The Vedda are a minority indigenous group of people in Sri Lanka who, among other self-identified native communities such as Coast Veddas, Anuradhapura Veddas and Bintenne Veddas, are accorded indigenous status. The Vedda minority in Sri Lanka is in threat of becoming extinct. Most speak Sinhala instead of their indigenous languages which are nearing extinction.
It has been hypothesized that the Vedda were probably the earliest inhabitants of Sri Lanka and have a direct line to the stone age man.
The original language of the Vedda’s is the Vedda language, which today is used primarily by the interior Veddas of Dambana. Communities such as Coast Veddas and Anuradhapura Veddas, who do not identify themselves strictly as Veddas, also use Vedda language for communication during hunting and or for religious chants. When a systematic field study was conducted in 1959 it was determined that the language was confined to the older generation of Veddas from Dambana. In the 1990s, self-identifying Veddas knew few words and phrases in the Vedda language, but there were individuals who knew the language comprehensively. Initially, there was considerable debate among linguists as to whether Vedda is a dialect of Sinhala or an independent language. Later studies indicate that it diverged from its parent stock in the 10th century and became a Creole and a stable independent language by the 13th century, under the influence of Sinhala.
Veddas were originally hunter-gatherers. They used bows and arrows to hunt game, harpoons and toxic plants for fishing and gathered wild plants, yams, honey, fruit and nuts. Veddas are famously known for their rich meat diet. Venison and the flesh of rabbit, turtle, tortoise, monitor lizard, wild boar and the common brown monkey are consumed with much relish. The Veddas kill only for food and do not harm young or pregnant animals. Game is commonly shared amongst the family and clan.
Some observers have said Veddas are disappearing and have lamented the decline of their distinct culture. Land acquisition for mass irrigation projects, government forest reserve restrictions, and the civil war have disrupted traditional Vedda ways of life. Between 1977 and 1983 under the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Project and colonization schemes, approximately 51,468 hectares were turned into a gigantic hydroelectric dam irrigation project. Subsequently, the creation of the Maduru Oya National Park deprived the Veddas their last hunting grounds. In 1985, the Vedda Chief Thissahamy and his delegation were obstructed from attending the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations. Dr. Wiveca Stegeborn, an anthropologist, has been studying the Vedda since 1977 and alleges that their young women are being tricked into accepting contracts to the Middle East as domestic workers when in fact they will be trafficked into prostitution or sold as sex slaves.
Cultural assimilation of Veddas with other local populations has been going on for a long time. "Vedda" has been used in Sri Lanka to mean not only hunter-gatherers but also to refer to any people who adopt an unsettled and rural way of life and thus can be a derogatory term not based on ethnic group.
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Pete is a Sri Lankan born Australian with over 40 years experience in hospitality. Pete has a deep love and understanding of the culture, cuisine and hospitality industries of both countries - knowledge which he weaves into his culinary tours.