Veddas  or Wanniyalaetto of Sri Lanka

Mahaweli Development Scheme

Vedda children
Wanniyal-aetto children

In 1977 the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Scheme was launched, under which vast tracts of traditional Wanniyalaeto hunting lands were alienated for the proposed benefit of other communities. As usual, the offering of equitable compensation to the region's displaced indigenous inhabitants was not even considered. Every major decision was taken either in far-off Colombo or in distant foreign capitals without consulting the region's indigenous people.

Under the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Scheme, vast extents of forestland have been logged and inundated or earmarked for colonization. One last Wanniyalaeto hunting domain remained upon 145,450 acres of forest between the western chain of reservoirs and the Maduru Oya irrigation dam, but this too was on November 9th, 1983, declared to be the Maduru Oya National Park. It was intended as a habitat for displaced wildlife and as a protected catchment area: But under the terms of the Fauna and Flora Ordinance, "No person shall be entitled to enter any National Park, except for the purpose of observing the fauna and flora therein", and "no animal shall be hunted, killed and taken and no plant shall be damaged, collected, or destroyed in a National Park." Entry can be allowed only under "the authority and in accordance with the conditions of a permit issued by the prescribed officer on payment of the prescribed fee", and only to allow the permit-holder to observe fauna and flora.

Consequently, the Wanniya-laeto, who had been occupational hunter- gatherers and custodians of the forest for uncounted millennia, were transformed overnight into game poachers and trespassers. Barriers, guards, and outposts were stationed along the park's demarcated borders and the hapless Wanniyalaeto were evacuated to "rehabilitation" villages in Systems C and B of the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Scheme where they were to become rice cultivators (see Map of Mahaweli Development Scheme settlements). As one translocated Wanniyalaeto leader later observed, "The government took away our hunting tools and gave us mammoties to dig our own graves."