Are the revered forest-dwelling Veddah people of Sri Lanka poised to enter the 21st Century?


The forest-dwelling Veddha people of Sri Lanka are the much-revered island nation’s original inhabitants, with a history dating back 130,000 years.

Much has been written about this so-called ‘indigenous’ aboriginal community—and much of it is wrong, according to a recent lengthy piece in The Island newspaper.

Rohana R. Wasala, an expert on the subject, writes somewhat contentiously: “The nomenclature ‘indigenous or aboriginal tribe’ applied to the Veddhas came to wider circulation due to the influence of foreign human rights traffickers.”


He cites the respected anthropologist Gananath Obeyesekere, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University, who says the Veddhas are everywhere in the island, “an idea which contradicted the popular notion that they were found only in a few isolated places like Bintenne, Mahiyangana”.

He adds: “For one thing, they hardly qualify for indigenous community status in view of the long history of peaceful coexistence and social integration with the Sinhalese.

“For another thing, if you look at any pictures of these people you find that they are some of the finest specimens of homo sapiens! They look well fed and healthy.”


The past and future of the Veddha are increasingly in the news thanks to their current, chief Uruwarige Wannialaeththo, described as “the one true leader we still have, and further suggesting that he is perhaps ‘the last of the Mohicans’.”

Says Wasala “Before long, Veddha representatives must get into local, provincial and national legislatures. It is a remarkable thing that the Veddhas, as a distinct (but historically allied) community, have maintained to this day at least a vestigial form of their ancient Stone-Age hunter-gatherer culture.

“One major contributory factor behind this could be the tolerant, nonaggressive nature of the dominant Buddhist civilization that their coeval tribal cousins the Sinhalese built up over the millennia (with which the island has from the earliest times been identified).”

Read more here.


Meanwhile, The Magic-Bean Trippers blog offer tantalizing insights into the life of the Veddha and their chief in a piece entitled Echoes from an Ancient Existence.

“Uruwarige Wanniya (pictured far left) was surrounded by some of his tribesmen when we arrived at his wattle and daub hut in Dambana. As the chief of the Wannila-aththo or Veddhas, the indigenous people of Sri Lanka, his wisdom and counsel are constantly sought after.

“As he sat cross-legged on a reed mat strewn on a ledge and spoke about the ways of his people, I noticed that only his snowy beard and salt-and-pepper hair pulled into a casual knot gave us an inkling of his age.”

Read more here.

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