According to the legend, many thousands of years ago in Indian Ocean a group of Stone Age people of ancient India walked to Lanka across a narrow bridge of land, called Adam's Bridge, and populated this island of paradise. Their descendants today call themselves Wanniya-laeto or 'inhabitants of the forest.' Sri Lankans call them Veddas, meaning hunters. Some of them has nomadic life in Lanka forest, some others live in tribal system at their village.
The Wanniya-laeto have repeatedly been forced to choose between two alternative survival strategies; either to be assimilated into other cultures as Sinhalese and Tamils or to retreat ever further into a shrinking forest habitat since 5th century BC. Their population actually fell from 4500 in 1920’s to 1000 by 2010. By the new generations, pervasive social discrimination directed against the Wanniya-laeto, many of their people have adopted a survival strategy that includes adopting the prevalent language, dress, and lifestyle patterns and becoming Buddhist or Hindu converts.
Our visit to Veddas village in Mahiyangana at Dambula forest has meet by chance a November time. Several Veddas male welcome us with the chief of the Vedda tribe . We’ve never seen a female around. Eventually understood that only the entrance of the village and several cultural examples have been shown us to give some idea about their traditions
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Consequently, the Wanniya-laeto who had been occupational hunter- gatherers live in their own rules by refusing of the modernization They do not entertain modern notions of real estate belonging to individuals, nothing is really belong to them on paper, neither their wife/husband not their property. But they believe that they and their ancestor-spirits belong to the forests. Likewise, the concept of acreage is strange to them since they recognize only natural landmarks like hills, rivers, and villages. Veddas believed that the spirit of a great hunter lived upon a remote mountain peak within sight of the Indian Ocean. Kande Yaka, the Great Mountain-Spirit and Hunter-God, was the Vedda people's greatest friend and guardian spirit, then even as he still is today. No successful hunt began without Vedda hunters first dancing themselves into a trance-frenzy in which Kande Yaka spoke through them, telling them where to hunt and how to survive happily. But the Vedda people also knew that Kande Yaka was easily angered, so all regarded him with a mixture of love, respect, and fear.
The bow and arrow had great cultural significance to the Veddas males. These arms represented also the ability to obtain food for their family. Nowadays, even mostly axe and knife are being replaced these weapons, bow and arrow are almost only used for instructing and training young boys. Traditionally, when a man wished to take a woman as his wife, he would put his arrow into the ground next to the cave of the woman he wished to marry. He would return the next day and ask her to touch the end of the arrow. Once she did this, they would be considered married and would go to the forest together for a few days to consummate their marriage. Once they returned, they moved into a cave together and keep their monogamy marriage long years. But this method of proposal has become obsolete as men no longer carry arrows. Today, men simply ask the woman's parents if he may take their daughter as a wife. If they accept, the couple will move in together, usually on the property of the female's family. There is neither a formal ceremony nor a legal contract involved in their marriage customs.
The husband goes out nearly every day for hunting and searching honey. It’s low possibility to get bad hunting luck and come back empty handed to his family in the evening because of the male start to learn the skills of hunting, tracking and 'reading' nature around the age of ten years. Part of the conversation of the mother at the water hole will be about the boy as he matures. The largest animal taken by the Wanniya-laeto is the sambar. Sometimes the butchering and smoking may take over twelve hours. The hot climate and the high humidity, during the monsoons, allow nothing to remain fresh for more than a day. The Wanniya-laeto give things away, do not save. Another much appreciated forest product is honey. Wanniya-laeto families have secret places, passed from generation to generation, where they go to collect honey and beeswax . As it is nearly always available, it is one of the main trade item like meat, wild berries and medicinal herbs
Veddas belive on Shamanism and believe that dead spirits are always with them. Just the difference is that they live in another dimension. The spirits are living in the forest frequent in mountains, caves, big trees and streams and protect them. Each locality carries its own story about the spirits who live there. They did not consider that the forest of the Wanniyalaeto encompasses both people, their forefathers, their gods and spirits. It cannot be exchanged for money, property or other land. Women, children and old people do not engage in Shamanism as it demands physical strength to perform the ceremonial dances, sometimes for two full nights and days. It is also not morally 'good' for a woman to-walk from village to village. It is not socially acceptable for a woman to perform such acrobatics as the movements are not considered feminine.