Indigenous People of Sri Lanka

Native to Sri Lanka, Veddas alias Wanniyala Aetto as they call themselves are a small community descending from the island's original inhabitants of the Neolithic era dating from at least 16,000bc. This indigenous community is very distinctive in terms of their cultural identity, indigenous language, traditional lifestyle and livelihood. The Veddas who live a simplest life are divided into three regional groups viz. the Bintenne Veddas, the Anuradhapura Veddas, and the Coast Veddas. According to region, they have some differences especially in terms of the language and religion.


 

 

Veddas, whose original habitat is the island's dry zone tropical forests, are originally hunter-gatherers or foragers though many contemporary Veddas are engaged in agriculture. Bows with arrows turned out of wood and animal hide are primarily used by them in order to hunt animals for their consumption whilst plants and honey also are gathered. They use honey mostly for the preservation of meat. Dried meat is preserved soaked in honey to be used in times of scarcity. Veddas are so unique that they hunt animals only for consumption and they never harm young and pregnant animals. Yet another unique symbol of the Veddas is the little axe that is slung on their shoulder and used to cut honey out of hollow trees and for various other purposes.


 

When referring to their clothing, they originally wore barks and leaves as clothing, but today's Veddas' attire is different; men wear a sarong extending from the waist to the knees, while the women wear a simple dress extending from the breast line to knees. However, their housing was caves and rock shelters instead of which today they live in small hut-type wattled houses.


 

Their religion is essentially a cult of the dead coupled with various rituals and ceremonies; ancestral spirits termed "Nae Yakku" are believed to enter the bodies of shamans through whom they communicate with their descendants. In addition, they believe in various local demons and other peculiar deities like "Kande Yaka", "Bilinda Yaka". But anyway, their original religion has over the time been influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism. As a result, a lot of contemporary Veddas believe either in Buddhism or Hinduism. Besides, among their religious ceremonies ‘Kiri Koraha' ritual which is performed for their ancestral spirits is the most famous. Death is also a simple affair without any ostentatious funeral ceremonies and the corpse of the deceased is promptly buried. The corpse is placed in a coffin made of barks, climbers, leaves etc., and the surrounding area is decorated with leaves especially margosa and lime leaves.

 

Anyhow, it is Bintenne Veddas now confined to Dambana who have still been able to preserve their exclusive cultural identity and traditional lifestyle at least to certain extent amidst the fast-changing modern world coupled with the relentless pressure from the main stream communities. Unfortunately, they are compelled to be assimilated into the dominant society of the island as result of pervasive social discrimination.

 

Currently, this exclusive indigenous community is led by its chieftain Uruwarige Wannila Aetto based in Dambana who succeeded the former chieftain Tissahamy after his death in 1998. However, the present chieftain is shouldering a big responsibility as well as facing a big challenge with regard to the survival of their cultural identity and indigenous lifestyle. Anyhow, if you travel in Sri Lanka, Dambana is a place that you should not miss out.


 

  • UNESCO Heritage Sites

    Heritage is indeed our legacy inherited from past generations, maintained at present and passed down to future generations. With a millennia-old history, Sri Lanka boasts a splendid cultural and natural heritage and is home to eight world heritage sites viz. the ancient cities of Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya, the sacred cities of Anuradhapura and Kandy, the golden temple of Dambulla, the old town of Galle and its fortifications, Sinharaja Forest Reserve and the Central Highlands.

  • Religious Attractions

    Sri Lanka has an incredible religious heritage created and passed down over 2500 years since Buddhism was introduced to the country. Wonderful Buddhist temples, Dagobas, statues and various other monuments and structures built by ancient Sinhalese kings bring much magnificence and grandeur to Sri Lanka’s religious heritage while reflecting architectural marvels of the ancestors. Majority of Sri Lanka’s eight world heritage sites consist of these Buddhist Temple sites such as Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kandy Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and Dambulla Golden Temple.

     

    Today, the island is inhabited by people of various ethnic and religious backgrounds while Buddhists being dominant with over 70% of the population. Hence, many Hindu temples, churches of various denominations and mosques can be seen across the island. During the colonial era, a lot of churches were built in the island by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English.

  • Museums

    A museum is a great place where we can have a glimpse of the past or bygone days of a country. It provides insights into glory of what our forefathers have done.

     

    A country with a recorded history of over 2500 years and the prehistory dating back to 125,000 years, Sri Lanka has a number of must-visit museums covering a range of themes with striking collections of artefacts found from across the island. The Colombo National Museum is the largest museum located in Colombo which you can first visit when you touch down in Sri Lanka. You could explore the proud history of Sri Lanka through its wide range of museums lying throughout the island.

