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Veddas in Dabana, 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 group’s viz. the Bintenne Veddas, the Anuradhapura Veddas, and the Coast Veddas. According to region, they have some differences especially in terms of the languages and religion.

The Veddas have their own language known as Vedda language which has mostly been influenced by Sinhalese especially of Bintenne and Anuradhapura. On the other hand, the language of the cost Veddas is influenced by Tamil. However, they have a number of unique words that cannot be derived from Sinhalese or any other language.

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 and 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 gathered.

When referring to their clothing, they originally wore bars and leaves as clothing, but today’s Veddas attire is different; men wear a sarong extending from waist to the knee, while the women wear a simple dress extending from breast line to knee. However, their housing was cave 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.

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.

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