On the eastern side of Ceylon, stretching from the hills to the sea, is a forest tract called the Park Country, on account of its numerous open glades and grassy plains.
Here are to be found the Veddahs, the few descendants remaining of the ancient aborigines, and doomed to extinction before many years. Before British protection was extended to them they were harried and harassed by their Singhalese and Tamil neighbours, and so betook themselves to the recesses of the forests, living in caves and hollow trees, on game obtained by their bows and arrows, and dogs, As they can no longer be bullied and cheated with impunity, they have become less timid. Being acknowledged by all natives to be of good caste, they have married freely with the two races living on the outskirts of their forests, so that no more than a few score remain of pure blood. Their ancient history, even the name they bore as a nation, has been forgotten, and only a few words of their ancient language remain in use.
Much nonsense has been written about the Veddahs: that they wear no clothes, never laugh, and are unable to count more than ten! Faked photographs have been published of them, dressed in leaf-aprons, donned for the purpose, and dancing ridiculous dances.
Though within the memory of men still living most Veddahs lived in caves, wore little or no clothing, used bows and arrows, obtained fire by rubbing sticks together, and made bags from the bark of trees, they do none of these things now, and there is little to distinguish them from jungle Singhalese or Tamils.
In former years they used the foot-bow, a formidable weapon, which could only be drawn by the hunter grasping it with the toes of one foot as he lay on his back, and pulling the bowstring with one or both arms.
Veddahs are not particular about their food, and will eat monkeys, lizards, and the big fruit-eating bats, but, strangely enough, will not touch beef, an abstention which has no doubt been handed down through the centuries from the time their cow-reverencing ancestors came from India to settle in the island. At the present time they have practically no religion except a belief in demons, supposed to infest certain rocks, pools, and trees in the forest, to whom they make propitiatory offerings.
Honey is one of their chief articles of food, and to obtain it they descend precipices by means' of ropes made of canes and jungle creepers, to secure the huge combs made by the rock bees. This is always done at night.
White-ant hills, sometimes nine or ten feet in height, are to be found everywhere. Snakes often take up their abode in their passages and chambers.
Herds of spotted deer, the most graceful wild creature in the East, roam the grassy plains of the Park Country. Many kinds of birds are to be seen in the glades. Gaudy-plumaged peacocks and brightly coloured jungle cocks, followed by their dowdy-looking hens, strut about ; hornbills, with enormous double casques, fly heavily from tree to tree ; flocks of noisy parakeets wing their way over the tree-tops ; colonies of weaver-birds are busy building their strange hanging nests, and tailor-birds work assiduously, sewing together their little leaf-nests; golden orioles, orange-coloured woodpeckers, turquoise and pied kingfishers, crested hoopoes and long-tailed "cotton thieves" flit about over the pools, or where food is plentiful, in the shape of flying white ants and other insects. There are few songsters among them.