Veddas  or Wanniyalaetto of Sri Lanka

Other Indigenous Communities of Sri Lanka

Mudiyanse Tennekoon


The numerically greatest and ritually highest traditional community in Sri Lanka, that of the Goyigama or ancestral cultivators, are by self-identification also descended from the Yaksha Gotra. They and their Yaksha-ancestors remain associated to this day with the forest heartland of the island, the Wanni. Those who gave up hunting to take up chena cultivation and eventually irrigated cultivation are said to have been called Handuruwa ('who left the hunt') before they became known as Goyigama, it is said.

These Goyigama farmers now perform diva kurahe pujawa or ritual sacrifice of the earth's 'blood' (i.e. water) whereas their Wanniya-laeto cousins the Veddas still perform kiri kurahe pujawa or sacrifice of animal blood (in the form of milk). The Goyigama community's self-identification as indigenous people of the Yaksha Gotra could have far-reaching implications for Sri Lankan society in years to come.


This trait of tracing one's ancestors back to the realm of yakshas and other semi-divine spirits is also a feature of other traditional communities of people who may be reckoned to be indigenous even though their ancestors may have come somewhat later from the mainland of Asia. An example is tile Kinnaraya community of mat-weavers; the very name identifies them with a class of semi-divine beings who were entrusted with the preservation of performative arts in classical Indian mythology.

Even today, the Kinnaraya community in Sri Lanka remains well-known both for its intricately woven mats (including such motifs as labyrinths and sacred animals) and for its performances of Sokari, the comic opera performed on the kamatha threshing floor in honor of goddess Pattini and god Kataragama. Despite harsh economic conditions, the Kinnarayas still preserve a sizable share of the island's indigenous heritage.


The Ahikuntikaya community, better known as gypsies, is an ancient nomadic people with their own distinct cultural identity and, as such, may also be regarded as all indigenous people.

An ancient people in a 21st Century world Dilmah Conservation and the Ahikuntikaya

The Ahikuntikayas still preserve and practice their ancestral livelihood of snake charming and fortune telling, but they are fast becoming settled day laborers under the steady pressure of modern economic demands. Those gypsies who manage to preserve their ancestral heritage must pay a heavy economic toll to do so.

Rodiya camp, 1860
Rodiya camp, 1860


The Rodiyas are people who were once banished from the social caste structure, but who are nevertheless entitled to engage in ritual begging. As ritual beggars, they present a striking contrast to their thoroughly­ modern urban counterparts, who must look and act miserable to collect a few small coins. For the Rodiyas, who according to some accounts are descended from hunting people like the Veddas, are a proud and handsome people who present ritual performances as groups of singers and jugglers with a clever song and a witty remark for every occasion.

Despite their degraded social status and outward poverty, the Rodis have survived and preserved intact their group spirit and collective heritage. As such, they present an object lesson in survival to people of all communities.