Forest Dwellers of Rathugala
Many of them live a life of poverty in the distant villages of Ampara and Monaragala, dependent on the diminishing forests. Having moved away from their original dwellings in Danigala Rock boarding Mahaweli River, where they lived in caves within the forest, they are a small village of 110 families living next to the forest today, they are the Rathugala Veddas, the lesser known of Sri Lanka’s indigenous heritage.
Approximately 30km from Amapara, is Rathugala, placed amidst a mixed forest out of reach from the modern day trappings. The Rathugala indigenous bloodline traces back to Kuweni’s era of cave dwellers. Hailing from a generation known as Mahabandala who once inhabited Danigala, the clan had arrived in Rathugala in the 1930s and for generations the leadership has been carried from father to son.
However the generations that followed in Rathugala experienced marked changes in their livelihoods. They no longer hunted or lived in caves, instead they managed cultivation in a small scale, growing tubers, corn and paddy; the women would venture into the forest to collect aralu, bulu, nelli and other medicines and all families occupied the simple mud houses seen today.
Each home was built of the characteristic mud and sticks, with the tall sun dried iluk grass for the roofs. The little garden spaces often accommodated a shrine where offerings are made to a Buddha statue and to a number of deities including Kalu Bandara Deviyo and Kande Deviyo. A path of corn and manioc are also seen in their gardens and at the time of harvesting all would gather around and portions would be distributed amongst families. Although, from some of the homes the men-folk had gone away on labour work, it is not a mode of earning that is encouraged by the elders of the clan, who condones a more simple symbiotic existence with the forest.
While the Rathugala indigenous lineage is unrelated to the famous Dambane communities they maintain friendly relations. The two groups however share similarities in that the language and the symbolic axe borne on the shoulder remain the same. Marriages between these two communities occur frequently keeping the indigenous ancestry alive.