The Wild Vanni Calling

Vedda, Sri Lanka, 1977. Photo by laserlandsson

Looking for something to do for four days come 31st of December. I’ll be hornswoggled if im gonna spend 31st night at some boring party.

I’v been reading about the jungles of the Vanni lately. The book is R.L. Spittel’s Savage Sanctuary. Its a story concerning the Veddas written specifically for the purpose of giving life to the anthropological data that was heavily mined by British Colonial scholars during the 19th century.

R.L. Spittel (1881-1969), who was a surgeon by profession, lived among the Veddas for many years. He studied their habits, spoke to them, lived with them and walked the jungle trails with them. The Veddas are said to have migrated to this part of the world during the stone age before the tectonic plates shifted and we parted ways with India. They drifted down from the sun beaten trails of Central Asia, following the wandering beasts down to the lush jungles of this piece of land and chose to remain here forever islanded when the earth broke into pieces afterwards.

So if this land ‘rightfully belongs’ to anyone then it belongs to the Veddas if precedence is your metric. But thank God its not no? Otherwise we’d all be hypocrites.

Spittel’s story follows the life of Tissahamy, the famed Wildman. Though Spittle lived and studied after the time of Tissahamy, he was able to painstakingly put together the story of the latter’s life through the acquaintance of his son and others who knew him.

This very word; ‘wild-man’ conjures up visions of a different species. Its like the difference between a wild cat and a house cat; you simply can’t place these two side by side and call them the same. And they were a savage bunch. At least Tissahamy was. But they were also capable of the type of love and caring that optimists believe typify human nature. They were forest dwellers and even in the mid to late 19th century they had largely dissipated and assimilated into what passed for civilization then. By the 1930s Spittle writes; ‘today, no pure Vedda exists’.

Spittel’s Map

The story of Savage Sanctuary takes place in the jungles of the semi arid zones; the area East of the the hills and petering North towards Maha Oya. Mainly the Uva province. The jungles are described as lush yet not overcome with rain. They are full of wild beasts like sambhurs, monkeys, leopards, bears and elephants. Many exciting accounts of hunts and battles with bears are described. Leopards will attack only if you surprise them while they are making a kill, when their blood lust is high. If you meet one just after it’s killed it will growl at you and slink off, that is, if it sees that you are not afraid of it. Bears on the other hand are right bastards, they will attack you the moment you surprise them. They look like boars to the untrained eye but are deadly fast and can crush your face with their sharp claws.

All this excitement running through the pages into my veins makes me want to take off to the Vanni right now. I’m not pretending i want to meet leopards and bears though, or even hit up on an elephant in the dark and get trampled to death. Things have changed in those jungles now i guess. But the war must have done the most damage of all. How do you chase away a land mine just by showing it that you are not afraid?

  1. N said:

    Uva province is distinct from the Vanni right? Or have I completely forgotten my geography. Spittle’s books are some of the most interesting ones I’ve read from that era, try Vanished Trails as well.

  2. Whacko said:

    im not really too confident of that myself man. im pretty sure at least part of it is the Vanni. Want to join in?

  3. N said:

    I’m tentatively slated to be in Yala from the 31st to the 3rd, if that falls through I’m definitely interested. Spending 31st in Colombo is not something I want to do.

  4. Abdul Halik said:

    This year after all my dilemmas in the city trying to figure out my true self, i am heading back home. Moments like this make me proud of myself you see. I am back where i belong.

    Veddha seeya here i come !

  5. Foxhound said:

    Hah! Everyone knows Chuck Norris can scare a landmine away!

  6. Nifraz said:

    Well brother, what can I say… the majority of the population has the wrong perception of believing that the vedda’s are the real ancestors of sri lanka. I totally disagree with that statement.. Just because a slice of human’s are isolated or rather neglected by the majority it doesn’t mean that they are the real owner’s of the land. May be they chose to be left that way.. for god sake sri lanka does not cover a huge land area. I‘v heard of Sudanese children who had walked the entire African continent by foot. Therefore I don’t believe on the argument of so called vedda’s being treasured in the thick forest for so many centuries.. Wild animals do travel a lot… and specially humans for that matter genetically love to explore the world. If that was the case why were the vadda’s be exceptional and not explore the other parts of sri lanka. What motivated them be trapped in a small land area. Maybe their habitat was not located within the main trade routs in sri lanka and no body was bothered to look for them. Just becouse they chose to live in the forest we cannot label them as wild men either. They do wear cloth, they do have their own culture. Just because a crow lives in a polluted city, it doesn’t make the crow a domestic animal. As long its not living domestic, its wild.. Whether its at a wild jungle or a urban city the crow is considers as a wild bird.. Therefore its difficult to distinguish the Vedda’s from the rest of the society. It’s just that the Vedda’s are bit fortunate to live their lives on their discretion in comparison to the rest of the sri Lankans. If you really scrutinized their life style its in deed a civilized community with a lethargic progression.

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