The Tasaday, last tribes of Mindanao

The Tasaday were purportedly a Stone Age tribe whose isolation in the mountains of South Cotabato in the Philippines has preserved their culture and way of life for over 2,000 years until their discovery in June 1971. Upon first contact, dozens of anthropologists and news teams descended upon the area, eager to report on "the anthropological event of the century".

"Contact" involved a single tribe of 7 men, 6 women and 14 children. They lived in caves, used crude stone tools, and subsisted on a diet of gabi, fruits, nuts, small fish and crabs. National Geographic filmed a documentary, The Last Tribes of Mindanao in January 1972, screened by CBS. The news crews communicated with the Tasaday via local interpreters.

All of this was coordinated by then-Secretary Manuel Elizalde, Jr. under the Marcos administration. Due to Marcos' declaration of martial law in September 1972, contact with the Tasaday was only possible through Secretary Elizalde and his PANAMIN foundation. A US branch of the PANAMIN foundation was set up, accepting donations and grants for further study into the tribe.

The biggest anthropological fraud since the Piltdown Man

Due to the Marcos regime's military hold on the country and Elizalde's strict control over who would be allowed to enter and exit the area, only a limited number of anthropologists had actual contact with the tribe. Actual observations only totaled a few hours, most of them from the National Geographic study. All other data was provided by Elizalde's PANAMIN personnel. Marcos also declared 19,000 hectares of land reserved as the "tribal lands" of the Tasaday people.

The EDSA revolution in 1986 and Marcos' subsequent exile opened the way for a deeper investigation into the matter. What then surfaced was a massive hoax, perpetrated by the Harvard-educated Elizalde with the tacit support of then-President Marcos.

Several investigations, most notably those of Swiss anthropologist Oswald Iten and South Cotabato journalist Joey Lozano, found the Tasaday caves deserted for years. They found that PANAMIN had abused local T'boli and Manobo tribesmen, ejected them from their villages, and forced them to live in caves to pose as the "Tasaday" for foreign anthropologists. Elizalde had promised them a monthly stipend and protection from local Muslim and tribal insurgents, as well as from harrassment by military and local militia. All the "interpreters" provided by PANAMIN were actually speaking T'boli or Manobo, depending on which cave they were visiting at the time. No local anthropologists (who might have understood these languages) had ever been allowed near the Tasaday before.

Elizalde had fled the country in 1983, after the Aquino assassination, when it first became clear that public sentiment was turning against the Marcos regime. With him went millions of dollars of PANAMIN money, and his foundation was left bankrupt. Elizalde blew all his money on wine, women and drugs; he died, addicted and penniless, in Costa Rica.

More damaging to the T'boli and Manobo, however, was the declaration of 19,000 hectares of "Tasaday tribal land", land that formerly belonged to these tribes (as well as several legal landowners in the vicinity). Elizalde had also run a massive logging operation, ruining large patches of the rainforest, while keeping both foreign and local environmental activists out, ironically, in the name of "preserving the Tasaday way of life".

Info taken from, as well as from what I could remember from local newscasts and exposes (GMA-7's Probe Team).

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