Ecological Wisdom of Sri Lanka’s Indigenous People
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, which allows 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. Khiri Travel has a tour program in which we invite the chief of Sri Lanka’s indigenous tribe to take your travelers 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. Khiri Travel and Gal Oya donate proceeds from this tour into a fund to support the local tribe in an ethical and community needs based manner.
For more information about incorporating a visit with Sri Lanka’s indigenous forest dwellers into a tour of Gal Oya or other tours of Sri Lanka, please contact to [email protected]