Indigenous Culture Integrity:
Vignettes in Taiwan and Sri Lanka1

David Blundell2
National Chengchi University

This presentation is about reflections on what helps "shape our sense of identity" (Buckland 2004) and local integrity among the indigenous people in Taiwan and the Vanniyaletto (Vedda) of Sri Lanka (see examples, Barnes et al. 1995; see esp. Alliance of Taiwan Aborigines et al. 1995; Hsieh 1987; Obeyesekere 2002). At the International Seminar on Biological and Cultural Diversity in South-Southeast Asia and the Development Consequence, of the Asiatic Society, Kolkata, November 21st-23rd, 2007, attending Bangladeshi and speakers of India declared that, "Indigenous people don't exist in their countries." South Asian governments provide official designations for "tribal groups" and "scheduled tribes," but not for "indigenous peoples." In Taiwan, there are two problems with the word used for indigenous groups is translated as "tribe" from Mandarin Chinese "tzu." First, the word "tzu" in Chinese stems from a reference to "lineage" or "descent of clan," not tribe. Second, the indigenous groups of Taiwan are not necessarily functioning as tribal or tribe in terms of their social organization.

As for Sri Lanka, the use of the term "tribe" is also incorrectly used as related to local indigenous people. This issue was addressed by anthropologist Gananath Obeyesekere who responded in a New York Times article (1996) to a reference from Science Times about a Vedda (Wanniya-laeto or Vanniyaletto) "chief" of his "tribe" campaigning for "indigenous rights" at the United Nations. Obeyesekere stated that, "I have worked in Sri Lanka for more than 40 years and this is the first I have heard of a ‘tribe’ of that name. There are no tribesmen in Sri Lanka, and no one uses bows and arrows like those depicted in your photograph" (Obeyesekere 1996, see Appendix of this paper). Later at his home in Kandy, Obeyesekere related to me about his New York Times comment by saying the Vedda were treated as nobility and brethren in Sinhala royal society. The Vedda were not "primitives" or "wild men" as perceived by Europeans from the time of British castaway Robert Knox (1681). Today the terms "indigenous" and "tribe" are used interchangeably. The International Labour Organization's Convention 169 (Article 1) on "Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries" defines both as meaning "traditional community."3 In anthropology, "tribe" implies hierarchal group organization from the concept of Tribune of military Roman authority with "chiefs, nobility, and commoners." The Vedda maintain a loosely tethered social organization based on the family unit functioning independently. In Taiwan, the social organizations of the indigenous groups differ and do not necessarily maintain a tribal system.

Indigenous people as a group do have a "sense of place" as the mainstay of their existence regardless of their system of living. Indigenous people refer to themselves as a "people" commonly known by terms given by "outsiders" and, yet having their own language names. From the 1980s in Taiwan, indigenous cultural centers and museums are being developed for local integrity and inviting visitors to partake in the cultures. There is an increased desire to conserve heritage. Large dance areas, indigenous housing in open-air museums, eco-cultural tourism, and craft demonstration have become a trend in Taiwan for local groups. For Sri Lanka, its heritage consciousness was stimulated from 19th century interest in ancient Buddhist and hydraulic civilizations, especially under the British colonial Archaeological Survey and studies producing ethnic monographs. Yet with the vast array of ancient monuments and ethnographies on Sri Lanka, its "indigenous people" known as the Vanniyaletto (Vedda) were relegated to the margins.

I first encountered the Vanniyaletto in 1973 with K. A. J. Kahandawa who worked as District Land Officer (now President of Future in Our Hands in Uva Province). Since then I have concentrated my research with the Sinhala people (Blundell 1994). My work is based on visits among the Vanniyaletto at Dambana, Mahiyangana, 1973-1981, and later research 2002-2003 (see my other recent works: 2004, 2006, 2007).

