Indigenous People of Sri Lanka
Native to Sri Lanka, Veddas alias Wanniyala Aetto as they call themselves are a small community descending from the island's original inhabitants of the Neolithic era dating from at least 16,000bc. This indigenous community is very distinctive in terms of their cultural identity, indigenous language, traditional lifestyle and livelihood. The Veddas who live a simplest life are divided into three regional groups viz. the Bintenne Veddas, the Anuradhapura Veddas, and the Coast Veddas. According to region, they have some differences especially in terms of the language and religion.
Veddas, whose original habitat is the island's dry zone tropical forests, are originally hunter-gatherers or foragers though many contemporary Veddas are engaged in agriculture. Bows with arrows turned out of wood and animal hide are primarily used by them in order to hunt animals for their consumption whilst plants and honey also are gathered. They use honey mostly for the preservation of meat. Dried meat is preserved soaked in honey to be used in times of scarcity. Veddas are so unique that they hunt animals only for consumption and they never harm young and pregnant animals. Yet another unique symbol of the Veddas is the little axe that is slung on their shoulder and used to cut honey out of hollow trees and for various other purposes.
When referring to their clothing, they originally wore barks and leaves as clothing, but today's Veddas' attire is different; men wear a sarong extending from the waist to the knees, while the women wear a simple dress extending from the breast line to knees. However, their housing was caves and rock shelters instead of which today they live in small hut-type wattled houses.
Their religion is essentially a cult of the dead coupled with various rituals and ceremonies; ancestral spirits termed "Nae Yakku" are believed to enter the bodies of shamans through whom they communicate with their descendants. In addition, they believe in various local demons and other peculiar deities like "Kande Yaka", "Bilinda Yaka". But anyway, their original religion has over the time been influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism. As a result, a lot of contemporary Veddas believe either in Buddhism or Hinduism. Besides, among their religious ceremonies ‘Kiri Koraha' ritual which is performed for their ancestral spirits is the most famous. Death is also a simple affair without any ostentatious funeral ceremonies and the corpse of the deceased is promptly buried. The corpse is placed in a coffin made of barks, climbers, leaves etc., and the surrounding area is decorated with leaves especially margosa and lime leaves.
Anyhow, it is Bintenne Veddas now confined to Dambana who have still been able to preserve their exclusive cultural identity and traditional lifestyle at least to certain extent amidst the fast-changing modern world coupled with the relentless pressure from the main stream communities. Unfortunately, they are compelled to be assimilated into the dominant society of the island as result of pervasive social discrimination.
Currently, this exclusive indigenous community is led by its chieftain Uruwarige Wannila Aetto based in Dambana who succeeded the former chieftain Tissahamy after his death in 1998. However, the present chieftain is shouldering a big responsibility as well as facing a big challenge with regard to the survival of their cultural identity and indigenous lifestyle. Anyhow, if you travel in Sri Lanka, Dambana is a place that you should not miss out.