Indigenous peoples in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is home to diverse indigenous cultures that have combined to influence its societal make-up for over two thousand years. Of these, the historically recognized Vyadha (“huntsmen/ archers”) or Vadda, as they are now commonly referred to, were among diverse other social or occupational indigenous groups who served a defined role, recognised by royal decree, and who owed allegiance to the King.
With European colonisation, however, the different indigenous groups, including the Vadda, came under threat as a result of social transformations that ended up isolating them. The norm among European and other travel writers of the colonial era was to depict hunter-gatherer groups such as the Vadda as “uncivilised” or “barbarous”.
The Vadda comprise independent groups who originally coexisted alongside their non-Vadda neighbours and were once widespread in the south-eastern and eastern coastal belt, the northern tracts and the central part of the island where they are, however, less known. Of these, a comparatively few Vadda groups – particularly those of the south-east - are recognised by certain cultural traits, such as varige (Sinhala term for clan name) and ancestor worship. The majority, however, compare with their neighbours, the long-term Sinhalese sedentary agriculturalists, and some with Tamil-speaking populations.
While colonial census reports portrayed the Vadda people as a distinct ethnic group and gave population figures of between 1,229 and 4,510 people, census surveys of the last three decades have not distinguished them as a separate ethnic group.