« PreviousContinue »
cherish no future malicious rancour. The Vaedda is proud in the extreme, and considers himself no man's inferior. Hence he is keenly sensitive to ridicule, contempt, and even patronage.
'He is thoroughly truthful and straightforward; a little kindly sympathy makes him an attached friend, and for his friend, as the Sinhalese nobles over and over again proved, he will readily give his life. The women are chaste and industrious, and have seldom a wish to attract the envy of other women, or the admiration of men.
‘They are a merry people, delighting in riddles, songs, and jests. Those I have seen, of all clans, laugh often and merrily. They burst into a verse of song now and again, apparently from sheer exuberance of spirits, and any ludicrous incident amuses them as much as it would a Malay.
'A Vaedda is exceedingly jealous, and this jealousy, coupled with a quick temper and a reckless craving for revenge, probably developed the chastity and monogamy of the race. In any case, its honesty, truthfulness, and obedience to family or clan discipline, stand out in bright pre-eminence.
'As a rule, among the purer Vaeddas the younger women are rigorously excluded, or rather protected, from contact with strangers. They occupy, however, an honourable and free position in the society of their relations.'
A Mission' established a few years ago to 'rescue' and civilise these people was, like previous attempts, a failure. Nearly all the persons who joined it had Sinhalese names, and probably most of them were not true Vaeddas, though leading nearly the same life as the Village Vaeddas. I learnt that they only remained at it for the sake of the free food which they received. The true Vaedda is not a person who could be induced to settle permanently at such a station. When the hunting season came round it would be impossible to prevent these hunters from feeling an irresistible desire to return to their forest life, which some of them informed me they greatly prefer to any other. A small grant of funds to enable a supply of millet to be given to them in years when unfavourable seasons same custom is, or was, in vogue among the Jōlas of West Africa, among whom the conditions which affect this practice were similar.
damage their crops, and, if possible, the provision of some kind of inexpensive wells at their hamlets, such as those made by the ancient Sinhalese and lined with rings of common earthenware, would be of more practical and immediate benefit to them..
The late Mr. Frank Fisher, who was formerly in charge of the Eastern Province as Government Agent, and who understood the natives of Ceylon better than most Europeans, was of opinion that the best method of dealing with the Vaeddas would be to restore one of the larger ancient reservoirs in the middle of their district, and to induce them, by a little pressure if necessary, to settle on the irrigable land below it. As such a scheme would be of benefit to the other inhabitants of the district it might eventually prove successful, but not for some years, and possibly never as a commercial undertaking. In any case it would be a costly experiment. Probably it was through the introduction of irrigation and rice cultivation that the ancient Vaeddas were converted into the Sinhalese of the present day. It was certainly not by means of well-meant but ineffective Missions.'
As one village tank after another was constructed-until every valley, however shallow, had a chain of them, one below the other, each supplying a separate rice-field with waterand the benefits due to these works became appreciated, the Vaeddas who lived near them would be gradually led to adopt rice cultivation as a chief means of gaining a livelihood, while still, like the Wanniyas and many Kandians of jungle villages, devoting a large part of their time to hunting. The example of agricultural settlers from Southern India, and occasional intermarriages with them, would doubtless give a further impetus to this transformation of the race into a nation of cultivators. We can see the very same advance in civilisation taking place among the Vaeddas of the present day. Some who live near the recently constructed irrigation works have already voluntarily adopted rice cultivation, and of their own accord have planted Coconuts and other fruit trees about their houses.
Time Reckoning.-Neither the Forest nor Village Vaeddas
keep any account of time. They have no words for the days of the week, and do not recognise such periods as the hours and their subdivisions, nor even weeks, months, or years.
Counting. I now come to the question of the Vaedda's ability to count, which has been denied by some. I did not specially investigate the extent of the knowledge of the Wanniyas in this direction. All those whom I met appeared to resemble the ordinary Sinhalese villagers in this respect, and their common reference to numbers up to a thousand showed that they are well acquainted with them.