I have followed the indigenous movement in Taiwan since the early 1980s. The peoples known as "aborigines" or "tribes" were classified under Japanese colonial occupation since 1895 to understand the "south island cultures" better by archaeology and ethnology. The Japanese literati researchers brought together a past with "prehistory and its living descendents" (Lamley 1964; Huang et al. 1993; Huang et al. 1997; Hu and Tsui 1998; Lien 1998; Michio 1999; Shimizu 2000), not for local awareness and interest, but for recognition of a civilizing quest sponsored by colonial Japan. Since the acquisition of Taiwan by the Republic of China in 1945, the concept of heritage has been related to the Han cultures of the mainland. The Austronesian-speakers of the Taiwan area were relegated as peoples of "high mountains," "beyond the mountains," or extinct pingpu "groups of the plains" (Li 1955; Hsieh 1994b; Liu and Pan 1998; Hu 1999; Faure 2000). During the 1980s with political liberalization, indigenous people found voice for their ethnic self-determination. This has led to the awareness by the general public of Taiwan. The stone architecture of the Paiwan and Rukai and their rich material culture (Chen 1968; Chiang 1992; Tseng 1991), or the vocal brilliance of the eight harmonic songs of the Bunun and the Amis great singers have been observed by scholars and the public as being a world heritage feature.

In Sri Lanka during the first half of the 20th century, the British led the quest for discovery, study, and other related endeavors in the uncovering of ruins and cultures in the jungle, giving impetus to the eventual establishment of nationalism. National aims were glorified with the establishment of world-recognized sites of culture following the legacy of Anuradhapura which comprised other historic ancient cites, temples, and monuments forming the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Cultural Triangle of Heritage. As for living treasures recorded by the colonial ethnographers in Sri Lanka, intangible as they might be, such as indigenous folk traditions, they have been neglected, compared to historic monuments, or at best a curiosity to an urbanite population based in Colombo.

In Taiwan, various ethnic groups with different languages and customs have inhabited the country from the Paleolithic (from about 30,000 years ago) to the Neolithic beginning from about 6,000 BP (Liu et al. 1993). In the early seventeenth century, from southern and central China "Han people" migrated to the island to mix with the indigenous pingpu people. Han cultures exerted considerable influence on local traditions. However, in various ways, local languages and customs of the native peoples have continued affirming ethnic identity (see Keyes 1976, 1979; De Vos and Romanucci-Ross 1982; Hsu 1990; Chen 1994 et al.; Hsieh 1987, 1994b; Blundell 2000b; Chaigne et al. 2000). As Taiwan is thought to be an ancestral place for Austronesian speakers, it indicates that the island has rich legacies of indigenous cultures and prehistory (Bellwood 1997, 1999, 2000). There is increasing literature of anthropology and ethnology on Taiwan and Austronesian speakers (Beauclair 1985; Hsu 1993; Li 1999; Blundell 2000a; Hsieh 2000) and their relationship to the Pacific region (Mabuchi 1974; Blust 1986; Fox and Sather 1996; Diamond 2000; Kirch 2000).

Taiwan's successful economic achievements have brought it global attention and its diplomatic resourcefulness has given it the practical and philosophical standards for guidance in a changing world. Now it's time to take stock of the natural and cultural treasures that offer this island system: an environment composed of Taiwan and surrounding islands such as Lan-yu (Orchid Island) southeast of Taitung, the 64 islet Penghu archipelago (The Pescadores) of the Taiwan Strait, and the mainland coastal islands such as Kinmen and Matsu. Tourism with an interest in ecology and ethnic heritage continues based on quality and informative services for visitors (Blundell 1992, 1998; Chen 1992; Hsieh 1994a). The implication is that "Taiwan society" is spread over a complex multidimensional array of eco-niche islands with Taiwan as its centerpiece: an industrializing, fragile, and eroding environment. Government agencies contribute to the increased public awareness and scholarly enhancement of cultural heritage (e.g., Hu 1996; Chen 1998). In anthropology, heritage of the past is a valuable resource utilized in the present (Appadurai 1981). Heritage is considered as a rich item or complex system in the cultural arena, important as a marker of, by, and for humanity. As heritage resources are becoming visible with meaning and value, documented sites of prehistory and history are becoming important links with meaning to the population of today (Lien 1989; Chen 1995; Chen 2000). Once local heritages are recognized as a matter of record to observe, it's up to the public to take notice and help.

