Lonely Planet Writer

See Sri Lanka's Vedda tribe captured in these incredible portraits

Lebanese photographer Omar Reda travels the world meeting indigenous tribes, eager to learn about their cultures and way of life. His latest trip took him to Sri Lanka, where he spent some time getting to know the Vedda people. For Omar, these expeditions are a way to leave behind the bustle and pressures of everyday life, and instead, observe how tribal people connect to the land. “I always look for places where I can feel that I escaped urban life and the corporate world,” he tells Lonely Planet.

Vedda woman working in the fields
Omar spent time observing the Sri Lankan way of life. Photo by Omar Reda

Omar was blown away by Sri Lanka’s famous terrain. “In terms of landscape”, he says, “I was astonished by the beauty of the endless tea hills in the Nuwara Eliya area. The beaches meanwhile are great for surfing.” As well as capturing everyday life on the bustling island, Omar spent time with members of the Vedda tribe. ‘Vedda’ is a Dravidian word meaning ‘hunter’, since this ancient people have traditionally been hunter-gatherers and forest dwellers. Sadly though, it looks like their way of life is in danger of dying out.

Vedda tribesmen dancing
The Vedda people perform a traditional dance. Image by Omar Reda

“What’s unique about the Vedda people is that they’re in the latest phase of transition from a tribal to civilized lifestyle”, Omar explains. “They’re not allowed to hunt in the surrounding forests anymore, so they have to find another source of food. They’re now living in regular villages, in houses and huts, and just a few of the men still maintain the traditional look of long hair and beard. I think with time, all their traditions and culture will vanish. The new generation, which is now in school, will graduate and be forced to blend even more into modern society.”

Tribecman hunting with bow and arrow
A tribe member demonstrates his hunting technique. Photo by Omar Reda

Nonetheless, Omar got to experience a taste of traditional Vedda life during his Sri Lanka visit, and captured these captivating shots of the tribe. “They did a small hunting simulation – because they’re not allowed to do the real thing”, he says, “and they showed us some of their unique traditional dances.”

Vedda tribesman
Omar captured portraits of tribe members. Photo by Omar Reda