated this supposed new language. When questions soon arose about the language the tapes were not made available to inquiring scientists, like Dr. Frank Lynch. To this day, John Nance and Manda Elizalde have failed to provide their tapes, and all but one of Dr. Carol Molony's tapes have gone astray.


The "Tasaday" I met were the poorest Filipinos I have ever encountered. Their area has been completely neglected by government and non-government agencies because the declaration of a Special Reserve had the net effect of sealing it off from all social services. There was no medical care, no schooling. Not even essential trade items were available. This lack of basic services and commodities struck the 24 "Tasaday" and other T'boli and Manubo of the area in the same manner. We payed our guides not in money but with salt, tobacco, rice, dried fish. When I hear cries that the destruction of the "Tasaday" myth will mean the destruction of the Special Reserve, I shed no tears. The Special Reserve sealed off an area with several thousand inhabitants without offering them the rewards of an undisturbed life. Instead the establishment of that Special Reserve made them exploitable by those controlling access to it.


3.The experience of Stern magazine

I had hardly arrived in Surallah when I learned that German reporters had also headed to the caves. They were working for Stern magazine, and neither of us had knowledge of the other. Walter Unger and Jay Ullal used Dafal their guide...a mistake they were to pay a high price for. Before taking off with the German reporters, Dafal went to "scout the path" for a remarkable six days, in order to -- as he claimed -- bring back a list of gifts the "Tasaday" expected from their visitors. Dafal lives about a day's march from those caves.


When the reporters reached the caves they met two "Tasaday" men and some women and children. The rest of the "Tasaday" were said to be "out hunting". Indeed Belayem didn't arrive until 48 hours later. This coincided with my own experience a week earlier, when the "Tasaday" said it would take two days to send for Belayem and bring him from his house to the caves.


The German reporters observed that some "Tasaday" were wearing colored underpants beneath their g-strings. In addition, some women had added orchid leaf brassieres to their stone age outfit. Finally, 49 "Tasaday" gathered at the caves -- probably everybody living nearby, since gifts could be expected. Among them were the five "Tasaday" men (and their wives) I had photographed a week earlier. Instead of wearing jeans and T-shirts as shown on my photographs they posed for Stern in their cavemen outfit. At night Unger and Ullal were left practically alone at the caves. When they asked where the "Tasaday" would go to spend the night, the explanation was familiar. Everyone including women and children were out hunting, it was explained. That stone-agers would hunt at night was indeed a new and unheard of aspect of paleolithic lifestyle.


Despite the nightly hunting sprees Unger and Ullal faced the problem that the "Tasaday" had no food at the caves. The "cavemen" had to rely on the reporters' provisions! So Dafal was sent away for more supplies. He never returned. Instead, some mysterious bandits led by a certain "Kumander Chris" appeared and took the Germans prisoner. Chris spoke the same language as the "Tasaday" quite fluently, as can be seen on the Stern videos. He released the Germans only after a hefty ransom had been paid. In their report(*6) Unger and Ullal leave no doubt that they considered the "Tasaday" myth a fraud, calling it a fairy tale and a stone age sideshow.


The Stern reporters experienced the first cover-up, a second hoax attempt which, in the absence of MDDT, had turned out to be even sillier than the original one.


4.Reaction of the exponents of the former media hype

Back in Switzerland I immediately phoned the National Geographic Magazine. Apart from the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, National Geographic was the only institution informed beforehand of my attempt to visit the "Tasaday". In December 1985, I personally informed the magazine about my suspicion of a hoax. Since this was considered highly speculative, I agreed to give them all the material from my trip no matter what the result would be. A representative of National Geographic expressed profound interest in the fate of the "Tasaday" since the magazine had unsuccessfully made several appeals to Elizalde to let its staffers return to the caves.


The next day I received a telegram stating that the National Geographic had no interest whatsoever in a follow-up story about the "Tasaday", nor did it want to look at any of my field material. A letter I sent to the Editor was never answered. Almost two years later the National Geographic finally did a follow-up of sorts in its centenary issue(*7), stating that recent reports of a hoax had been "discredited", however without specifying by what or by whom.


