In 1996 the United Nations recognized the vedda people as Indigenous Community according to the World Indigenous Charter. The term “Veddas / Veddahs” gives different meanings such as hunters, forest dwellers or one who shoots with bow and arrow etc. Even they had referred themselves as ‘Vanniyalaetto’ which means people of the forest. There are many folk tales about the origin of Vedda community. The most popular one is supposed to be Vijaya legend in Mahavamsa.
There is evidence that the Veddas had lived in most parts of the Island before the arrival of Aryans. Due to the irrigation projects in Minneriya, Minipe and Galoya , Vedda folk were evacuated from their traditional habitats. Except hunting and chena cultivation, they didn’t know other way of surviving, So they faced food scarcity. Therefore they struggled with the transmission and faced for the crisis. Due to the construction of tanks and roads, deforestation took place and vedda habitats came up in new areas. However at present their settlements are restricted to certain areas in Uva, North Central and Eastern provinces. So we could see them in Dambana, Watuyaya, Gurukumbura, Kotabakiniya attached to Uva binthanna in Mahiyangana, Henanigala, Rathugala, Nilgala, Pollebedda and Vakarai etc. They mainly lived in forests and coastal areas. They are divided into three regional groups as Bintenne veddas, Anuradhapura Veddas and the Coast Veddas.
At present the Vedda community is neglected and they are categorized as ‘other’ population in the Survey conducted by the Department of Census in 2012. Due to these reason we don’t have an accurate number of the Vedda population at present. Also now some of them are mixed with Sinhalese and Tamils. At present the Indigenous Community leader in Sri Lanka is Uruwarige wannilaattho, he resides in Dambana which is in Mahiyangana, Badulla district. Apart from the main leader, there are regional leaders for separate regions.
The vedda’s belong to a clan (Waruga). It says the cast hierarchy. In ancient days there were 9 groups of clan as Bandara, Morana, Unapana, Uru, Thala, Aembela, Nabuduna, Ura-wadiya and Kovil Waname. But at present only these Morana, Unapana, Uru and Thala clans remains. They consider Uru as the highest clan. Leadership was not decided upon a clan, tradition or heritage. It arose through a social contract. Uruwarige Tissahamy was selected as the leader by the rulers of the country at that time. After demise of Tissahamy his son Uruwarige Wannilaaaththo became the leader of the Vedda community.
Picture source: Lankapura & Atlas of Humanity.