In 2001, World Heritage Day was launched in Taiwan to encourage support (following the way it's been done in France since 1984) and the following year the Cultural Environment Year came into being. Local historians and cultural experts (see Chang 2003) proposed twelve sites of world heritage status which were recommended by the Council for Cultural Affairs to be considered important in the Taiwan area. Taiwan has experienced a renewal in its heritage consciousness based on the island's unique past (Li and Hsu 1989; Hsiao 1989, 1990; Gold 1994). The northeast coast Ilan (Yi-lan) County government has been the most successful in presenting its people -- with a sense of living within "Ilan culture" -- as a unified system of heritage resources emanating from indigenous pingpu Austronesian-speakers (Kavalan) and Han Chinese roots (see Tseng and Tung 1997; Blundell 2000b:425-427; Faure 2000). Hualien County is proud of its Taroko National Park as a theme related to natural wonder, the marble industry, and its relations with indigenous peoples of Atayal (e.g., Taroko, or Truku), and Bunun groups of the Central Range, and Amis villages of the coastal and Hua-tung valley regions. Further south in Taitung County, there is the spirit of six Austronesian-speaking groups namely, Amis, Bunun, Paiwan, Puyuma, Rukai, and Yami (Tao of Lan-yu, known as Orchid Island).

As the government of Taiwan has not participated in the United Nations since 1971, it is difficult to have heritage sites registered with the UNESCO.4 Yet, to facilitate a local sense of "well being" in the arena of world heritage sites, twelve sites were selected including: (1.) Yangmingshan National Park, (2.) Tamsui Historic Foreign Customs Houses and San Domingo (known locally as "Red-haired Fort"), (3.) The Old Mining Township of Chinkuashih in Taipei County, (4.) Kinmen Island, (5.) Old Mountain Line Railway in Miaoli, (6.) Alishan Forest and Railway, (7.) Basaltic Columns of Penghu, (8.) The Chilan Cypress Grove, (9) Taroko National Park, (10.) Peinan Archaeological Site, (11.) Lan-yu Island, and (12.) the loftiest peak in Eastern Asia, Yushan (Blundell 2003).

Sri Lanka is advanced in selecting its world heritage locations based on past "civilizations and colonial edifices" with UNESCO support for the "Cultural Triangle" and "Galle Fort" projects. The six Cultural Triangle sites were selected on the merits of their uniqueness in history. From the initiator of civilization in Sri Lanka under Prince Vijaya, Anuradhapura flourished from 2,500 years ago. After the collapse of this hydraulic civilization, a city further to the southeast of the northern plain, Polonnaruva, revitalized the "age of ancient kings" until its collapse. Other unique sites were chosen featuring an early paradigm of sacred palatial water gardens at Sigiriya (5th century rock styled abode of the "god-king" Kassapa I). Also, the Golden Rock Temple Shrine of Dambulla with 20,000 square feet of painted murals in five cave shrines dating from the 7th to 18th centuries was selected as treasures of art. The single natural site is the Singharaja Forest Reserve with its uniquely cloud shrouded eco-niche richly endowed with endemic species.

Reflection on Heritage as a Living Entity in Taiwan and Sri Lanka

On May 18th 2001 UNESCO proclaimed nineteen categories of the world's most unique oral and intangible living heritage. Later, April 22nd-30th, 2003, the signatory state delegates framed the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the UNESCO Convention to facilitate (a.) giving a value in the life of the community, (b.) safeguarding it, (c.) scientific, technical, and artistic studies, and (d.) adopting legal, technical, administrative, and financial measures. Emphasis has been placed on the importance of "protecting this outstanding but endangered heritage -- cultural spaces and forms of popular and traditional expression -- and of preserving cultural diversity" given in the following:

  1. Forms of popular and traditional expression—such as languages, oral literature, music, dance, games, mythology, rituals, costumes, craftwork, and architecture.
  2. Cultural spaces—a place where popular and traditional cultural activities take place in a concentrated manner (sites for story-telling, rituals, marketplaces, festivals, etc.) or the time for a regularly occurring event (daily rituals, annual processions, regular performances).

