A walk with the veddas: meeting Sri Lanka’s indigenous people

Our own Imran Mannan, part of our Sales team, journeyed to Gal Oya last month to tick something off his (extensive) bucket list – meeting the veddas, Sri Lanka’s indigenous population.

The vedda people are closely linked to the aboriginal people of Sri Lanka and are more shrouded in secrecy, mythology and mystery than any other group on the island. Written into existence by the Mahavamsa in 5th century CE, the veddas are said to be the descendants of King Vijaya (the Sinhala king who first encountered Sri Lanka) and Kuveni, a native ‘yakka’ (devil) who was already inhabiting the island.

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They refer to themselves as ‘forest-dwellers’ and form several distinctive groups across the island. The veddas of Gal Oya once lived in caves protected by the forests of the area, but were moved out by government developments in the early 1950s and now inhabit mud houses within the forest. Many have modernised and integrated into the local community; recent years have brought developments such as TV and internet, technological advancements which threaten the preservation of the veddas’ language, unique religion, extensive knowledge of natural medicines and ritual customs.

Imran went on a walk with Gal Oya’s vedda chief, a unique experience which SriLankaInStyle is now offering to clients who are looking to connect intimately with Sri Lanka’s history, culture and its people. This experience offers the chance to gain an exclusive insight into this fascinating fading community which is now on the brink of extinction, despite having survived for so many years.

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‘It was stepping into the past. Dressed in traditional tribal clothing (a loin cloth tied round the waist), they led us deep into the jungle armed with their hunting weapons. These are still made in the same style as the original primitive designs – the veddas are the only people allowed to hunt in the area because they do not use guns.

‘They pointed out all the herbs they use in their daily lives, mostly for medicinal purposes, and explained the importance of each one. We were also taken to the place where the veddas store their meat, and they showed us the ancient techniques they still employ in order to preserve their food.

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‘Deep in the heart of the jungle, we came across a tree with strange markings on the bark. When I asked about the scratches, they told us they are signs of a hungry Sloth Bear trying to climb the tree in search of honey. The Gal Oya veddas collect honey, and at the end of the walk they gave us some fresh honey to taste – it certainly made it a sweet ending to the experience!

‘Meeting the veddas is something I have wanted to do for a long time. It was the highlight of my trip to Gal Oya, and an opportunity that will not be around forever. I feel immensely lucky to have walked with them and seen their unique way of life.

‘The part that will stay with me the most is the strange melodies they sang as we walked along. Some were in their native tongue, a language which is on the point of extinction. Many of the tunes had a haunting tone which made me think of how fragile their existence is, and of the secrets bound up in their past which are on the point of being lost forever’.

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Gal Oya Lodge, a highly-recommended luxury eco-retreat which hovers on the edge of Gal Oya National Park, has developed this experience in relation with the Gal Oya veddas. Comprised of eight spacious bungalows spread across 20 acres of private forest, Gal Oya Lodge provides the ultimate escape from the stress of day-to-day life and has a magical atmosphere which will stay with you long after you leave. This experience is only available for those staying at this property, but it is easily SriLankaInStyle‘s favourite accommodation in the area. Take a peek at Gal Oya Lodge here.

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What the experience will involve apart from the walk will differ from time to time, as it is an experience which depends on the veddas mood at the time. However, it is such a special and incredible opportunity; time is rapidly running out to discover the secrets of this absorbing tribe. It will open your mind and make you question your own way of life, modern society, and how precious and transient experiences can be. For more information, see our website.

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