The Vedda (Sinhala: වැද්දා[ˈvædːaː], Tamil: வேடர்Vēdar), or Wanniyalaeto, are a minority indigenous group of people in Sri Lanka who, among other sub-communities such as Coast Veddas, Anuradhapura Veddas and Bintenne Veddas, are accorded indigenous status. The Vedda minority in Sri Lanka may become completely assimilated. Most speak Sinhala instead of their indigenous languages, which are nearing extinction. It has been hypothesized that the Vedda were probably the earliest inhabitants of Sri Lanka and have lived on the island since before the arrival of other ethnic groups in India.
Veddas are also mentioned in Robert Knox’s history of his captivity by the King of Kandy in the 17th century. Knox described them as “wild men”, but also said there was a “tamer sort”, and that the latter sometimes served in the king’s army.
The Ratnapura District, which is part of the Sabaragamuwa Province, is known to have been inhabited by the Veddas in the distant past. This has been shown by scholars like Nandadeva Wijesekera. The very name Sabaragamuwa is believed to have meant the village of the Sabaras or “forest barbarians”. Place-names such as Vedda-gala (Vedda Rock), Vedda-ela (Vedda Canal) and Vedi-Kanda (Vedda Mountain) in the Ratnapura District also bear testimony to this. As Wijesekera observes, a strong Vedda element is discernible in the population of Vedda-gala and its environs.
Ethnonyms of Vedda include Vadda, Veddah, Veddha and Vaddo. “Vedda” is either a Dravidian word that stems from the Tamil word Vēdu meaning “hunting”, or from Sanskritvyādha (“hunter”) or veddhṛ (“the one who pierces”).
The Vedda are often seen as the native population of Sri Lanka. A 2011 study on dental characteristics suggested a close relation between Vedda and other South Asians as well as to western Eurasian populations. A 2012 study on crania showed the Vedda to have close affinities with other South Asian populations such as other Sri Lankans, South Indians, and Punjabis and to differ significantly from Andaman islanders.
A 2013 craniometric study by Raghavan et al. showed that the Vedda are closely related to other groups in Sri Lanka and India, especially to Sinhalese and Tamils, and also indicated deep relations between South Asian populations and the modern populations of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. According to Raghavan et al. the cranial characteristics of the Vedda are closest to other South Asians and distinct from “Australo-Melanesians”. However, Raghavan et al. also, while also noting the distinctiveness of between South Asian (including Vedda) and Andamanese crania, explain that this is not in conflict with genetic evidence showing a partial common ancestry (a non-West Eurasian component known as “Ancestral South Indian” or “ASI”) and genetic affinity between South Asians and the native Andamanese (who are sometimes classified as Australo-Melanesians), stating that “The distinctiveness of Andamanese and southern Indian crania need not challenge the finding by Reich et al. for an “Ancestral South Indian” ancestry shared by southern Indians and Andamanese”, and that the differences may be in part due to the greater craniometric specialization of South Asians compared to Andamanese.