VEDDAHS, or WEDDAHS (from Sanskrit iieddha, " hunter "), a primitive people of Ceylon, probably representing the Yakkos or "demons " of Sanskrit writers, the true aborigines of the island. During the Dutch occupation (1644-1796) they were found as far north as Jaffna, but are now confined to the southeastern district, about the wooded Bintenna, BaduUa and Nilgala hills, and thence to the coast near Batticaloa. They are divided into two classes, the Kele Weddo or jungle Veddahs, and the Can Weddo, or semi-civilized village Veddahs. The Veddahs exhibit the phenomenon of a race living the wildest of savage lives and yet speaking an Aryan dialect. Craniometrical evidence strongly favours the theory, now generally accepted, that they represent a branch of the pre-Aryan Dravidians of southern India, and that their ancestors probably made a settlement in the island of Ceylon in prehistoric times, detaching themselves from a migrating horde which passed through the island to find at last a permanent home in the continent of Australia.
The true jungle veddahs are almost a dwarfish race. They are dark-skinned and flat-nosed, slight of frame and very small of skull, and average no more than 5 ft. Their black hair is shaggy rather than lank. They are a shy, harmless, simple folk, living chiefly by hunting; they lime birds, catch fish by poisoning the water, and are skilled in getting wild honey; they have bows with iron-pointed arrows and breed hunting dogs. They dwell in caves or bark huts, and their word for house is Sinhalese for a hollow tree, rukula. They count on their fingers, and make fire with the simplest form of fire-drill twirled by hand. They are monogamous, and their conjugal fidelity contrasts strongly with the vicious habits of the Sinhalese. Their religion has been described as a kind of demonworship, consisting of rude dances and shouts raised to scare away the evil spirits, whom they confound with their ancestors.
The Veddahs are not to be confounded with the Rodiyas of the western uplands, who are a much finer race, tall, wellporportioned, with regular features, and speak a language said to be radically distinct from all the Aryan and Dravidian dialects current in Ceylon. There is, however, in Travancore, on the mainland, a low-caste " Veda " tribe, nearly black, with wavy or frizzly hair, and now speaking a Malayalim (Dravidian) dialect (Jagor), who probably approach nearer than the insular Veddahs to the aboriginal pre-Dravidian " negrito " element of southern India and Malaysia.
See Percival, Description of Island of Ceylon (1805); Cordiner, Description of Ceylon (1807); John Davy, Ceylon and its Inhabitants (1821); Stirr, Ceylon and the Singhalese (1850); Sir Emerson Tennent, Ceylon (1859): J. Baily, Trans, of Ethnol. Soc., New Series, vol. ii. (1863); Rolleston, Trans, of Brit. Ass. (1872); B. F. Hartshorne, Fortnightly Review, New Series, vol. xix. p. 406. The most elaborate monograph is that of Professor Virchow, Uber die Weddas von Ceylon und ihre Beziehungen zu den Nachbarstdmmen (Berlin, 1882). See also E. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture; A. Thomson, " Osteology of Veddahs," in Journ. Anthrop. Institute (1889), vol. xix. p. 125; L. de Zpysa, " Origin of Veddahs," in Journal, Ceylon Branch, Royal Asiatic Society, vol. vii.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)