Reporter John Nance had spent more time with the "Tasaday" than any other foreigner. He identified himself completely with this story which, for many years, was the focus of his life work. Either Mr. Nance knew about the fraud or else he was simply not capable of grasping it. Neither conclusion is flattering. Hongkong based Asiaweek magazine lists him as its Oregon-based correspondent. Unlike the National Geographic, Asiaweek did want to see my material. It was never returned to me. Instead I received an invitation to contribute to their Letters-to-the-Editor section.


John Nance received his platform in Asiaweek(*8). Using a helicopter, as in the good old days, he returned to the "Tasaday" soon after the Stern reporters had had been kidnapped at the caves. He travelled in the company of Jack Reynolds, who had done the earlier 1973 film for NBC, and scientists Fernandez and Peralta, both veterans of the "Tasaday" affair. Carlos Fernandez had been PANAMIN's Director of Scientific Research starting in 1974. Once again the scientists' findings were published in the mainstream press rather than as scholarly papers. While we have to wait for Dr.Peralta's scientific findings of the 1970's we can read his conclusions of his l986 trip on several pages in a newspaper owned by Mr.Elizalde(*9). What we know about the conclusions of their 4-day 1986 cave-research we owe mainly to the Asiaweek report "Return to the Tasaday".


Nance's party found the "Tasaday" just about as Stern did: "Most were topless, although some ... covered their breasts with leaf brassieres and others uneasily crossed their arms over their chest." Since I had met them only weeks earlier in quite different apparel (of which Mr. Nance was not yet aware at his time of visit) Asiaweek's text later accounted for the embarrassing and bizarre photographs by explaining that the pseudo stone age outfit was worn "because they thought it pleased visitors and [would] thereby bring the Tasaday economic benefits." It seems the "Tasaday" did not want to please me.


In an interview with the New York Times(*10) Mr. Nance explains that the "Tasaday"s' recent preference for clothing was natural progress. "If leaves would be better, we'd all wear leaves." Fair enough a conclusion. But then, why did the many Blit women who, according to Nance, had married into the caves, forget about their clothes and start to wear leaves? Never short of an explanation Nance quotes a "Tasaday" woman: "Cloth is good, leaves are good. Both are good." When Mr.Nance told the "Tasaday" "that wearing clothes was perfectly agreeable" to his expedition the "Tasaday increasingly appeared in garments." But where did Nance's "Tasaday" store their textiles when not wearing them? There is no wardrobe storage visible either in Asiaweek's photos nor in Stern's. Were the garments stored on tree tops? Unfortunately Mr. Nance has not provided us with a plausible explanation.


Mr.Nance found the caves different from what I have witnessed shortly before: the scaffold-like furniture which I had found rotten was now newly manufactured. It seems that the "Tasaday" were preparing for a long, new siege at the caves and did not want to wait forever for a minimum standard of comfort. Also, recall: in the "Tasaday" reports from 1972, the women were observed having to pass their babies to the men when they wanted to climb into the upper cave, which then served as their main living quarters. For centuries the mothers must have gone through the trouble of calling someone else for assistance each time they desired to get to the upper cave. No steps were ever cut into the slippery rock. Later that same year, 1972, the "Tasaday" unexplainedly gave up living in their preferred upper cave and moved to the lower one. And even later the same year, this lower cave was oufitted with sleeping platforms and racks for drying wood, as in a local nipa hut.


If the "Tasaday" were authentic, as portrayed in the 1970's, they must have started to dislike this new comfort of sleeping on wooden platforms instead of bare rocks. That is the only plausible explanation since I did not find this furniture intact nor did Stern's reporters. Yet now, in the 1986 Asiaweek report, as he did in the 1970's, Mr.Nance found that the "lower cave, the inner chamber held latticed platforms for sleeping, racks for drying wood..."


However, one entirely new enlightenment struck Mr. Nance and his accompanying scientists on their 1986 trip: "The scientists also suggest that the caves may never have been permanent, year round shelter, contrary to previous reports." In an interview with a Philippine newspaper(*11), he also deprives us quietly of the stone age illusion: "They are real people but definitely not stone age." Nobody had ever claimed they were not real, flesh-and-blood human beings.


To get their heads out of the noose Nance, Reynolds and a good number of scientists fed increasingly weird explanations to an eagerly awaiting press...the same press that had already been taken in by the "Tasaday" masquerade years earlier. The most mindboggling explanation was the miraculous population boom the once near-extinct "Tasaday" had undergone between 1974 and 1986, as recounted in Asiaweek.


