In 3rd century BCE, King Devanampiya Tissa, one of the earliest rulers of Sri Lanka, founded what is widely considered to be the world’s first wildlife refuge. Since then, this small nation has focused on continuing what King Tissa started, boasting 501 protected natural areas amounting to nearly 27% of the small island's land area. The Wanniya-laeto (Vedda) people are the original inhabitants of the island and their knowledge of these natural spaces is nothing short of astounding.
The Wanniya-laeto people are Sri Lanka’s indigenous inhabitants with a history dating back to descendants of the island’s Neolithic community in 14,000 BC, or possibly earlier. With a name meaning forest dwellers, the Wanniya-laeto, were historically nomadic hunter-gatherers of the dry monsoon forest (wanni) and claim to have preserved their cultural memory since pre-historic times.
These indigenous people are often referred to as Veddas (meaning hunters) because of their wild, disheveled appearance has allowed negative attitudes of them to persist. As a result, many of their population have assimilated into the surrounding Sinhalese or Tamil societies and academics are lamenting the decline of their distinctive culture and ancestral heritage.
However, because their lineage is matrilineal in Sri Lanka’s dominant patrilineal society, the Wanniya-laeto have been able to preserve a remarkable level of social and cultural solidarity despite outwardly displaying the customs of their mainstream Sri Lankan neighbors. Scientists who study indigenous people advocate protecting their welfare because the Wanniya-laeto’s ecological wisdom for living in the natural environment is needed for a sustainable future of Sri Lanka.
Visiting a community of Wanniya-laeto people is a lifetime experience for any visitor. On our Wild Sri Lanka itinerary we invite the chief of Sri Lanka’s indigenous tribe to take you on a walk through the jungles of his ancestors. This is enjoying nature to the max as he brings the forest alive by explaining his tribes’ uses of medicinal plants, ancient hunting grounds, cave dwellings and an insight on how the hunter gathers lived in the jungles of Gal Oya National Park. Wildland Adventures and Gal Oya donate proceeds from this tour into a fund to support the local tribe in an ethical and community needs-based manner.
Your friendly Sri Lanka travel expert,