In Conversation with Veddah Chief Wannila Aththo
Towards a meritocracy in Sri Lanka
Wanaspathi Uruwarige Wannila Aththo is the present leader of Sri Lanka’s tribe of indigenous people called Veddahs. Wannila Aththo expressed his concern about the present sociopolitical and cultural aspects of the country. Having remained unbiased on national issues, he expressed his opinions relating to the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka in an exclusive interview with Catamaran recently.
What are your thoughts on the situation in the country after the Easter Sunday attack?
The country is in a mess. Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims look at each other with suspicion and fear. This is not good for the future of the country. People no longer believe in their leaders who have made a point of saying one thing doing another. At this juncture, people are divided not only on the basis of race, religion but also as groups. Society is silent but that is temporary. If we look at the ashes of this tragedy and think that there is no fire, we ourselves will be destroyed by the fire in the future.
Was there unity among all these communities in the past? Did we once live in peace and harmony?
Our ancestors lived in peace. There were four tribes called Yaksha, Naga, Deva and Raksha. Combined, were Siv Hela. It was after the arrival of King Vijaya that Siv Hela came to be known as Sinhala. These four tribes were ruled by four kings and we were highly developed in the craft of agriculture. Our dams were built by the Yaksha tribe. The country’s roads were built by engineers of the Raksha Tribe. The maritime experts were Naga tribesmen. All the tribes worked together for the country. Things changed with Vijaya’s arrival. When Vijaya left Kuveni, it was the first Divorce in Sri Lankan History. Fighting, killing and neglecting elders crept into our society. India had put them in ships and banished Vijaya and his band because of their unethical behaviour. With their arrival, our unity gradually disappeared.
Do you reject the concepts of race and religion?
We’re all human beings; race, ethnicities, religions and castes come second. We seem to have forgotten our humanity and focused on second-hand elements as a society. The color of blood of a Rodi caste person is red, same as someone of a higher caste. We should be classified by the good or bad we do to our society. I am against discrimination on the basis of race, religion and caste.
There are elephants, tigers and bears in the forest. Likewise, there are people of different races among people also. How do you measure this diversity and its contribution to the wellbeing of a society?
Elephants, tigers, bears, pigs, deer and monkeys live in the jungle. All these animals belong to the jungle. These animals drink the same water; eat grass in the same field, they all sleep there. The jungle is beautiful because of this diversity. What if there was only one type of animal and all people are the same? We have filled our heads with racial and religious differences that has created a big mess. Animals living in the jungle work hard to find food and protect themselves. But people go beyond these requirements because of their passion, jealousy and hunger for power. This is why there are so many problems.
How do you see the impact of the Easter Sunday attack on the peace and reconciliation efforts being carried out in this country?
Only a few were involved in the attack. Those who create such problems can be seen in any society. One elephant from the jungle enters a farmland and destroys it and returns to the jungle before sunrise. What we’re doing is blaming every elephant for the actions of one. In this way, it is not good to point fingers at every Muslim. Only a very small number were involved in the attacks. By blaming everyone, we will further alienate them from us.
What about the responsibility of politicians in all this?
Today we have to hold conferences for peace, coexistence and harmony in this country. So much so, that they are far removed from our society. The people of Siv Hela took steps to honor their nationality, their religion and their language. Today all that is gone from us. Our ancient kings respected religions, race and environment. King Buddhadasa established a medicinal garden from Bintenna to Inginiyagala. It exists even today. To bring this country to such a place once again, these divisions must be eradicated. People are divided in every aspect today and politicians are responsible for this situation. It is pathetic that our rulers still don’t seem to come out of this mess.