Courtesy the Indigenous Way: Survival of Age-Old Traditions
Sri Lanka's indigenous Veddas, or Wanniya laeto (forest dwellers) are often portrayed as shy half savages of the jungle -- and yet visitors to their remote hamlets are often surprised and humbled by the rustic nobility of their 'primitive' hosts.
No doubt, the shy nature of the Wanniya-laeto has served to insulate them from outside world for thousands of years. Even today, many still converse in their own archaic language, preserving ancient wisdom and traditions of indigenous knowledge that is as old as humanity.
With the declaration of 1993-2003 as the International Decade for the World's IndigenousPeople and the advent of eco tourism, visitors in growing numbers are keen to meet indigenous people face to face. Those who do venture to visit the Wanniya laeto, however, should be aware of some principles of courtesy common to most traditional cultures, including the Wanniya-laeto.By observing them, visitors also participate in age old rituals of courtesy that are expressive of indigenous wisdom.
By respecting indigenous people's customs and beliefs sincerely, visitors open themselves to heartfelt communication through the "wink language" of ingiya, the international 'language of the eyes'. Visitors may suddenly discover themselves in a long lost world where violence is confined to hunting and truth in speech is the cultural norm.
The more one deals with indigenous people of Sri Lanka, the more one admires them. Their gentle, uncontrived lifestyle is sure evidence of a mature culture far more ancient than any other in Sri Lanka, marked by a strong sense of justice and personal dignity. Wanniya-laeto speak little, but they speak the truth. Rarely do they quarrel, and they are faithful in love to a degree that is scarcely equaled in today's world.
With their mature cultural heritage, it is not surprising that Sri Lanka's indigenous communities are so keen to avert cultural extinction in the pell mell rush to modernize. Modern tourists need not undermine indigenous customs and values. Instead, with a smile and a heartfelt handshake, they may visit and return home with a better understanding of how people once lived together in peace in this resplendent island paradise.
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