Regarding the Vaeddas, I may state that my inquiries were made without interpreters, in Sinhalese or Tamil. I was definitely assured by the Village Vaeddas, and this was confirmed by Sinhalese headmen who speak their dialect, that in the dialect which they call their own they have no words to express either numbers or periods of time. A Village Vaedda who came from the wild tract in the Madura-oya valley in which the Forest Vaeddas are chiefly found, informed me, in Sinhalese, that Vaeddas never make use of any numbers when conversing, and are unable to count. He remarked that he himself could not count; but on making further inquiry I learnt that this only referred to the Vaedi dialect. He could count quite correctly in Sinhalese, and seemed rather proud to do it for me until I stopped him. As apparently all Village Vaeddas are more or less acquainted with Sinhalese, it is safe to assume that they are all able to count in that language.
Regarding the knowledge and use of numbers possessed by the Forest Vaeddas, I have no positive information. If their dialect does not, as I was told, contain words for them, it is just possible that they are unacquainted with them; but before believing this I should require convincing evidence which at present is not forthcoming. That they have a considerable acquaintance with Sinhalese is certain, and if so why should they omit to remember the words for numbers? The parents of many persons who are now ordinary Village Vaeddas were true Forest Vaeddas sixty years ago,1 yet all the former class understand and speak Sinhalese.
1 See the footnote at the end of the chapter.
There is a Vaedi measure of length, the Pilluma, which represents the Sinhalese Saetaepma or Hatakma, the distance marched by a man carrying a load while on a journey, between two resting-places, called Rūppē in the Vaedi dialect. Its use appears to postulate the employment of some method of stating a distance of several Pillum; and the Village Vaeddas readily mention (using Sinhalese words) the number of Pillum on a well-known path, for instance one which leads to their own village.
It is also quite likely that the Forest Vaeddas, even if they are unacquainted with any words for expressing numbers, may indicate them by means of marks made on the ground, or pieces of stick, or stones, or by their fingers, a common method used by Sinhalese villagers. In the course of conversation the wild Village Vaedda above mentioned indicated a number to me by his fingers of both hands, and a half by crossing his right forefinger over his left one; and they may do the same.
Some have remarked that the Vaeddas can count only up to five; and the same reply has been made to me by Tamilspeaking Vaeddas. On inquiry, however, I ascertained that it merely meant that they, who spoke Tamil and could count easily in that language, were only acquainted with the Sinhalese words for numbers up to five; they thought them Vaedi words.
The Village Vaedda above referred to, who was much nearer the state of a Forest Vaedda than the ordinary villager, declared that he and his acquaintances never employed numbers when conversing among themselves. In reply to my special questions he assured me that they would never use such expressions as 'three trees' or 'three buffaloes'; he insisted that they would only say the words trees' or 'buffaloes,' without specifying the number. He seemed to think that the actual number would be of little importance; it would be enough to know that there were more than one. I have no doubt that this is correct, as others confirmed it; but it is far from proving their inability to count when they desire to do it.
Mr. Nevill remarked on this subject: The earlier observers
are right in saying that they do not count. Practically one, two, several, many, very many, make up their use of numbers.' I am not satisfied that this can be accepted as final, even in the case of the Forest Vaeddas, if it was meant to indicate not only their use but also their knowledge of numbers, since it is quite certain that the Village Vaeddas, at any rate, both can and do count without difficulty by employing Sinhalese words or their fingers, although they, too, have been supposed to be unable to do it.
Whatever the final result of the investigation of the knowledge of numbers possessed by the Forest Vaeddas may be, the absence of special Vaedi words for them is of little value as evidence of the state of Vaedda civilisation, either now or in past times. If the vocabulary which I append be examined it will be found that there is in it only a single pronoun, and that is practically a Sinhalese, that is, an Aryan word. If they adopted the Sinhalese pronouns in the place of those which they possessed originally, they could equally employ the Sinhalese words for numbers instead of their own. Their long and intimate connexion with the Sinhalese is evident in their vocabulary.
The only indication of their use of numbers in early times is the statement in the Mahavansa that the wedding festivities at the marriage of one of the local chiefs were to last seven days. Even if this was an invention of the early Sinhalese annalist, it proves that he, who must have had some acquaintance with the ways of the aborigines, believed not only that they were able to count, but that they kept a time record.
I am strongly of opinion that if any Vaeddas do not habitually make use of numbers, it is merely because they do not find it necessary to employ them, and not from any incapacity to understand them.
As an illustration of this, I give a practically literal translation of a few lines from a folk-story told in Sinhalese by a Village Vaedda of the interior, called Yāpā, a typical Vaedda name, and written down verbatim in that language.
It is evidently a story originally learnt from the Kandian Sinhalese, and there is nothing in it to indicate any connexion