Vedda - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Social relations within Vedda Villages are structured mainly by rules of kinship. Apart from hierarchies of age and gender, social relations are generally egalitarian. Caste also plays a role in regulating interaction between Veddas and their Tamil and Sinhalese neighbors, at least in the Anuradhapura and Coast regions. The caste specialization of the Veddas has been identified both as hunting and as spirit mediumship, although it is also claimed that the Veddas stand entirely outside either the Sinhalese or the Tamil caste system since they lack formai structural ties with other castes. The Anuradhapura Veddas collectively constitute a single variga (caste or subcaste), but their variga court, which used to regulate internal caste affairs, has not functioned since the 1950s. The Coast and Bintenne Veddas have apparently never had any kind of overarching caste court.

Political Organization. The Veddas formerly enjoyed considerable autonomy, being located at or beyond the effective limits of Sinhalese or Tamil political power. Within the Villages leadership was provided by influential male elders. The Veddas were increasingly subordinated to state authority during the period of British colonial rule, a trend that has intensified since Sri Lanka became independent in 1948. Agricultural cooperatives, development societies, and other state-sponsored organizations have been established in many villages. In Anuradhapura and Bintenne the local officers of these organizations often are village leaders, but among the Coast Veddas the leadership is nearly always provided from among the Tamil elite in nearby Tamil villages.

Social Control. Everyday social life in Vedda villages is still largely governed by norms of kinship, although recourse is also made to state officials, and the police are a more frequent presence than in the past. Sorcery accusations can also act as an informal means of social control.

Conflict. Competition between kin-based factions has long been a prominent feature of village life. The Coast Veddas usually participate in local politics as subordinate members of Tamil-led factions. Today factional struggles typically appear in the guise of conflict between the local branches of the national political parties and focus on the distribution of welfare and development resources.


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