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’.
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?