In Taiwan, people are now reflecting on the importance of renewed cultural awareness for island-wide inheritance based on their living indigenous ethnic groups representing the origins of the Austronesian Language Family, and having many unique sites of prehistory with a few sites connected to major historic civilizations. It's in Taiwan that I have observed freshness with the inclusion of indigenous communities in the equation of inheritance such as the uniqueness of performing vocal heritage among the Amis and other groups (Hsu 1987a, 1987b; Li 1998; Anderson 2000; Li and Wu 2000; Sun 2002).

This is yet to be a consideration in Sri Lanka. The designated heritage sites are precious to the people of Sri Lanka and often visited by local people as a means of reinforcing their cultural identity. Pilgrims following their ritual Buddhist practice on their way to the shrines of the ancient cities make a stop at the historic museums and look with curiosity at the artifacts of the past. Yet, the intangible indigenous aspects to the culture are not observed as much as are the monumental sites.

Here I bring up the issue of the Vanniyaletto (Vedda). These indigenous people of Sri Lanka have been recorded since the time of ancient palm-leaf chronicles know as the Mahavamsa. The term "Vedda" (or "hunter") is a name given by the Sinhala speakers. "Vaden" is the term used in Tamil. The people refer to themselves as Vanniyaletto (forest or nature dwellers). As early as 1881 in Germany, a report was published on the Vedda by physical anthropologist Rudolph Virchow which appeared translated to English as "The Veddhas of Ceylon and their Relation to the Neighboring Tribes," The Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1886. Hugh Neville reported on their language in his "Vedda Dialect," The Taprobanian, 1885. The Veddas by C. G. and Brenda Z. Seligmann appeared in 1911. Since then a number of academic studies on the Vedda have been conducted and published. The regions of these studies occurred in the Mahiyangana / Maha Oya areas (e.g., Seligmann and Seligmann 1911; Spittle 1941), Anuradhapura (e.g., Brow 1978), and the East Coast (e.g., Dart 1990). More recently there has been research conducted on the Mahaveli projects where Vedda people have been resettled for land and water (Pathirana 1983), and on environmental concerns where national parks have been introduced displacing Vedda communities.5 The Vanniyaletto have an early belief in transmigration of human spirit that allows for ancestors known as na yakku to assist with matters of the living. Each person in the community is enabled to call on na yakku for specific assistance (Dambane Gunawardhana 2003 per. comm.; see also Puspakumara 2000; Obeyesekere 2002). "The Veddas have a long history of existence as a distinct group, and have maintained cultural traditions which are distinct from those of present-day Tamils and Sinhalese" (Dart 1990:80). A common feature of the Vedda communities is that they occupy a border situation "as a buffer" among the Sinhala and Tamil communities, for example such as the Mahiyangana region for the Sinhala and the East Coast for the Tamil. According to Brow (1978:36) there is a parallel sense of relatedness between the Sinhala-speaking Vedda and the Tamil-speaking Vedda, as one between people connected in terms of societies and regions. The Vedda is a reference to a small-scale hunting and gathering community that interacted with the royalty of the country.