When last heard from in 1974 the "Tasaday" were said to have numbered 26 (sometimes 24 or 25). In Nance's latest account in Asiaweek, six had died, reducing the original population to a mere 20 – the resurgence to now over 60 a miracle of demographic viability. Now from his trip with scientists Peralta and Fernandez, Mr. Nance brings back news that 17 women and two men had immigrated to the caves from neighbouring Blit. This makes 39 "Tasaday". This influx took place mainly during the last five years, according to Nance. Yet now according to the scientists of the 1986 expedition the "Tasaday" numbered 61. We have to recall that this population explosion from 39 to 61 in just five years took place in the complete absence of any medical care, which -- if it were true -- would make it a unique phenomenon in demography.


A decade ago the "Tasaday" were said to have run out of wives because they had lost contact with two mysterious groups of fellow cave dwellers. Earlier, these phantom cave-people had always been kind enough to supply the "Tasaday" with a sufficient number of wives. No matter how far the "Tasaday" ventured into the forest, those two kind groups of women suppliers had vanished, so it was claimed in the 1970's.


But why venture so far if the settlement of Blit is only three walking hours away? Miraculously the "Tasaday" always seem to have missed that settlement when venturing around their forest patch to gather food and look for wives. When according to Nance (and Fernandez and Peralta) a contact with Blit was finally established, it remains unclear whether it was the "Tasaday" who stumbled onto the Blit Manubo or vice versa. Nance remains uncommitted on this issue. Within the same article(*12) we read that the "Tasaday" saved the clothing "for visits to the Manubo Blit, where the men had courted women and now visited their in-laws." Further Nance quotes Belayem, now at Blit, as saying: "This is the largest number of Tasaday ever to come out here together. `We have not met some of our in-laws yet.'"


If the story of the miraculous multiplication of the "Tasaday" were true and the old "Tasaday" concept authentic, it would make the Blit Manubo --not the "Tasaday"-- an extraordinary subject of studying basic human behaviour. For as a general rule everywhere in the world women tend to marry into a socially equal or advanced status, possibly forwarding material benefits to their families which they have to leave. But at Blit the opposite holds true. Girls in large numbers decided to marry into an unfamiliar tribe of cave dwellers trading their better balanced diet of agriculturalists and animal breeders for the foraging of simple gatherers. The Blit men for their part did not seem to mind the exodus of their daughters and potential brides to unknown forest people with whom they cannot even negotiate any form of compensation for the loss of wives and manpower. Above all the Manubo are polygamous and absorb any "surplus" of women should one occur. This marriage pattern is rather reasonable proof that the "Tasaday" are not a different tribe from the Manubo.


Are these the kind of facts that made the National Geographic magazine declare that the hoax reports had been "discredited"? The Nance/Asiaweek report is a mere cover-up which attempts to portray the "Tasaday" as a separate tribe (though now stripped of their original stone age, caveman status) which had grown accultured to their neighbours in the meantime due to the on-slaught of progress. Such stunning impossibilities contradict common sense and the experience of anthropological sciences. They form a sad last line of defence on the part of these scientists who even now claim the "Tasaday" speak a separate language...a thesis supported by questionable scientific standards.


The arguments used in the 1986 cover-up attempt have added important knowledge about the "Tasaday". It is wishful thinking for the advocates of authenticity to now claim the original literature stands until refuted by new research. Surely they know exactly that independent and extensive new research cannot be carried out in the violent atmosphere created by Manda Elizalde and his local warlords. And if new results are reported which contradict the original "Tasaday" story, will those people now say: the situation of the 1970's cannot be recalled in 1989. One is sadly reminded of scientists, publishers and reporters who prefer to have Carlos Castañeda's Don Juan continue living, rather than abandon the fiction of years past(*13).




5.The reaction of the US print media

Whereas in Europe, news of recent "Tasaday" developments was accepted and reported fairly and honestly (even by papers which had run "stone age" stories in the 1970's), most US publications which had reported the old "Tasaday" version kept quiet, did not mention the recent developments at all. The only large magazine which did an article on the recent claims of a hoax was Newsweek, "Back from the Stone Age?"(*14). At least Newsweek gave its readers a summary of the hoax claims, softening the blow with the statement that "confirming them will be difficult." Later, the Wall Street Journal published an article on the findings of the first "Tasaday" Symposium at the University of the Philippines and the tangled business interests of the Elizalde family(*15).


