Patrick Roberts and Oshan Wedage Awarded ‘Humanitarian’ Title by Sri Lanka’s Indigenous Vedda Community

July 05, 2023

Dr. Patrick Roberts of the Department of Archaeology and isoTROPIC Research Group at the Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology, and Dr. Oshan Wedage of the University of Sri Jayawardenepura, were presented with this prestigious honour during a recent trip to Sri Lanka for their work on the repatriation of human remains and cultural artefacts.

Between 2017 and 2019, Roberts and Wedage worked closely with Vedda elders and community members, alongside the University of Edinburgh, to ensure the return nine human individuals to the rightful custody of the Vedda community. The individuals’ remains, which were taken from Sri Lanka during the British colonial period, had been housed in the University of Edinburgh’s anatomical collection for more than a hundred years.

The culmination of this work was a ceremony at the University of Edinburgh’s Playfar Library, where the ancestral remains were officially given back to Vedda Chief Uruwarige Wanniyalaeto by the Principal of Edinburgh University

The human remains are now curated at the cultural heritage museum in Dambana village, where the Vedda Community is daily administering traditional rituals to the deceased who had been forcefully removed form their home. Commenting at the ceremony at the time, Chief Uruwarige Wanniyalaeto said: “This reuniting of spirits and physical remains – for which I thank the University – is a very special moment for my people.”

Now, on a recent trip to Dambana Village in Sri Lanka in June 2023, the Vedda Community presented Roberts and Wedage with one of their highest awards, the ‘Humanitarian’ award, for their efforts in promoting and caretaking Indigenous heritage and rights, and for their ongoing collaborative work on repatriation from museums.

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