Overall, Sri Lanka has been inhabited for about 30,000 years as per evidence discovered in Fa Hien Cave at Pahiyangala. This evidence has been conveyed to me by my teacher Douglas Osborne and Siran Deraniyagala. A cave of 3.75 meters habitation deposit in charcoal provided evidence of a Mesolithic industry with the remains of worked stones, dried food, shells, animal bones, and people. The term Mesolithic was used from the late 19th century to define the transition period from hunting and gathering to food resource cultivating societies (cited in Kennedy 1984). Kenneth Kennedy affirms that there is a biological-historic continuum with the Vedda connecting evidence from "Austroloid Vaddid" or Balangoda Man at Batadomba-lena (ca. 31,000-13,000 BP) and other sites where Mesolithic remains have been excavated at such places as Beli-lena Kitulgala (ca. 30,000-9,000 BP), Bellan-bandi Palassa (ca. 6,500 BP), and the Phiyangala caves (dates above have been revised in Deraniyagala, 2002, Recent advances in radiocarbon age calibration have indicated that dates older than ca. 20,000 14C BP have now been found to be too late by over 4000 years. "For instance, Fa Hien Cave's context 5 at ca. 33,000 14C BP would be est. 37,000 cal BP" (ibid.). These are now the earliest known anatomically modern humans from South Asia (K. A. R. Kennedy 1998 pers. comm. to Siran Deraniyagala cited in 2002 Indications show that the region was exploited for fauna during the centuries as with other early hunter-gatherer sites in Monsoon Asia generally (Kennedy et al. 1987). The discovery of a skull at Fa Hien Cave, Pahiyangala, has been dated to 37,000 BP, making it the oldest Mesolithic find in South and Southeast Asia.

Historically the term "Vedda" from the Sanskrit vyadha and has been applied to various hunting groups in other regions of Southern Asia including Borneo and Sumatra. These forest-resource gathers live in groups of about one to five families with four to ten members in a family (Deraniyagala 1992:387). In Sri Lanka these forest dwellers were referred to as Yakka in the 7th century AD by the Chinese pilgrim Hsuien Tsang who stated they were in the southeast of the country (i.e., Bintenne). Another group known as the Naga present at the arrival of the Sinhalese in 5th century BC could have been contemporary with the Yakka, yet became displaced in history. One hypothesis is that they were proto-historic or Mesolithic population that was displaced by the Yakka, or seemingly Vedda population. In the Sinhalese chronicle Mahavamsa it was the indigenous Yakka princess Kuweni who married Vijaya, the first Sinhalese king. On the advice of his councilors, Vijaya banished his wife with their son and daughter to the forested hills in order to wed a South Indian princess for purposes of political alliance. Thus the Sinhalese claim partial hereditary descent from the Vedda as their own heritage officially testifies.

Throughout the ages of the ancient kingdoms from Anuradhapura to the Kanydan rulers, the Vedda were treated as highly appreciated and respected members of the court. The Vedda were scattered across Uva Province, Central Province, and Eastern Province. Their responsibility to the state included the heraldry of the perahera honoring Buddhist shrines such as the Dalida Maligava, and supplying forest products to the nobility. Before the rebellion against the British in 1817-1818, the Vedda comprised an important community. According to Gananath Obeyesekere, the Vedda were chiefs and nobles, considered brethren to royalty (2002). The Vedda population and influence as an ethnic group has declined throughout the 19th century to a marginal people. By the turn of the 20th century, they were considered to be on the verge of extinction (Seligmann and Seligmann 1911), or soon to be absorbed into the Sinhalese and Tamil populations (Deraniyagala 1963; Dharmadasa and Samarasinghe 1990). In the mid-20th century, Mahaveli River irrigation projects have provided farmlands for the Sinhalese population to expand into the Vedda's life- support regions. Now, where irrigation systems have been renovated since the 1950s, thousands of Vedda have opted to share paddy cultivation along with the Sinhalese in the Mahaveli River area.

Generally speaking, the Vedda life style is considered to be "primitive" as it exists in the scrub-bush and forests of eastern Sri Lanka. In the last few years, the successor and son of the senior Tissahamy at Dambana, Mahiyangana, known as Uruwargiye Vanniyala, estimates that there are about 800 people holding values connected to forest life. Brow's 1978 study refers to the Anuradhapura Vedda as self identified at about seven thousand people cultivating paddy, yet admittedly, a Sinhalese assimilated population. The Vedda continue to live in the regions of Mahiyangana, Maha Oya, Anuradhapura, and regions of the Mahaveli River resettlement.

A few curious tourists, both local and from abroad, make their way to the periphery of a national wildlife reserve to the village of the Vedda at Dambana, near Mahiyangana. Sri Lanka continues to demonstrate its own historic and reconstructed past for cultural and political integrity, yet the Vedda are neglected in this process.

