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.

Yearly update

Read the 2012 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in Sri Lanka to learn about major developments and events during 2011 (internal link)



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. The Indigenous World 2019.

Contact IWGIA

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DK 1422 Copenhagen
Phone: (+45) 53 73 28 30
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