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  • Veddas ~ Aboriginal Natives of Sri Lanka

    Sri Lanka’s aboriginal natives, the Veddas, are a fascinating clan who are in danger of extinction. We explore the lives of this interesting group.

    Veddas ~ Aboriginal Natives of Sri Lanka

    They bear silent testimony to the lives of the unspoilt sons of the earth.

    The Veddas are indigenous or aboriginal natives of Sri Lanka.

    Also known as ‘forest dwellers’, Veddas are said to be descended from the island’s original Neolithic community.

    To understand their origins, one must read the Mahawansa or ‘The Great Chronicle’.

    Written in three parts, it describes the early history of the island, as well as the formation and beginnings of the Veddas people.

    Vijaya, the first recorded king of Sri Lanka marries Kuveni, an alluring devilish queen of Lanka.

    He later abandons Kuveni after having two children with her, and remarries a South Indian princess of noble birth.

    According to folklore, the two ill-fated children flee to the hills while Kuveni is killed by her own relatives.

    Veddas ~ Aboriginal Natives of Sri LankaVeddas people are believed to be the successors of the offspring of Kuveni. She is revered as Maha Loku Kiriammaleththo (The Greatest Mother) even today.

    These primitive people cling stubbornly to their ancient primordial lifestyle, despite the constant procedure of modernisation.

    The contemporary world finds Veddas peculiar. But comparing their ancestral history with ours, they seem more humanistic than modern civilisation.

    The Veddas social structure is matrilineal and most ancestry is traced back from the female line of descent.

    The most fascinating fact about Veddas is they don’t consider their women subordinate. Masculinity has no power in their Adivasi life.

    DESIblitz explores the life, culture and struggle for existence of the Veddas in Sri Lanka.

    Livelihood

    veddas

    Hunting is the Veddas’ way of earning and they consider the forest and nature as sacred.

    They use bow and arrows, and hunting is considered as a ritual. Some Veddas fish using harpoons and toxic plants.

    Ultra-modern societies seldom understand the notion of Veddas life. In every era, every ruling society of Sri Lanka has tried to colonise Veddas.

    This attempt somehow worked on a fragment of Veddas and they had to abandon the forests to make a living by moving to cosmopolitan cities.

    Eventually, they had converted to either Hinduism or Buddhism.

    Some of the Veddas farm. This is called Chena and is done by using slash and burn cultivation methods.

    Language

    veddas 2

    Initially, Sri Lankan archaeologists and linguists thought ‘Vedda’ was a dialect of Sinhalese language – an Indo-Aryan language which is widely spoken in the country.

    However, later research found there were some words had been borrowed from Sinhalese.

    They concluded Vedda tongue is an independent language with its own dialect, as its grammatical core is unique and pure.

    Robert Knox and Ryklof van Goens have written books about the language and lives of Veddas.

    The historical references speculate that the Vedda language is more similar to Sinhalese than Tamil.

    Religion

    Veddas - 1The religion of Veddas is Animism and Totemism.

    A totem is a plant or an animal which is assumed to possess supernatural powers.

    Animism is the belief that spirits, phantoms, angels, and demons inhabit the earth and have powers.

    Sinhalese Veddas follow animism and the nominal Buddhism, while coastal area Veddas are more associated with Tamil populations and follow animism and folk Hinduism.

    Another important feature of Vedda religion is that they worship their dead ancestors.

    Marriage

    veddas mariage

    Veddas marriage is an unpretentious ceremony.

    The bride ties her own hand-woven bark rope around the waist of the groom. This epitomises her acceptance of the man as her partner.

    Marriage between cross-cousins was the strict norm until recently.

    At present, this custom had undergone a drastic change with more Vedda women marrying their Sinhalese, Hindu and Muslim neighbours.

    Art and Music

    veddas dancee

    Most of their songs are connected to nature and unfolding the values of Vedda life.

    They have special varieties of dances and songs which have been adopted and fused into to popular Sri Lankan films, dramas and songs.

    Vedda cave drawings are very illustrious and anthropologists assume much of the art was done by Vedda women awaiting their men to return from the forest.

    They bear silent testimony to the luscious and carefree lives of the unspoilt sons of the earth.

    It is a vivid evidence of the inspiring mystical and artistic visualisation of the ancestors of contemporary Veddas.

    The culture, life and struggles are depicted through simple abstract symbols, which might have served as tools of transmitting wisdom to next generation and as feats of entertainment.

    Clothing

    veddas1In the early days, Vedda men used to wear a small rectangular piece, held by string in the waist. Now, they wear a sarong from waist to knees.

    Women previously sported a cloth piece from waist to the knees. It has now changed to a long cloth extending from cleavage to the knees.

    Contemporary Vedda attire is much different from what used to be worn, especially as they begin mingle with other cultures, some of them have started to wear normal clothes as well.

    Veddas ~ Aboriginal Natives of Sri LankaIn modern day Sri Lanka, most forest areas have been sold to corporations, thus the aboriginals are being expelled from their own lands.

    Many religious and other institutions are also trying to hijack their life.

    Veddas have been exposed and exhibited to tourists and their peaceful lives have become more materialistic and commercialised.

    Despite this, the Veddas community of Sri Lanka, currently led by Uru Warige Wanniya, has been trying their best to protect their identity and culture through their peaceful and simplistic lives.

    Shameela is a creative journalist, researcher and published author from Sri Lanka. holding a Masters in Journalism and a Masters in Sociology, she's reading for her MPhil. An aficionado of Arts and Literature, she loves Rumi's quote “Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”

    Images courtesy of chandlersfordtoday, Tomasso Meli, Magnificent Island, Ceylon Wonders Twitter, Vedda Website, Lanka, Global Press Journal, Lankapura and Nirvair Singh Rai



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