The Veddas are Sri Lanka’s indigenous people. Or as they call themselves, the Wanniya-laeto or the Forest Dwellers. Once a proud and independent people, they are now often reduced to tourist attractions. In the face of encroaching influences from the outside world, they are struggling to preserve their traditions and culture.
Veddas are the aborigines or indigenous people of Sri Lanka . Mahawansa reveals that Veddas are descended from Prince Vijaya (6th-5th century BC), the founding father of the Sinhala nation, through Kuweni a woman of the indigenous Yakka clan whom he had espoused.The Mahavansa relates that following the repudiation of Kuveni by Vijaya, in favour of a ‘Kshatriya’ princess from the Pandya country, their two children, a boy and a girl, departed to the region of Sumanakuta (Adam’s Peak in the Ratnapura District, and their progeny gave rise to the Veddas
The parent of Vedda language is of unknown linguistic origin and is considered a language isolate. Early linguists and observers of the language considered it to be either a separate language or a dialect of Sinhala. The chief proponent of the dialect theory was Wilhelm Geiger, but he also contradicted himself by claiming that Vedda was a relexified aboriginal language.
Veddas consider the Vedda language to be distinct from Sinhala and use it as an ethnic marker to differentiate them from Sinhalese people.
The original religion of Veddas is animism. The Sinhalized interior Veddahs follow a mix of animism and nominal Buddhism; whereas the Tamilized east coast Veddahs follow a mix of animism and nominal Hinduism due to Brahminical sanskritisation, which is known as folk Hinduism among anthropologists.
One of the most distinctive features of Vedda religion is the worship of dead ancestors, who are called “nae yaku” among the Sinhala-speaking Veddas and are invoked for the game and yams.There are also peculiar deities unique to Veddas, such as “Kande Yakka”.
Veddas, along with the Island’s Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim communities, venerate the temple complex situated at Kataragama, showing the syncretism that has evolved over 2,000 years of coexistence and assimilation. Kataragama is supposed to be the site where the Hindu god Skanda or Murugan in Tamil met and married a local tribal girl, Valli, who in Sri Lanka is believed to have been a Vedda
Until fairly recent times, the raiment of the Veddas was remarkably scanty. In the case of men, it consisted only of a loincloth suspended with a string at the waist, while in the case of women, it was a piece of cloth that extended from the navel to the knees. Today, however, Vedda attire is more covering, men wear a short sarong extending from the waist to the knees, while the women clad themselves in a garment similar to the Sinhala diya-redda which extends from the breast line to the knees.
- Vedda marriage is a simple ceremony. It consists of the bride tying a bark rope (Diya lanuva) that she has twisted, around the waist of the groom. This symbolizes the bride’s acceptance of the man as her mate and life partner
- In Vedda society, women are in many respects men’s equals.
- They also do not practice a caste system.
- Death, too, is a simple affair without ostentatious funeral ceremonies where the corpse of the deceased is promptly buried.
Bori Bori Sellam-Sellam Bedo Wannita,
Palletalawa Navinna-Pita Gosin Vetenne,
Malpivili genagene-Hele Kado Navinne,
Diyapivili Genagene-Thige Bo Haliskote Peni,
Ka tho ipal denne
(A Vedda honeycomb cutter’s folk song)
Meaning of this song – The bees from yonder hills of Palle Talawa and Kade suck nectar from the flowers and made the honeycomb. So why should you give them undue pain when there is no honey by cutting the honeycomb.
Veddas were originally hunter-gatherers. They used bows and arrows to hunt game, harpoons and toxic plants for fishing and gathered wild plants, yams, honey, fruit and nuts. Many Veddas also farm, frequently using slash and burn or swidden cultivation, which is called “chena” in Sri Lanka. East Coast Veddas also practice sea fishing. Veddas are famously known for their rich meat diet. Venison and the flesh of rabbit, turtle, tortoise, monitor lizard, wild boar and the common brown monkey are consumed with much relish. The Veddas kill only for food and do not harm young or pregnant animals. Game is commonly shared amongst the family and clan. Fish are caught by employing fish poisons such as the juice of the pus-vel (Entada scandens) and daluk-kiri (Cactus milk).
However, cultural assimilation of Veddas with other local populations has been going on for a long time. “Vedda” has been used in Sri Lanka to mean not only hunter-gatherers but also to refer to any people who adopt an unsettled and rural way of life and thus can be a derogatory term not based on ethnic group. Thus, over time, it is possible for non-Vedda groups to become Veddas, in this broad cultural sense. Vedda populations of this kind are increasing in some districts.