Indigenous Knowledge

The question of the Vedda is a microcosm of ethnic concern in South Asia and for the world. Their recognition is crucial at this time in view of the current developments towards peace after eighteen years of ethnic civil war in Sri Lanka. The Vanniyaletto community is one of the well-established ethnic groups historically documented and neglected as a knowledge-based community in Sri Lanka's historically plural society. What values are retained in their way of life in eastern central Sri Lanka that could be useful to know? In the Uva Province a project named "Documentation and Using Indigenous Knowledge" has been underway since 2000 to search out and record systems of local knowledge in order to promote this knowledge as something of worth and sustainable value in the current generation. As the Green Revolution began in the 1960s, indigenous knowledge declined in Sri Lanka. Therefore the old way of sustaining life for centuries is found only in remote places. The project combines two aspects: (1.) agro-biodiversity for sustainable farming and (2.) traditional health practices. K. A. Jayaratne Kahandawa, presently on leave from the Sri Lanka government service as district land officer, is assisting to facilitate non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on development projects such as the Norwegian funded "Future in Our Hands," and the SANFEC -- South Asian Network on Food Ecology and Culture. These programs investigate the valuable utility of herbal medicines and knowledge of flora understood by the Vedda and local rural communities.

The Vedda community status in Sri Lanka is valuable for understanding syncretism as "the process whereby religious beliefs from different historical and cultural backgrounds are integrated together, in a more or less coherent fashion, within a particular culture" (Obeyesekere 1982). Specific knowledge is found among the Vedda in terms of the forest and belief systems on nature. This knowledge sharing is a valuable asset as an intangible cultural heritage which could assist the neighboring Sinhala and Tamil communities by introducing the use of herbal substances. The Vedda communities are intentionally small and self-reliant on natural resources. These groups have remained peaceful throughout their history not causing violence against other groups (Gunawardhana 1993).

Of course the mainstream populations are curious and proud of such people living in Sri Lanka. Yet, unlike the examples given from Taiwan, the heritage stemming from "indigenousness" is not proactive with the local communities. The museums and cultural centers in Sri Lanka were built as static institutions of cultural inventory honoring literate civilization. As for indigenous integrity, I would like to offer the idea of ethnic continuum as a value deserving of protection as an endangered heritage. The Formosan-speaking peoples prompt conservation for their linguistic heritage originating from within a language family spanning the Pacific and Indian oceans dating back 6,000 years ago. The Vedda, heirs of an existence dating back to the Mesolithic cultures, represent one of the longest continuums of Southern Asian heritage. These peoples in themselves occupy a vast sphere in time and space that requires world attention in preserving language and culture diversity that is rapidly disappearing in this century.

I have one last remark here to make: programs of the Regional Centre for Archaeology and Fine Arts Centre (SPAFA) of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) hosted by the Government of Thailand is an excellent agency for cultural resource management (Comer 1994). Originally in this paper I was planning to discuss the work of SPAFA on preserving cultural heritage. But, then I thought that the two areas of my research in Taiwan and Sri Lanka do not directly benefit from SPAFA though indirectly its publications and programs serve as an inspiration. And moreover this agency based in Bangkok could offer more regional support to non-members who could form affiliations for the heritage concerns of Monsoon Asia. SPAFA affiliation for Taiwan and Sri Lanka would be a political decision, yet individuals and institutes could share and exchange their expertise and experience for the benefit of the region generally.


Cultural heritage is about the way we live. The recognition and demarcation of the contributions to heritage comes from both private and public agencies. The notions of museums from the 19th century and cultural resource centers from the 20th century are bringing forth a better understanding of our heritages. Knowledge facilitation of heritages should be more apparent and available in a manner that speaks to living cultures. The point is "what we know," is what we live by. The educational process is crucial in our modern lives. And, "how we live" derives increasingly from the administrative responsibilities of the sociopolitical process. Indigenous groups in Taiwan are making headway in achieving public recognition. Yet in Sri Lanka, a country endowed with international recognition for its historic sites based on the support of the sociopolitical arena, there does not exist this similar recognition for its who remain without a recognized cultural center or museum dedicated to their way of life.


