Tasaday

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Tasaday

Tasaday, alleged band of 25 hunter-gatherers living in the Philippine rain forest, purportedly contacted by Westerners for the first time in 1971 in southern Mindanao (Cotabato Province). They reportedly lived in a cave, used stone tools, subsisted solely by foraging on wild foods, and had no knowledge of agriculture or contact with farmers. After 1974, the Philippine government strictly prohibited all contact between outsiders and the Tasaday. After the fall of President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, Western reporters returned to Cotabato and found the Tasaday living in houses in a farming village and wearing Western clothing. News accounts followed stating that the discovery of Tasaday as a band of cave-dwelling rain-forest foragers had been an elaborate hoax staged by the former presidential assistant on national minorities.

Specialists disagree on the matter. In 1991 an independent anthropologist issued a report concluding that the Tasaday were probably a band of foragers who did in fact live in the Cotabato rain forest but who were not nearly as isolated as the initial reports by the government agency entrusted with their protection made them out to be. Before 1971 the Tasaday wore cloth (not leaves), secured trade goods by trading smoked meat with farming villagers, and spoke a dialect of Catoboto Manobo that was fully intelligible to the local surrounding farming villagers but slightly different from these villagers' language. These facts suggest that the Tasaday represent the descendants of a group of Cotabato Manobo farmers who moved into the rain forest and adopted a mobile economy based on foraging, small-scale horticulture, and trade with surrounding farmers. It is unlikely that they ever lived permanently in caves. Ethnic groups practicing similar seminomadic subsistence economies are known from many parts of Southeast Asia (e.g., the Semang). Although Philippine authorities apparently initially promoted the "primitive" nature of the Tasaday band and then prevented independent specialists from properly investigating them, the Tasaday probably represent a genuine group, rather than a set of villagers recruited to take part in a hoax. The precise nature of the Tasaday band prior to 1971, however, is difficult to assess and remains controversial.

See T. A. Headland, ed., The Tasaday Controversy: Assessing the Evidence (1992).

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