LUMINA Volume 24 No. 2

A Tasaday Tale in Bohol: The Eskaya Controversy and its Implications for Minority

by Dr. Piers Kelly

For three decades now, the cultural and historical status of the Eskaya minority of southeast Bohol has been in dispute. From early 1980, enthusiasts have claimed that the 3,000 or so individuals who comprise this community practice an indigenous way of life and speak a distinctive language with its own writing system. Critics from the press and in government institutions - including the National Museum - have argued alternatively that the Eskaya community is a cult and its language a crude fabrication. Rather than seeking to resolve the debate in favor of one side or another I take an historical- ethnographic approach to examine how the debate has been constructed, contrasting media narratives on the group's origins, with traditional Eskaya perspectives, and an historical-linguistic analysis of the Eskayan language. Media reactions to the Eskaya have echoed responses to the Tasaday Affair of the 1970s, in which a presumably uncontacted community of Mindanao was later characterized as a hoax, bringing to the fore mainstream stereotypes of Filipino indigeneity that were at odds with lived realities. Today in Bohol, many Eskaya people have embraced the politics of indigeneity but done so on their own terms, and the friction between incommensurate notions of authenticity will remain a challenge for social scientists and policy-makers for many years to come.

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