The Lie Files

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let's hear it for civilization

nyaa, nyaa, nyaa, nyaa, nyaa, nyaa.
Too good to be true?
The too-good-to-be-true story lasted 15 years. Then, in February 1986, the Marcos dictatorship crumbled, Corazon Aquino became president, and martial law was rescinded. The first outsider to contact the Tasaday, Swiss journalist Oswald Iten, found their "home" cave empty and discovered that the "Tasaday" had blended into nearby villages. That cute "stone-age" dress, with those ethnic-chic leaves, had been replaced by bedraggled tee-shirts. Equally absent were the stone-age tools that "proved" that the Tasaday could survive without metal.

Were the Tasaday a Stone Age tribe ignorant of the outside world? Not according to one former "Tasaday," who told Iten "the whole thing was a swindle." Far from subsisting on forest products, Iten found that the Tasaday had depended on rice handouts from Manuel Elizalde, Jr., the government culture minister blamed for orchestrating the whole hoax.

There's no place like home?
The famous cave in which the Tasaday supposedly lived was a ritual site, not a dwelling. That explained one persistent critique: the absence of the "midden," or trash layer, which decorates the floor of virtually every inhabited cave.

Iten's report scorched the previous decade's conventional wisdom. Read his findings on pages 40 through 57 in "The Tasaday Controversy:... " in the bibliography.

The furor over anthropological gullibility reached such a pitch that the American Anthropological Association cobbled together a blue-ribbon commission to sort fact from fiction in 1989 (see "The Tasaday Controversy" in the bibliography).

Anthropologist Thomas Headland, who's now with the Summer Institute of Linguistics, edited the association's book. He concluded that the Tasaday "did not deliberately deceive the public, but neither were they primitive foragers isolated for hundreds of years from outside contact (see pp. 215-23 in "The Tasaday Controversy:... ").

Perhaps the Tasaday were not a fraud. But they clearly had benefited from some false advertising. Headland dismissed most of the features that had made the group famous to begin with. In 1971, at the time of the discovery, Headland thinks the Tasaday

Were wearing commercial clothing, not leaves

Did have trade goods

Could not have subsisted on scarce forest foods

Did use cultivated bamboo and

Spoke a dialect of a nearby language instead of a unique language.

Ouch!

At least medical doctors do not administer fraud. Right?

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The Why Files
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