Vedda - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The distinction between "Wild," "Jungle," or "Rock Veddas," who live from hunting and gathering and sometimes also shifting cultivation, and "Village Veddas," who live in permanent settlements and subsist principally from cultivation, is long established, but already by the time of the Seligmanns' study there were very few Veddas who lived principally from foraging. The Anuradhapura Veddas until recently have derived their living mainly from shifting cultivation, supplemented where possible by wet-rice agriculture. Crops grown under shifting cultivation include millet, maize, beans, squashes, manioc, chilies, eggplants, tomatoes, and okra. Under present conditions of rapidly increasing population pressure and greater market involvement, many of the Anuradhapura Veddas now obtain the major part of their livelihood as agricultural wage laborers outside their own villages. At the same time an increasing proportion of what they produce in their own fields is now marketed rather than consumed at home. Coast Veddas put a greater emphasis on fishing, combining this with shifting cultivation and, less frequently, paddy cultivation. Fishing is done with nets cast from outrigger canoes, from rafts, or from platforms set up in the surf. Prawns are the principal catch. Like the Anuradhapura Veddas, many Coast Veddas now also work as casual wage laborers. A few individuals in all three groups hunt occasionally as a means of supplementing their income. Some Veddas also collect wild honey, one of their traditionally ascribed occupations. Veddas keep cattle, water buffalo, goats, chickens, and dogs, although the relative importance of these species varies greatly between different communities.


Industrial Arts. The Bintenne Veddas formerly made most of their own hunting equipment, such as bows and arrows, spears, axes, etc., although by 1900 those who hunted had already come to rely on metal for the heads of their spears, arrows, and axes, which they obtained through barter. Some had even begun to use guns to bring down their prey. The Anuradhapura Veddas obtain their agricultural tools in the market, as do the Coast Veddas. The Coast Veddas are, however, capable boat builders.

Trade. The Bintenne Veddas are reputed at one time to have engaged in "silent trade" with the Sinhalese. Exchange relations among the Veddas were formerly governed principally by rules of reciprocity, but in the last few decades all groups have become much more deeply involved in market Relations. Only a few Veddas, however, have successfully established themselves as traders or shopkeepers.

Division of Labor. Men do most of the agricultural work, especially in paddy cultivation, while women gather wild foods and firewood, cook, care for children, tend domestic gardens, and assist in shifting cultivation and harvesting paddy. Among the Coast Veddas men do most of the fishing. Both male and female Veddas engage in wage labor. Occupational specialization and economic differentiation between households are not pronounced.

Land Tenure. Access to irrigated land is normatively obtained by inheritance, but sales and mortgages are common. Most of the jungle land on which shifting cultivation is practiced is claimed by the state, but Veddas see it as the communal property of the village it surrounds. Rapid population growth and the shift to cash cropping have intensified Pressure on the land, resulting in increased landlessness and a dangerous reduction of the fallow period in shifting cultivation. A few Veddas have obtained land in development Projects funded by the state. Some Bintenne Veddas who claim still to live from hunting and gathering have joined a movement to have a Vedda reservation established in the region.


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