Known as Sri Lanka’s ‘first people’, their present day descendents can claim a genetic lineage from as early as 18,000 BCE to the island’s original Neolithic community. The Veddhas or ‘Wanniya-laeto’ (forest dwellers) as they prefer to call themselves – are Sri Lanka’s indigenous inhabitants whose lifestyle and beliefs have remained relatively untouched over the millennia. Whilst the chronicle Mahavamsa romantically attributes the origin of the Veddha people to the offspring of Aryan Prince Vijaya (the founding father of the Sinhalese) and Kuveni (of the indigenous ‘Yakkha’ clan), anthropologists determine them to be of the Yakkha clan themselves. Across centuries, they have survived the trials of time – foreign invasions, battles between ruling kingdoms, successive colonial powers and the upheavals of modernisation; and have survived either through assimilation or retreat deep into the forests, with the few remaining communities doggedly preserving their unique cultural identity and way of life. The opportunity to catch a glimpse of their lives is a rewarding experience that affirms how vital it is to preserve their invaluable wisdom and traditions from impending extinction.

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