Other major publications decided to actively uphold the old story, as did the National Geographic magazine. A more active role was taken by the New York Times which in the early 1970's had run an extensive article in its magazine. Then came the 1986 hoax revelations. The first of three articles in the New York Times (*16) fully sided with Nance, Dr.Peralta and Mr.Fernandez. It relied solely on them for quotations. By calling the "Tasaday" "a textbook case of change" correspondent Seth Mydans fully subscribed to the fantasy explanations put forth in Asiaweek. Mydans never once bothered to go to Mindanao. The uncritical attitude of this correspondent was maintained by two later articles(*17). The third article is a masterpiece of journalistic sloth. Mydans interviewed Dul in Elizalde's mansion after she had been plucked from the mountains and brought to Manila to help shore up the old story (and participate in legal proceedings outside her frame of cultural reference). Not once did Mydans ever mention the many reports in the Philippine press referring to the coercion and violence surrounding the "Tasaday's" different trips to Manila, including reports that the tribesmen were being held forcefully in Elizalde's custody. A complete black-out was imposed by the New York Times on the statements of the Anthropology Department of the University of the Philippines. Nor did Mydans report other critical voices. Of the slew of critical letters sent to the New York Times Editor, only one was ever published, and then it, too, was refuted by two advocates of authenticity (including yet another statement by Nance, who already enjoyed his information monopoly in Mydans' earlier articles)(*18).


At least Clayton Jones of the Christian Science Monitor(*19) went to Mindanao. Jones recalled a tribal exhibit he had visited in Lake Sebu where "the [Santa Cruz] Mission staff had invited the Tasaday to help them show the world they are real" by having them sit in a "cave, constructed of crumpled gray paper and decorated with forest vines", where "they appeared to be right at home, like the bears in the San Diego Zoo." Jones was revolted. Yet not many weeks later, he, too, interviewed the "Tasaday" in Elizalde's living room/roller skating rink. And, predictably, they towed the Elizalde/Nance line. Did they have any choice?


Articles like these are particularly frightening because they fully encourage Mr. Elizalde to reinforce his pressure on critics in the Philippines.


When all is said and done, not one US paper found the case worthwhile investigating extensively and independently. Apart from Jones, none took the trouble to go to South Cotabato to do original research.



6.Television documentaries

The "Tasaday" case got more attention from broadcasters than from the printed press. In contrast to NBC's defensive report described earlier, there was ABC"20/20's research and film expedition in Mindanao. That team remains, thus, the only TV crew which cared enough about the story to walk into the area and form its own opinion by actually living with the people in question, their friends, relatives and neighbors.


ABC’s "Tribe that never was" (*20), was follwed by Britain's Central Television which spent many months researching PANAMIN and the "Tasaday" story in Mindanao and other areas of the Philippines and then reported first-hand from the "Tasaday" area. Their interviews with the "Tasaday" were gripping.


Later the BBC did an armchair job without going to Mindanao at all. Their report reviewed the issues put forward by the, by then, well-known "pro" and "anti" exponents. Subtly following the line of other advocates of authenticity, the BBC's story started from the wrong assumption. It asked whether the "Tasaday were able to pull off the most elaborate hoax in history of anthropology". None of us who doubt the original "Tasaday" story ever claimed that; it was Elizalde who pulled it off, and it was all too easy to do. Like all other advocates of the original story, BBC's inexperienced producer refused to discuss the improbabilities or acts of violence which had surfaced during the cover-up operations. To strengthen the arguments of authenticity the BBC resorted to almost "Freudian" methods of the unconsciousness when it bestowed one scientist with a PhD who in fact had none while depriving an opposing journalist of his rightful academic title. The conclusion of BBC's Horizon piece (that each journalist found the "Tasaday" as he wished to find them) does not withhold even superficial scrutiny. It may apply to my own journey; after walking to the caves and meeting their neighbours I certainly did not expect to see the "Tasaday" differently from how I finally found them. But the Stern reporters expected to find the "Tasaday" in jeans and T-shirts, not orchid leaves and G-strings. Then, Nance together with with Mr.Fernandez and Dr.Peralta met them in two different wardrobes...


