Identified as the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka with a history spanning many thousand years, the Veddah continue to live in relative isolation in their forest dwellings in some of Sri Lanka’s most remote areas. It is established that they descend from a direct line of Sri Lanka’s Neolithic community and is estimated that their origins lie as far back as 16,000 BC.

The following are 7 facts about the indigenous community of Sri Lanka that you should know.

  • The Veddah are related to people found scattered throughout southern Asia -The term ‘Veddah’ finds its roots from the Sanskrit word ‘Vyadha’. The meaning of which is hunter with a bow and arrow. The pure Veddahs, unlike the Sinhalese who speak an Indo-Aryan language and claim Aryan descent, are related to the Austro-Asiatic people found scattered today in many parts of southern Asia.
  • There is a sub-culture of Veddah called the Coastal Veddah – The Veddah community in the east, often referred to as ‘Muhudu Veddah’ or ‘Veddahs of the sea’, reside mainly in the Districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa. Despite being intrinsically connected to the ‘original inhabitants of the land’, this community bears very little resemblance to the original Veddahs.
  • Some Veddahs believe they migrated to the east from a place called the ‘Stone’ -The older generation of Veddahs, despite not being able to give a clear date or place of their arrival in the coast, were of the opinion that their forefathers migrated to the east of the country from a place with the name of ‘Gala’ (stone). Taking the above into consideration, we can assume that they migrated from either Dimbulagala or Nilgala, habitats situated close to the Batticaloa District.
  • Their marriage is approved by a divine blue light -Veddah are prohibited from marrying outsiders. Once there is a proposal from one party and the other party agrees, both parties go to the Vedi Kovil (Veddah temple) in the jungle and ask for guidance and blessing from the deity of marriage. If the god approves of the union, he would show his approval by showing a blue light. Once this approval is given, the couple tie their little fingers signifying the marriage.’
  • At death, their gods are offered food relished by the deceased -Veddahs bury their dead within a day. Once the dead person is buried in the jungle, the rest come back to the village and offer the deities the food that the dead person relished. Once their offerings and prayers are over, the members who participated in the pooja are treated to food and drink.
  • The Veddah believe that an interrogator decides the fate of the dead -The protector of the graveyard is known as Sudala. The common belief is that once the dead are buried, they would be possessed by this deity for 31 days during which time an ‘interrogation’ of some sort takes place. The dead are questioned about their deeds whilst they were in the land of the living and are sent to heaven or hell accordingly.

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