Of the 6 ethnic groups classed as “tribal Filipinos,” none has created as much commotion as the country's smallest tribe, the Tasaday. There are barely more than 100 Tasaday, yet they have kept hundreds of researchers and authors around the world busy for years, probing their enigmatic emergence from the Stone Age.
The Tasaday were discovered in 1971 in a forest in Mindanao, clad only in leaves and apparently unaware of the existence of any other humans outside their clan. The find stunned the world. The Tasaday lived in caves, didn't hunt or farm, and used only primitive stone tools.
They turned out to be a publicity coup for Ferdinand Marcos, who later set up the tribe with a government preserve to protect their rainforest homeland. “Not so fast,” said loggers with an interest in the vast tracts of virgin wilderness on southern Mindanao. Thus began the debate. A Swiss journalist published an article in 1986 calling the Tasaday a fraud. A TV program “Tribe That Never Was” supported his conclusion. To counter skeptics, symposiums were held, the Philippine Congress issued testimonials, and the government confirmed the Tasaday's authenticity as an ethnic group. The most recent endorsement came at an international anthropological congress in 1992.
But in January 1998, one magazine article reopened the debate, calling the Tasaday one of “the greatest hoaxes of all time.” John Nance, who has written a book on the Tasaday, rebuts the charge, supported by studies from linguists and anthropologists who have spent time with the Tasaday. “I called the guy who wrote the article, and he hadn't even been over there or talked to anybody,” Nance says. “That's true of most everybody who says it's a hoax. They haven't even been there.” The world anthropological community remains divided on the controversy.