Not Altogether Lost
- Invented Eden: The Elusive, Disputed History of the Tasaday by Robin Hemley
Farrar, Straus, 352 pp, US $25.00, May 2003, ISBN 0 374 17716 3
In June 1971 it was learned that a hitherto unknown tribe had been found living in the dense rainforest of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. Reportedly, the group consisted of 27 members, spoke an unknown tongue and wore only leaves. Tentatively named Tasaday after a nearby mountain, they seemed to be exclusively hunter-gatherers who knew nothing of agriculture and used stone tools to dig for wild yams. In keeping with the Edenic simplicity of their long hair and near-nudity, they were credited with having no knowledge of war or aggressiveness. At the time – pretty much the hippy high noon of flower-power and anti-Vietnam protest – the Tasaday’s punctuality seemed as impeccable as their unspoilt innocence was chastening. Anthropologists and news teams began converging on Manila.
Vol. 25 No. 13 · 10 July 2003
Pace James Hamilton-Paterson (LRB, 19 June), I doubt Joseph Roth did get it right when he said that people from the remote German forests typically spoke in ‘half sentences and stunted sounds’ because of their poverty. They were refugees in Berlin around 1920 and were probably laconic because they were stunned by gruelling ordeals and their arrival in a wholly unknown place. When I stayed at the Relax Inn in Winnipeg in the summer of 1988, the hotel rooms and nearby streets were full of speechless Native Americans. The worst forest fires on record had driven them from their home grounds and they had been given temporary accommodation in the city centre. At breakfast they often ate nothing; one evening I saw a man in his seventies staring numbly at an untouched knickerbocker glory. Ten days later the fires had burned out and I shared a railway buffet car with dozens of Cree and Swampy Cree travelling north from Thomson to Hudson Bay. Relieved to be going home, they chattered almost continuously. To assume the inarticulacy of a people is almost always wrong.