Veddah  Houses Cave Women Men Hunting Culture Change Temple

© 2023 Dr Margaret Sheppard

The Veddah

The Veddah are the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka. Today there are few pure Veddah left as they have inter-married with Singhalese & Tamils. However a few still try to follow their traditional way of life as hunters and gatherers. Those few that are left live in the Jungles of the interior around Mayangana in Dambane area.

Now the Civil War is over their traditional way of life is becoming even more threatened as National Game Parks that have been closed  for several decades are being re-opened & Game fences are being re-erected. These were their traditional hunting areas and some Veddah hunters have already been prosecuted.

Traditionally they lived in caves moving from one place to another following the game - the men hunters & the women gathering wild plants to supplement the diet. In the 1980s a development project helped them to build simple houses, Today some of them have made clearings in the Jungle where they practise chena cultivation & even paddy fields. Some also keep cows, goats & chickens whilst the men go out into the Jungle hunting for game meat. They still hunt with bows & arrows & typically the men carry an axe over one shoulder. They are typically quite poor as their way of life is at subsistence level although some are beginning to earn money from tourists by showing off aspects of their rich culture - their curing dances, hunting demonstrations,  traditional dances, songs & selling their hand carved wooden crafts etc.

It has been difficult until recently for Veddah children to attend school as few Veddah babies were ever registered. However today more Veddah children are attending school & some have even attended University. Ironically this further erodes the traditional culture as attending school means that they do not learn traditional hunting practices also the school boys have to have short hair - Veddah men wear their hair uncut.

Typical Veddah country

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