7.The Philippine press

Hundreds of articles on the "Tasaday" appeared in Philippine newspapers. Then, all of a sudden, arguments advocating the hoax claims practically vanished. What happened? Manda Elizalde Jr. had returned to his home country. In 1986 he had been forced to leave Costa Rica subsequent to claims by the Arias government that he had been corrupting minor girls and engaging in prostitution rackets(*21). He fled to Miami, but his US visa was not extended beyond Feb.1987. Now back home in the Philippines, the new government dropped all charges of graft and corruption against Elizalde. After he had fled the Philippines in 1983, his family had become one of the early financial supporters of the Aquino campaign.


Over night, hoax claims became very dangerous.  Mr. Elizer Bon, a "Tasaday" relative who testified before the 1986 symposium in Manila, was murdered in cold blood. My colleague, reporter Joey Lozano, narrowly escaped a murder attempt by a sharpshooter from the Philippine Constabulary who recently confessed to the crime while under the influence of alcohol. Who hired this law enforcement official to kill a man he didn't even know?


To silence his toughest opponents, Mr.Elizalde launched the largest libel suit in Philippine history against the Philippine Daily Inquirer-- which had done the most vigorous reporting on the "Tasaday" scandal -- and against Prof.Jerome Bailen and Prof.Zeus Salazar of the University of the Philippines. Plaincloth goons began harassing and intimidating those scholars. The net result was to inhibit a key dissenting scientist who had done field work in the 1970's -- Dr.David Barradas, a PhD from the University of Chicago -- from publicly discussing any further his conviction that the original story was absurd.


In the mountains of South Cotabato armed men convinced everybody who had made a "wrong" statement to recant. One of Datu Galang's brothers was shot dead. Shortly after the Datu had urged solidarity at a public meeting of 5000 people in Surallah to stop the "Tasaday" affair, he appeared in Manila recanting. Supervised by Elizalde's cohorts, he was a victim deprived of his freedom, fed helplessly to a steady stream of selected American journalists. That abusive practise continues to this very day (1986). Certain "Tasaday", too, are routinely flown to Manila by Elizalde and his warlord. They, too, are routinely fed to American reporters. And none of those journalists use the opportunity to conduct any of the "Tasaday" interviews privately with an independant speaker of T'boli or Manubo. Recently, uncritical journalists have been provided opportunities for safe visits at the caves where they were expected by former "Tasaday", this time dressed like anybody else in the area, after the mock stone age outfit has been ridiculed. Most of the tribesmen of "Tasaday" fame appear to be settled now in nipa huts at one hour's distance from the caves in order to facilitate more frequent visits by sympathetic press men.


Yet while Manuel Elizalde silences the Philippine press by means of libel suits, he has recently started a PR offensive in the US. He hired a firm which tried to harass ABC's Tom Jarriel into reconsidering its earlier "20/20" report. An employee of that PR company was sent to lunch with some National Geographic staffers in order to convince them to do another major story.


From our safe AAA podium here in Washington we must not forget that to some of our colleagues in the journalistic and scientific profession -- not to mention the tribesmen who have to continue to live as "Tasaday" -- the affair has not only academic face-saving importance. It has become, for some a matter of life or death.





*1.   Compiled from: Nance,John, The Gentle Tasaday, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, New York 1975.

*2.   Some examples: "Aspects of infection in isolated communities", by D.A.J.Tyrrell, Clinical Research Centre, Harrow, Middlesex. "Health and disease in unaccultured Amerindian populations", by James V.Neel, Dept.of Human Genetics, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor. "Health and Disease in Tribal Societies", Excerpta Medica, New York, 1979, "Health Care of Australian Aborigines with no previous European contact", by D.J.Scrimgeour, Pintupi Homeland Services, Alice Springs.

*3.   To Care for the Earth, Claretian Publications, Quezon City, 1984.

*4.   Application dated February 27, 1984.

*6.   "The Great Bluff in the Rain Forest", Stern,

April 17, 1986.

*7.   September, 1988, p.304.

*8.   June 15,1986.

*9.   Manila Standard, Nov.21,1988.

*10.  May 13,1986.

*11.  Malaya, May 6,1986.

*12.  quotes from Asiaweek, June 15,1986.

*13.  De Mille,Richard, The Don Juan Papers, Ross-Erikson    Publishers, Santa Barbara, CA, l980.

*14.  April 28, 1986.

*15.  "Tangled Tale: Saga of a `Lost' Tribe in the Philippines Is Illustrative of the Dark Side of the Marcos Era", September 15,1986.

