Monday, December 31, 2007

Where are Sri Lanka's aboriginals, the Veddas?

As the ethnic war in pearl of theIndian ocean rages between the Sinhalas and the Tamils theundisputed original settlers of Sri Lanka- the Veddas- havealmost disappeared from the country says a new book.

"Practically unseen, they became the stuff of folklore-and tended to be remembered as elf likecreaturesw whoexisted in half-legend and half-reality. Knosn as 'Yakshas' insome Sinhalese accounts, a mystical mask is imposed on theiraboriginal identity," says the book 'Sri Lanka, A Land inSearch of Itself', by Mohan K. Tikku. A Senior fellow of theIndian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), Delhi,Tikku was Hindustan Times correspondent in Colombo throughthe IPKF years.Those among the Veddas who were assimilated by the dominantculture and community, lived in the cities and the villagesto a settled life style, naturally, they lost touch with theothers who were left behind in the jungles. Most did not evenknow if they still survived, or how, the book says.

The Veddas inhabited the island at least 14,000 yearsago. If anyone, they are the original Sri Lankans. For itlooks like that at some point in pre-history- and quite closeto Sri Lanka's Neolithic period- these people crossed theshallow waters of what later came to be known as the PalkStrait to reach the island.

Like the Ho and Birhors of Chota Nagpur in Central India,the Vededas belong to the Austro-Asiatic family. Among theirother cousins are the Kubus of Indonesia, The sakai inMalaysia and the Aborigines of Australia, the author says.

Strangely, the people who inhabited the island long before either Tamils or the Sinhalese appeared on the scene have not been part of the 'me first' debate and the argument it generates. If at all, they have been practically ignored-pushed as they were beyond the margins of society.