Threat of extinction due to immigration, colonization and advancement of cultures:

Sri Lanka’s indigenous people, the Veddas fondly referred to as wanniya-latto are believed to have originated through Kuveni’s twins. A community that thrived in the past, today, has had many of them blend in with the fast developing world and are gradually moving away from their traditional lifestyles.

However, although today the Vedda community is reduced to a few hundred, there is still a group left under its able leader Uuruwarige Wannila Ettho, who is keeping their ancient traditions alive. Like most indigenous cultures, the Veddas are facing the threat of extinction due to immigration, colonization and the advancement of the cultures.

Sri Lanka Army steps in

In support of the Vedda culture and community, present Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake is committed to rendering every support possible to keep this tribal community alive and preserving our tribal communities from total extinction. In this regard, a New Year celebration was organised on April 11, jointly by the Army, 'Wana Arana Foundation' and members of the indigenous community (Aadivasi) in the remote Hennanigala area.

Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake, Commander of the Army, made time on his busy schedule to attend the 'Bakmaha Ulela', which was organized on the guidance given by the Chief of the indigenous community (Vedda Chief) Uuruwarige Wannila Ettho, who also attended the event as a distinguished guest. Major General Santhusitha Pananwala, Commander, Security Forces - East received the Commander of the Army and other invitees on arrival at the venue beside the Henanigala tank bund.

A multitude of very rare indigenous and traditional New Year games, quite unfamiliar to most Sri Lankans, were included in the celebrations while fun-making features dominated the full-day festival during which the 'Wana Arana Foundation' invited both the Commander of the Army and the Vedda Chief to launch their new 'Wana Arana Foundation' website. 'Wana Arana Foundation' is dedicated to preserve age-old indigenous traditions, rites and rituals, customs, habits, habitat practices, ancestral links and all related information to their heritage for the sake of future generations.

Adding surprises and novelty, the Chief Guest, Commander of the Army joined the indigenous people assuring them of all support on the same occasion and gave away some gift parcels to the Chief of the indigenous community and their fellow residents.

Indigenous knowledge an asset

The Army Commander, a member of the Special Forces himself, have had the privilege of occasionally meeting the Vedda people as their Special Forces training camp is also in that vicinity. It is also believed that they obtain certain advice from the Vedda community with regard to the jungle terrain during training sessions, as the Vedda community is quite familiar with these jungles.

In another appreciative gesture, the Commander gave a special gift to Thalawarige Punchi Banda of the Vedda community who secured the 53rd place in the recent Ironman 70.3 Colombo Competition, the first-ever triathlon in South Asia, held on February 25, 2018 at Galle Face with over 3,000 athletes, including 870 overseas participants from 63 countries.

The Commander openly appreciated the athletic skills of Punchi Banda and gave the undertaking that he would be recruited to the Army Volunteer Force and afforded best athletic training to reach higher levels.

“The Army is an organisation that is committed to protect the country and its proud history and preserve its heritage and culture for the benefit of our future generations. If we are to achieve this task, we need to obtain the cooperation of all as it is a collective effort. Having met Punchi Banda previously, I have decided to recruit him into the army and further develop his skills in an attempt to give him the opportunity to take his talents and abilities, not just to Sri Lanka, but the world. He represents our indigenous culture and this is our humble attempt to render our support to him. We will support him in every possible manner, in physical and resource matter in order that he would be able to further develop his capabilities and bring glory to our country,” Lt. Gen. Senanayake said.

The full-day festive atmosphere on the tank bund attracted a large gathering of Aadivasi community who came dressed in their traditional attire with their metal equipment, bows and arches.

The Vedda Community

Sri Lanka’s Vedda community used to inhabit the forest reserve around Ratnapura, and Mahiyangana before they were resettled in certain areas due to development projects. Currently, most Veddas can be encountered in Dambana, Mahiyanagana and Hennanigala. There are four types of Vedda clans currently in Sri Lanka. The most famous clan is known as Uru Warige, (the descendants of the boar). The current Vedda Chief is known as the Uruwarige Wannilaetto.

The Vedda Community have developed a language style unique to them. Although it is similar to Sinhalese, certain pronunciations and tones are quite different. Their language is solely for the purpose of conversation, and there does not seem to be a written language among them. Yet, the Vedda language is not as widely used today, and only parts of the language are used by the Veddas.

The Veddas are believed to be good hunters and their skills with the bow and arrow is known throughout the country. But unfortunately, these tribal communities are not able to put their bows and arrows to work as hunting in the forests of Sri Lanka is now banned. Therefore, the Veddas have now turned to Chena cultivation to grow their food requirements. The Vedda community once wore leaves as clothing but have also changed their attire with the country’s developments and except for certain functions and traditions, they now wear the sarong, but still keep their identity by having the axe placed on their shoulder as part of their attire.

Despite the changes in the country and all modern facilities, the Vedda community have held onto their traditions and values to a great extent. Their handshake is also a bit different to the usual handshake that we are used to.

However, the Vedda community is the last of Sri Lanka’s indigenous tribes and it is a challenge no doubt to protect them and their traditions in this fast changing culture. Yet, they are Sri Lanka’s last surviving tribal community and it is the duty of all Sri Lankan’s to help in protecting this ancient tribe.


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