The Veddah elder

1 montage | 2 audio

Byron Unmani was an elder in the Veddah community of Vaharai. Displaced several times, they had to adapt to their new environment, and were now fishermen, living off the sea when they once lived off the forest, hence their name, the “Sea Veddahs”. He talks about the loss of his native language and the pressure to assimilate. Photography by Kannan Arunasalam.

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  • Kannan Arunasalam says:

    I met Byron Unmani just once, in early 2012 to interview him for the I Am project. Three months passed and I wanted to give him and his family prints of the photographs I had taken on my last visit. But I was too late. He had passed away. I returned to Vaharai where I met his daughter. She remembered me and told me the sad news. In the one room house where he once lived, I noticed that there was no photo of him on the walls. I was used to Hindu homes where a picture of the deceased family member hangs on the wall, garlanded and smeared with holy ash. How did the Veddahs remember their dead? The daughter explained that she had no photo of her father to hang so I offered to organise a larger print, framed so it could be put up on the wall. The daughter gladly accepted.

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