Veddas  or Wanniyalaetto of Sri Lanka
 
chief Urupana Warige Tissagami

Wanniyal-aetto elders today carry on the struggle their chief Urupana Warige Tissagami waged against official oppression for decades until his death at 104 in 1998.

Interview with Vedda Chief Tissahamy

Tissahamy Vows to Preserve Identity of His People

Colombo: The Sunday Times, Sunday, May 24, 1992
By Ravindra Wickremasinghe

Vedda chief Tissahamy, whose community is embroiled in a major controversy over their traditional homelands and the ill-effects of development, in an interview with The Sunday Times this week went to the core of the crisis. Following are extracts from the interview which he gave through an interpreter.

Q. Why are some of the Veddas returning from the state-sponsored settlement?

They are returning from these areas as they cannot practise their culture freely and because they feel that they are losing their identity in mixing with the various other communities.

Q. Why are you demanding that these four villages of Kadalataparuwa, Bolugahatenna, Kandyaparuwa, and Karagoda be included in the protected area?

I want this area to come under the reserve so that our people would have the minimum of contact with the outside world and maintain our identity as much as possible. I also want to be remembered as the Vedda chief who did his best for his people, then only can I take my last breath in peace.

Q. How have things changed since the Mahaweli Authority took over your lands and resettled you?

The Mahaweli Authority took over our lands nine years ago. They resettled us in what they considered best for us. They wanted us to adjust to the Sinhala way of life which cannot come about instantly. It takes a great deal of time. The younger people have adjusted faster than the older ones. Things have changed very much. There might not be any Veddas left at the turn of the century.

Q. Are you willing to give up chena cultivation and take to national method of farming?

I am not against the national method of farming but we have not been effectively taught this method. I can understand the fears of the government that we are indiscriminately cutting down forests, but the proper raw materials and training has to be given to us.

Q. How do you react to the alleged brutality by officials of a government department?

They had a grudge against the Veddas as we were letting our cattle graze on their land and we collect honey which they want to have for themselves. They also get us to hunt animals for them. They will take revenge from us if we do not obey them. I have told my descendants to avoid them as much as possible. I am angry over this incident.