The Tasaday Tribe: Real or Fake?
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Welcome to my page devoted to the Tasaday Tribe and the media concern for the rtibe in the early 1980's. The question arose whether the tribe was real or whether they were a hoax and in my paper, I discuss both sides of the issue. My name is James Arnold and I am a senior at The Citadel. I wrote this paper in my Anthropology 201 class. Check it out, it has a lot of pertinent information.
The Tasaday Tribe: Real or Hoax?
The Tasaday are a tribe of people that live in the Mindanao rain forest of the Philippines. These people were believed to have lived the lives of cavemen, unaware of the surrounding world. They first came in contact with other civilizations in the 1960s when the Panamin Corporation was harvesting trees in the Mindanao rain forest. Soon thereafter in the early 1970's ABC correspondent Jack Reynolds brought the Tasaday to the world in their first ever nationally aired interview on ABC News. This tribe was perhaps one of the greatest anthropological findings of the century and thus was hounded by the media and other well-known anthropologists. Ethno-botanist Douglas Yen, Linguistics Anthropologist Carol Malony, and Father Sean McDonaugh took great honor in studying the newly discovered tribe. Anthropologists Zeus Salazar, Gerald Berraman, Alan Barnard and British journalist Oswald Iten challenged the media by saying that the tribe was a fake and they were just putting on a show for the media. Ethnologist Thomas Headland edited a book that combined all the arguments and made a central decision of whether the Tasaday were a real discovered tribe. Ethno-botanist Douglas Yen was a strong believer that the Tasaday were a Stone Age tribe because he lived with them for one month and found that they lived like they were in the Stone Age and that their diet consisted of relatively low carbohydrates and proteins. His job is studying the ways different cultures utilize plants. Yen also found that the Tasaday had the village of Blit to its east which was inhabited by the Manobo tribe and the T'boli tribe to its west. Both villages were under three hours away by walking.
Linguistics Anthropologist Carol Malony studied the Tasaday language to see if they were related to any other languages. Their language was found to be 80% similar to the Manobo language. This means either there was contact between these two tribes or that they existed together, but did not evolve together after being separated during the Stone Age. The conclusion by the media was that the tribe split off from the Manobo tribe around 1200 A. D., which means that they were not a Stone Age tribe. Following this mid-1980s discovery, the question arose of whether the Tasaday discovery was a fake.
Father Sean McDonaugh believed that the Tasaday were real because he followed them for twenty years and he had members of the T'boli tribe to examine them. The T'boli tribe members found that they were not related to the T'boli tribe.
British journalist Oswald Iten began the attack in 1986 by saying that the Tasaday were actually farmers from the Manobo and T'boli tribes. He had footage where members of the Tasaday were seen living in houses, wearing cloth clothing, and saying that they were told by Manguel Elizalde to put on the act for pay. He also had photographs of a Tasaday tribesman wearing leaves over their cloth underwear. Manguel Elizalde was a wealthy, Philippine official, amateur anthropologist and former Director of the Panamin Corporation. He promised the Tasaday food, clothing, and their own helicopter if they cooperated with his plan. Elizalde was also accused of taking land from tribe's people, taking $35 million from Panamin, and of kidnapping 25 of the young women of the Tasaday tribe. Elizalde himself says that the accusations were bold lies and that he does not know why people would want to say these things about him. It was also believed that the only reason Elizalde made them famous was so that he could take their land. He has been proven to have taken land from other tribes based on the assumption that they are special.
Along with Iten was Anthropologist Zeus Salazar who also said the Tasaday were fakes. He fond fault in the tools that they used saying that the tools that the Tasaday used were not ground or shaped like tools from the Stone Age. He primarily studied the tools of the Tasaday to reach his conclusion that the Tasaday were false. He said the tools used by the Tasaday were shabby and that would not hold for daily work. He inferred that they were just props for the Tasaday's "movie." Anthropologist Gerald Berraman found that there were no remains of old tools. A few members told him that they stopped using manmade tools after the 1970's when they got knives from some of the explorers that visited them. Berraman found this point to be untrue because even if they had started using knives and other metal tools in the 1970s, there would still be a few old tools lying around somewhere. Berraman also found that these people had no hunting and gathering equipment, no rituals, no ritual people, and no folklore. He saw this as being a necessity for survival and that it would be impossible for a culture to survive with nothing to rely on.