     

  • Ancient Caves

    The country is home to caves in which are remains of prehistoric humans, to cave complexes where monks resided, temples were constructed, and the medieval kings of Sri Lanka sought refuge during foreign invasions. Diva Guhava, Dambulla, Pilikuththuwa, Waulpane, Belilena and the Fa Hien caves are some of the well-known caves in Sri Lanka.

     

  • Martin Wickramasinge Museum

    The Martin Wickramasinge Folk Culture Museum, which was established by the Martin Wickramasinghe Trust in 1981, contains a unique collection of artefacts depicting the history of Sri Lankan folk culture and technology. The Folk Museum Complex is surrounded by a restored ecosystem planted with hundreds of varieties of indigenous trees and shrubs in which bird life abounds, transforming the parkland into an enchanting rural landscape; a haven for quiet contemplation.

     

     

    Martin Wickramasinghe is one of Sri Lanka’s most renowned authors and intellectuals. The establishment of a Folk Culture Museum was long a desire of the late author who wanted to recapture within it the cultural and technological artefacts which were a familiar part of his childhood. The various objects of folk culture acquired during his lifetime have been the starting point of the collection found in the museum. 

     

    The Martin Wickramasinghe Trust has developed the Folk Culture Museum into a growing repository of artefacts depicting the history of Sri Lankan folk culture and technology, from ancient to modern times. The museum is housed in several large, spacious, high-roofed buildings situated close to the entrance of the complex. It currently holds over a thousand artefacts of Sri Lankan rural life (many of which are not found outside the Museum), providing a vast and unique storehouse of knowledge of local folk culture and folk technology going back several centuries. The elegantly displayed artefacts provide unique insights into the ways of life of a bygone era.

     

    The Museum includes many sections representative of folk technology and ways of life, amongst which are:

     

    • Religious artefacts, including Buddhist religious artefacts and those relating to folk religious practices.
    • A unique collection of masks, musical instruments and drums.
    • Artefacts relating to folk dance and puppetry.
    • Costumes of the various ethnic groups of Sri Lanka.
    • The evolution of the Sinhala alphabet and writing utensils.
    • Village agricultural, fishing, pottery, and metallurgical technologies.
    • Folk games and artefacts associated with traditional social interaction.
    • Traditional lace making.
    • A collection of traditional jewellery.
    • Traditional modes of transportation, including some unique items such as an elephant cart and boats used for deep sea fishing.

     

    The museum also contains a model of an ancient smelter used to produce high grade steel in the first millennium A.D. These furnaces were ingeniously designed to use the effects of the powerful monsoon winds to keep charcoal fires smelting hot. 

     

    The 8 acre complex includes the Folk Culture Museum as well as the house in which the author was born. The house and the surroundings bring to life a little part of the Koggala which is so vividly depicted in Wickramasinghe’s writings.

     

    Martin Wickramasinghe was born in the village of Malalgama in 1890. A section of the ancestral home in which he and his sisters grew up with their parents has survived the rigours of time. The house has been partly renovated, whilst preserving its original architecture. Part of the rear section of the house is thought to be over 250 years old. It is a typical southern abode of the period, with pleasing Dutch architectural features and cool, whitewashed walls and floors paved with square bricks. 

     

    The house was taken over by the Royal Air Force during World War II, when all villagers in Malalgama and surrounding villages were asked to vacate their houses within 24 hours. Most homes were demolished to build a sea plane base (the airstrip of which is in use to this day.)

     

    Wickramasinghe’s house miraculously escaped the fate of others in his village. The story goes that this simple house with its subdued architecture caught the eye of a female Air Force officer, and she made it her residence during the military occupation of the area, ensuring its preservation. 

     

    It was a Catalina aircraft from this base which alerted the British government to the presence of a Japanese fleet, thus ensuring that adequate defensive measures were taken by the military to ward off an attack.

    The Trust has recreated the rooms of the house, including the room in which he was born, with original furniture and many of the late author’s personal belongings strategically placed so as to give a visitor the impression that Wickramasinghe has left the house for a stroll along the Koggala beach, and will soon be back.

    The Hall of Life is an extension of the house; in it Martin Wickramasinghe’s life and times are presented through photographs, paintings, sketches, souvenirs, awards and memorabilia. Copies of published works and several pages from hand written manuscripts are also found here.

     

    The grass covered mound to the right of the house holds his ashes, surmounted by a wedge-shaped rock from the Koggala reef, on which he spent many hours of his day during his childhood. The ashes of his wife Prema are also buried under this mound.

    Useful Information

    Location: Koggala (on the Galle-Matara road, 14km from Galle; road opposite the Fortress Hotel main entrance) 

    Opening Times: 9 AM to 5 PM every day except the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year day in 

    April and Vesak Poya day in May

     

    Tickets: Rs. 200 (1.75 USD)

     

    Books authored by Martin Wickramasinghe (including translations and books written in English) can be purchased at the Museum.