Published: New York Times, March 28, 1996
by Gananath Obeyesekere
No Sri Lankan ‘Tribe’
To the Editor:

A March 19 Science Times report on the American Anthropological Association refers to the Wanniya-laeto people of Sri Lanka. I have worked in Sri Lanka for more than 40 years and this is the first I have heard of a "tribe" of that name. There are no tribesmen in Sri Lanka, and no one uses bows and arrows like those depicted in your photograph.

Your article indicates that the Wanniya-laeto are really the Veddas, or "hunters," of Sri Lanka. The Veddas were brought into prominence in colonial times by Europeans seeking the "wild man"; obliging Sinhalese headmen presented them with authentic specimens wielding bows and arrows and miming wildness.

As you report, the Veddas have been discriminated against by recent development projects. But nothing is gained by reconverting them into tribesmen with bows and arrows.

Anthropologists interested in human rights ought to address themselves to such things as the 20,000 or so Sinhalese youths killed in the recent rebellion, the large numbers killed in the current ethnic conflict and those Sinhalese and Tamils tortured, incarcerated without trial and dispossessed of their homes.


1My sincere appreciation goes to the organizers of the World Summit of Indigenous Cultures and those participants attending. This paper owes its beginnings to Gananath Obeyesekere from whose article for The Hybrid Island (2002), I decided to incorporate the Vedda into the equation of valued cultural resources. K. A. J. Kahandawa shared his commitment to the valued knowledge of living heritage on the verge of extinction, and how the acquisition of such knowledge could be useful to our modern society. Conrad Ranawake supported the project that included field visits to indigenous communities. Douglas Osborne and Siran Deraniyagala offered their orientation for many years to the continuum of ancient heritage in Sri Lanka. Wen-hsun Sung, Chao-mei Lien, and Cheng-hwa Tsang offered their expertise in Taiwan prehistory. Michael Buckland (2004) provided me with valuable orientation on heritage. Further gratitude is expressed to Robert Waltner and Huiji Wang for editing this article.

2 David Blundell (University of California, Anthropology Ph.D.) teaches at National Chengchi University and has research background based on Southern Asia studies including research in Sri Lanka, Taiwan, India, and Thailand. Over the past ten years, Blundell expanded his interests across the Indo-Pacific region in terms of language mapping. His research has been motivated from the early records depicting the Southern Asian seafaring areas from Sanskrit, Pali, Sinhala, and Chinese. Prof Blundell works on research in cross-cultural aesthetics, belief systems, visual anthropology, and geographic information systems (GIS) for mapping languages and cultures. Since 2001, Blundell has served as visiting professor and scholar at Academia Sinica, University of Calcutta, University of Peradeniya, and University of California. He is currently working on a new book entitled Ethnography of Communication: Acquisition of Language and Knowledge. His other books include Masks: Anthropology on the Sinhalese Belief System (Peter Lang, 1994) and his edited volume Austronesian Taiwan: Linguistics, History, Ethnology, Prehistory (Phoebe Hearst Museum, UC Berkeley, 2000).

3 Indigenous or tribal -- a “traditional community” as described "tribal" or "indigenous" defined according to Art. 1 of the International Labour Organization's Convention (ILO) 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries: (a) Tribal peoples in independent countries whose social, cultural and economic conditions distinguish them from other sections of the national community, and whose status is regulated wholly or partially by their own customs or traditions or by special laws or regulations; (b) Peoples in independent countries who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonisation or the establishment of present State boundaries and who, irrespective of their legal status, retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions.

4 When referring to Taiwan in 2000, UNESCO adopted the name "Taiwan (China)."

5 Also see Parker 1909; Goonetilleke 1960; Wijesekera 1964; Dharmadas and de A. Samarasinghe 1990; Meegaskumbura 1993; Ramanayake 1995; Silva 2002; Blundell 2004, 2006, 2007.


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