Ethno-botanist Douglas Yen better proved his point that the Tasaday were real by using some rice plants. He entered the village with the rice plants in his hand and asked a few of the children what the plant was and they had no idea. This proved his point that they had no exposure to the outside world because the rice grew out away from their village and was never discovered by them. The Tasaday did eat a variety of rice that was different from the sample that Yen had, but they called it a different name. This finding is not solid because Yen asked children about the rice. The Tasaday were a hunting and gathering civilization who never planted and so the children would not have known what the rice was unless they had planted some of it. The older Tasaday would have been helpful, but if they were acting they would have made like they didn't know what the rice was and so there was no way of proving whether they were lying or not.
Linguistics Anthropologist Carol Malony further agrees with Yen by saying that the Tasaday had no borrowed words in their language and that meant that they were not exposed to any part of the remaining world. She pointed out how the English language borrowed French words like garage and incorporates it like an original English word. She said if the Tasaday were indeed faking, they were doing a very good job of screening their language so that no borrowed words were heard. She added that the children could not have been faking because there was plenty of room for them to slip and let a borrowed word come out during a conversation. With this point, I agree that it would be pretty tough to screen the children's conversations so that no borrowed words slipped out. Further to say that the Tasaday were fakes, Anthropologist Alan Barnard said that the reason for the belief of the "Gentle Tasadays" was that their discovery came at the end of the 1960s. This was a time of the flower power belief of peace and harmony with nature. Since the Tasaday claimed not to have any words for weapons, hostility, or war, they fit in with the common views of the era. The media took the noble savage approach to the Tasaday and began to worship them.
Following the debates among the scientists and the journalist, the media made a stunning discovery. The Tasaday had told the American and British television that they were mixtures of the Manobo and T'boli tribes but told Philippine television that they were a real Stone Age tribe. Was this an accidental inconsistency among the stories told to the media or was it a deliberate contradiction to keep the world baffled? Ethnologist Thomas Headland says that the Tasaday were a tribe that was caught in the midst of a changing world. Headland edited a book composed of all the anthropological articles and data analysis along with the various arguments about the Tasaday and reached the conclusion that the entire Tasaday episode was the result of exaggerations and miscommunications among the media. He said that he doubted the accusations that the Tasaday were paid to live half-naked in the rain forest as dwellers and that he does believe they were a discovered tribe, but not a Stone Age tribe. According to Headland, the Tasaday tribe incident was the result of the noble savage attitude toward a newly discovered tribe that came during the late 1960s resulting from the wars and the need for peace in the world. Headland also said that the Tasaday were a hoax when viewed as a group of paid actors that paraded around the forest wearing leaves. He said they were authentic if they were viewed as a forest-dwelling group of people caught in the midst of the media. Anthropologists instantly worshipped the Tasaday because they were seen as a new area of study. During this time, everyone thought this tribe was unique because the tribe had no words for war and hate in its society. This belief made way for the conditions of self-fulfilling prophesies that the researchers experienced causing them to only record data that related to their individual theories. Today, the Tasaday are believed to be a group of people who descended from members of neighboring tribes that were evading slave hunters. They adapted to living in the forest and created their own culture. Presently, the Tasaday are growing in population thanks to intermarriages with the Manobo tribe. They are also learning how to farm and leave their hunting and gathering ways as a secondary way of obtaining food. Obviously, the origin of the Tasaday is not clear. Some believe they are a group that split away from the main Manobo tribe. Others believe they are people who ran away to avoid becoming slaves. And yet, some still believe that they are an ancient tribe that coexisted with the Manobo and T'boli tribes. Their history may never become clear, but their future with the Manobo tribe proves to be promising.

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