*16.  "The Tasday Revisited: a Hoax or Social Change at Work?", May 13, 1986.

*17.  "In Mindanao, Ancient Tribe or 70's Hoax?", December 7,1986, and "From Forest to Manila, Stranger in a Strange Land", December 27,1986.

*18.  January 30,1988.

*19.  "Tales from the Philipine Woods", January magazine, 1989.

*20.  August 14,1986.

*21.   "Ministerio Publico actuar en caso Elizalde", La Nación, San José, September 3,l986. "Piden a Arias decidir contratación de mujeres", La Nación, September 18,1986. "Caso Elizalde", La Nación, September 19,1986. "Elizalde wants to come back; Calderon sues", Tico Times, September 19,1986.



Appendix: What happened since the AAA meeting:


Among the many attempts to secure as much of the old stories as possible the most interesting was a book titled “Invented Eden – The Elusive, Disputed History of the Tasaday” by Robert Hemley(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2003). Hemley found aerial photographs taken in the 1950s showing houses close to the later “Tasaday” caves signifying that there was agricultural activity long before the story of the completely isolated pure foragers appeared in the 1970s. Despite this and mentioning other facts contradicting the original story Hemley purported the hypothesis that Joey Lozano had an agenda with fabricated translations to mislead me into believing the “Tasaday” being a hoax. His conclusion was that it was the other way round, that the original story of the “Tasaday” was not a hoax, but it was Joey Lozano (and ergo me) who “hoaxed the hoax”.


Hemley went to visit the “Tasaday” area in the company of linguist Lawrence Reid, among others. He describes how they applied for a research grant to the National Geographic Society but their application was turned down. Instead they received funds from Elizalde (he died in 1997) and his “Tasaday Community Development Foundation”. Reid and Carol Molony, the linguist who spent some days with the “Tasaday” in the 1970s, put a lot of efforts into defending the hypothesis that the “Tasaday” were a separate ethnic group distinct from the Manobo of the area. However according to their elaboration the idea of the “Tasaday” as a Stone Age group isolated for 10’000 years had to be relinquished. By the time they narrowed the time of isolation first to 800 years and then to about 150 years. During this now relatively short period the “Tasaday” forgot that cultivated foods exist or had no myth about the exodus from their Manobo group. No comparative linguistic research has been done between the “Tasaday” and the Manobo of Blit, two and a half miles apart.


The one linguist who is a real Manobo specialist, Summer Institute od Linguistics missionary Clay Johnston, living ten years among them and who had declared that the “Tasaday” spoke “clearly the same language as the Cotabato Manobo” has never again voiced his opinion. Instead, Molony and the ethnobotanist Douglas Yen continue unabated their original position of the 1970s. A good example is the 1993 film “The lost tribe” for Nova TV, produced by Bettina Lerner, a declared friend of Molony and Yen.


The defenders have receded to the position of “ok, no stone age, but yes, a distinct ethnic entity”. The aim is to leave a tiny little face saving for the original advocates of the “Tasaday” story.


Of course there would be simple means to settle the “controversy” once and for all. Hemley describes how hair samples from about 50 different individuals were collected for DNA analysis by Lawrence Reid. Thus the genealogical and kinship relations between the “Tasaday” and their neighbours might be defined.  Strangely according to Hemley and Reid no conclusion was possible. Mind you if the “Tasaday” would have lived in isolation for along time their DNA would have been of more interest to research than the ones of Icelanders are. A mystery would be their survival from imported diseases since their “discovery”. One shouldn’t bother tribal people with the extraction of DNA, goes the argument of the “authenticity” purveyors. But to fly so called “Tasaday” to Manila for exposition to Elizalde and the press seems ok.


Some archaeologists have suggested to dig at the caves as to solve the question “in a matter of hours” by scientifically inspecting any mittens should there be some. They were prevented from executing any research.


The American Anthropological Association set up an investigative commission but this body never released a report.


The National Geographic Society seems to prefer to delete any memory of their their Stone Age stain. Type “Tasaday” into the search window on its homepage and up pops “0 Results found for Tasaday”.





Oswald Iten, Swiss, did his PhD in economics at the University of Zürich with a thesis related to economic anthropology ("Economic Pressures on Traditional Society, a case study of Southeastern Nuba economy in modern Sudan", European University Papers, Peter Lang Publishers, Bern, Frankfurt, Las Vegas, l979).




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