Dos and don’ts when entering Maduru Oya
The agreement reached with the Veddahs, according to Environment Minister Champika Ranawaka:
- The special identity cards issued to about 90 Veddahs by the DWLC will be invalid hereafter but all those who have Vedi surnames, like “Uruwarige” will have access to the National Park with the National Identity Cards. “Seven such groups have been identified,” says the Minister.
- All the Veddahs who seek to enter the park will have to give prior notice to the wildlife authorities.
- They will not be allowed to carry guns into the park.
- They will only be allowed to engage in traditional activity.
DWLC Director-General Ananda Wijesooriya, when contacted said he was unaware of the agreement to cancel the ID cards issued by his department and give access to those with Vedi names to the park. “I have been in the field,” he said when The Sunday Times contacted him.
Meanwhile, according to Anthropologist Prof. Gananath Obeyesekere there are many villages in the Vellassa region that are nowadays defined as Sinhala but only a generation or two ago were Veddah with Veddah varige names. Owing to the popular idea that Veddahs were "primitives" many have become Sinhala even though their ideologies and lifestyles are very much "Veddah".
“I put the term in quotes because historically Veddahs were as differentiated as the Sinhalas but without a caste system. They ranged from minor ‘rajas’ in the Matale district to aristocrats (Bandara Veddahs) to farmers, bodyguards and, of course, those living by hunting and gathering, the last remnants I am afraid.
“The Veddah tragedy was compounded by their forced relocation into the Mahaveli colonies, their families scattered all over and the younger generation giving up the stigmatized Veddah identity and taking Sinhala vasagama names and marrying Sinhalas,” he explains.
One can only pinpoint the Veddahs of Dambana and a few other places as attempting to preserve their identity. The Veddahs are victims of "development" as indeed are some Sinhala communities, he adds.