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Tasaday Stone Age Tribe: A Philippines Savage Hoax That Fooled The World

“He forced us to live in the caves so we’d become better cavemen.”

Ann Moises

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  • A small, peaceful tribe from the Philippines drew international attention back in the 70’s.
  • Manuel Elizalde Jr., the Presidential Assistant on National Minorities during the Marcos regime, introduced the “Tasadays” to the world.
  • They say they were uncorrupted Paleolithic humans who lived in caves. They had no knowledge of the world beyond the rainforest of Southern Mindanao.
  • Elizalde claimed the Tasadays were “The last remnants of the Stone-Age,” until the truth finally came out.

In 1962, a local hunter encountered a primitive group while laying wild pig traps deep in the mountains of South Cotabato in the Philippines. According to veteran photographer John Nance, the hunter followed a trail of footprints and eventually saw three small men. They wore leaves to cover their loins and nothing else.

Although the hunter spoke Tasaday, the men could not understand him. Thus, he communicated thru sign language. He said to have described these people as cave-dwellers, isolated, “unaware that there were other people in the planet.”

In 1971, the local hunter apparently told amateur anthropologist Manuel Elizalde Jr. about them. Elizalde was the appointed Presidential Assistant on National Minorities (PANAMIN), an agency founded in 1968–during the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos—to protect the interest of cultural minorities.

Elizalde immediately went to see this remarkable discovery, and introduced the Tasadays to the world–a community of at least 25 people who didn’t even know about the country.

They openly welcomed him, and treated him as a hero, a savior. The tribe called him, “Momo Dakel Diwata Tasayador,” which translates to “Great Bringer of Good Fortune to the Tasaday.”

Photo: John Nance /AP

National media outlets from around the world immediately feasted on the discovery. Most of the news carries a bit of exaggeration, like the Tasaday spoke no known languages, dressed in animal fur, lived in a cave for centuries, and had no contact from the outside world until then.

The New York Times even ran a story about the Tasaday, describing how they were such savages they had no word for the sea because they have never seen it. 

Photo: John Nance /AP

According to Elizalde, the tribe lived in caves since the pre-historic era, and had no knowledge of agriculture.

“They have no words for weapons, hostility, or war,” said Elizalde. “They didn’t even realize there was a country. They didn’t realize there was a sea. They did not even know what rice was.” 

The Tasadays were alledgely so peaceful they had no words for weapons, hostility, or war.
Photo: John Nance /AP

Elizalde painted this picture of Eden, inhabited by these “Noble Savages,” and consequently drew local and international attention. Anthropologists, foreign media, even the American conservationist Charles A. Lindbergh flew to the country to investigate the ethnic group.

The New York Times ran their own article, and the National Geographic made a 32-page cover story as well.
Photo: National Geographic
The Tasadays were purportedly the “Last Remnants of the Stone Age.” But it was the biggest government hoax ever uncovered.
Photo: John Nance/AP

As outsiders began to invade the once peaceful community, Elizalde decided to restrict public access to protect them and their homes. This happened at the same time President Marcos declared Martial Law.

Meanwhile, Elizalde was able to raise funds amounting to $35 million for the tribe while hiding them again from the world.
Photo: John Nance /AP

However, many were still skeptical. They believed Elizalde and Marcos were using the Tasadays to cover up significant political issues such as corruption and human rights violations. Both men were accused of land grabbing as well.

Elizalde left the Philippines in 1983, apparently bringing the millions of dollars raised by PANAMIN for the Tasadays.
Photo:John Nance /AP

The Marcos Regime, on the other hand, ended in the 1986 revolution. As Filipinos celebrated their independence, Swiss journalist Oswald Iten took the opportunity to visit the Tasadays and check their authenticity.

However, he was dumbfounded by what he saw.
Photo: Oswald Iten

They lived in houses, they didn’t live in caves and they told me they were in fact not a separate tribe called Tasaday. They told me it was the idea of Elizalde to make them pose as cavemen and Stone Age people in order to become famous,” Oswald Iten wrote in ” The Lost Tribe.”

According to Iten’s report, a member of the tribe said they lived in huts on the other side of the mountain. They also farmed.

Elizalde told them to take their clothes off to look poor, and gave them money. He also promised them safety from counter insurgency and tribal fighting.
Photo: Oswald Iten

Elizalde forced us to live in the caves so that we’d be better cavemen.

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