While the above is a plausible but still hypothetical description of
Tasaday history, there are some facts that have recently emerged
concerning the pre-1970 Tasaday that indicate that the journalists, if
not the early scientists, exaggerated the "primitiveness"
of the Tasaday and led the public to assume that they were more isolated
than they actually were. These eight facts, which no anthropologist
disputes, are listed below. Explanation and documentation for these may
be found in the 1991 volume by Headland that is listed in the
bibliography at the end of this article.
The Tasaday were not wearing leaves
when discovered in 1971, as the public was led to believe. They were
wearing commercial cloth. They were asked at that time by Elizalde to
discard their cloth and to "wear their traditional"
coverings. Thereafter, published films and photographs always showed
them either naked or wearing orchid leaves.
The Tasaday had trade goods
before they were discovered in 1971; they were not isolated, out of
contact with the modern world, or Paleolithic. Besides cloth, they
had, for example, brass, metal-tipped arrows, bows made from
cultivated (not wild) bamboo, iron bush knives, imported baskets,
glass beads, and tin cans.
Farming peoples in nearby towns were eating meat from wild game that
had been killed and smoke-dried by Tasaday
before 1971. This was probably an important trade item the Tasaday
exchanged for the goods above. Wild meat is a main trade product
exchanged for cultivated foods by tropical forest hunter-gatherers all
over the world.
The South Cotabato rain forest lacks sufficient wild plant foods to
sustain a pure foraging group.
The evidence is strong for this. Although the Tasaday ate wild
fruits, roots, palm pith, etc., these are so widely scattered and
difficult to harvest that foragers could not depend on such resources
to provide adequate carbohydrate needs unless they also had access to
some cultivated starch foods.
No one ever observed the Tasaday subsisting on wild foods.
It was assumed a priori that their diet was based solely on
nondomestic foods, and the original dozen scientists never learned
otherwise during their fieldwork periods there in the 1970s. But from
June 1971 they ate rice, often two and sometimes three times per day,
during the periods when the scientists were there. What is significant
is that the rice was often given to them secretly by the PANAMIN
staff. The scientists, not knowing this, thought the Tasaday were
fulfilling their nutritional needs from wild foods. It was not until
later that a few of them discovered that rice was being smuggled to
The Tasaday stone tools displayed in Manila and shown in photographs
were not genuine tools.
The Tasaday were said to have had three simple stone tools in 1971,
but these were reportedly taken to Manila by Elizalde, where they
strangely disappeared. They were never photographed, and no one has
seen them since. The stone tools subsequently published in photographs
and displayed in the PANAMIN Museum in Manila were made by Manobo
Tasaday at the request of PANAMIN personnel for the benefit of
newspaper correspondents. The Tasaday may have used some stone in
their technology, but they did not use stone tools in the
sophisticated way that humans did during the Upper Paleolithic period.
The Tasaday do not speak a separate language or an unintelligible
They speak a dialect of the nearby Cotabato Manobo language. About 85
percent of Tasaday words are identical to Manobo. The percentage of
shared cognates would, of course, be much higher. In 1989, Tasaday
conversations tape-recorded in 1972 were played by linguist Clay
Johnston in several Manobo villages. The Manobo had no trouble
understanding them, although they did notice that the
"tune" (i.e., the accent) was different. It is important
to note, however, that all the linguists who reviewed the Tasaday
language data agree that the Tasaday speak a separate dialect of
Manobo. Their speech is not identical with Manobo speech. This
suggests that the Tasaday have lived geographically separate from
Manobo people for at least 100 to 150 years. The Tasaday speak a
dialect of Cotabato Manobo, one of more than twenty languages making
up the Manobo Subgroup of the Southern Philippine Austronesian
The bamboo in which the Tasaday cooked their food was cultivated
spp.), not wild bamboo. This bamboo could not have come from the rain
forest. They either planted it themselves or got it from Manobo
farmers. Since the Tasaday were using a cultivar for their cooking
vessels, they could not have been as ignorant of agriculture as was
The above eight points do not prove that the Tasaday were "a
hoax"; in fact, the linguistic data (point 7) support the no-hoax
theory. These points do indicate that they were not as isolated and
"primitive" as first reported. The media circus
surrounding the story was more the fault of the news reporters and
PANAMIN officials than that of the original dozen scientists, who were
much more conservative in their analyses. Discoveries of lost Stone-Age
cavemen make for great press coverage, but poor science.