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the changing structure of appropriations

in Vedda agriculture
JAMES BROW- Washington University

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Veddas of Anuradhapura District, Sri
Lanka, occupied a marginal position in relation t o the kingdom of Kandy-a position that
enabled them to enjoy a virtually tribal autonomy. Today they are almost fully integrated
into the national society. This change has been associated with some radical transforma-
tions of their economy that can most clearly be revealed by examining the forms of ap-
propriation to which their productive activities have been liable. In the early nineteenth
century, when they subsisted largely from shifting cultivation and food collection, there
seems to have been very little appropriation of the output of Vedda producers by non-
producers. Today, when they are more centrally engaged in irrigated rice cultivation, ap-
propriations take several forms and are a great deal larger.
This paper analyzes the changes that have taken place over the last 150 years in the
social relations of production that connect the Anuradhapura Veddas with their Sinhalese
neighbors.' Changes in the structure of relations among the Veddas themselves have been
described elsewhere (Brow n.d.) and are mentioned here only where they most directly im-
pinge on these external relations. The unit of analysis is the village, which is initially defin-
ed by both geographical and status criteria, for in this part of Sri Lanka each village normal-
ly contains members of only one variga, or subcaste. The Anuradhapura Veddas, who today
number about 6,600 people, form a single variga that occupies forty-six villages within
Anuradhapura District. Although status considerations define the group chosen for study,
the focus on appropriations gives analytical centrality to class relations. This is neither ac-
cidental nor contradictory, for the aims of the paper are precisely t o elucidate in terms of
Weber's classic formulation (1958:180-195) the complex interaction of class and status fac-
tors in the historical development of this social formation; and, further, to propose, by
means of this illustrative case study, that an understanding of the processes whereby tribal
and traditional peasant communities become more deeply implicated in larger economic
systems may best be gained by addressing the still momentous questions: how i s a surplus
generated, in what forms i s it appropriated, and what brings about changes in the form and
magnitude of appropriations?
After a discussion of concepts, a detailed account is presented of the appropriations that

An understanding of the processes whereby tribal and traditional peasant

communities have been increasingly drawn into national and even global
economies demands detailed analysis of the changes in the form and
magnitude of appropriations to which the output of direct producers i s
liable, and also of associated changes in the structure of class and status
relations. A quantified account of the appropriations made during one re-
cent year of production in a single Anuradhapura Vedda village is fol-
lowed by a study of the historical developments that, in the last 750 years,
have transformed a predominantly nonappropriative economy into one in
which the product of Vedda cultivators is subject both to "hierarchical"
and, increasingly, "capitalistic" forms of appropriations.

448 american ethnologist

were made in the Vedda village of Kukulewa in 1969/1970. The final section attempts an
analysis of the historical processes that have led to the present state of affairs.2

the concept of appropriation

An appropriation is a transfer of some value from one group or person to another by vir-
tue of a superior claim to it exercised by the latter. Appropriation i s thus to be distin-
guished, in the first instance, from exchange, which involves a reciprocal transaction. In
other circumstances finer discriminations among kinds of transfer would also be required,
but such are not necessary here because I am exclusively concerned with appropriations
that are made in the context of production; more specifically, I am solely concerned with
the acquisition by nonproducers of some part of the output of direct producers. In this con-
text my use of the term “appropriation” corresponds to the Marxian concept of “exploita-
tion.” Roseberry, for example, has recently defined “exploitation” as the “appropriation by
nonproducers of a portion of the total product of direct producers” (1976:45). I prefer,
however, to use the term ”appropriation” for two reasons. First, the common understanding
of the term “exploitation” is that it describes ”an unfair distribution of efforts and rewards”
(Scott 1976:158, emphasis in the original). Attention is thus immediately directed, on the
one hand, to the standard of equity held by the user of the term and, on the other, to the
standards held by the people who are described as exploited. Neither of these directions i s
unimportant, but the first seems more to inspire polemics than analysis (Dalton 1974),
whereas the second gives a priority to the problem of consciousness that may be unwanted
or unmerited. In the present case, the subjective feelings of the Veddas as to the fairness or
unfairness of the appropriations to which their production has been liable are certainly
relevant to an overall understanding of their socioeconomic history; however, my primary
focus is on changes in the organization of the material appropriations themselves rather
than on values as such. Second, “the appropriation by nonproducers of a portion of the
total product of direct producers” is never more than a part of a total socioeconomic for-
mation, and it may be preferable to describe as exploitative only those sets of relationships
in which appropriations are not matched by equivalent disbursements. For example, it i s
likely to be only misleading to label as exploitative a situation in which a group of direct
producers yields up a portion of its total product but then receives, in the form of welfare
services and so forth benefits that are equivalent to such appropriations. In this connection
it may be worth noting, because I shall have very little to say here about distribution, that
whereas the appropriations from Vedda agricultural production that are today made by the
state are much more modest than those obtained by private landlords, the benefits provid-
ed by the latter can hardly compare with the free provision by the state of educational,
medical, and other services.
An analytical focus on forms of appropriation enjoys strategic primacy in Marxian theory
because it immediately serves to expose the dynamic basis of the class structure. Indeed,
appropriation is an aspect of class relations, for classes are distinguished from one another
by their different relations to the means of production, and these different relations are
precisely what permits appropriation to occur. As Lenin put it, ”classes are groups of peo-
ple one of which can appropriate the labour of another owing to the different places they
occupy in a definite system of social economy” (Lenin, quoted in Terray 1975:8&87). These
appropriations shape the whole social structure. In Marx’s words, ”the specific economic
form, in which unpaid surplus-labour i s pumped out of direct producers, determines the
relationship of rulers and ruled. . . . Upon this . . . i s founded the entire formation of the
economic community” (1967:Vol. 3, 791). This quotation directs analysis to focus not simply
on the magnitude of appropriations but also, and especially for sociological purposes, on
their “specific form,” for it i s the latter that is held to “determine” the structure of social

appropriations in Vedda agriculture 449

relations, including relationships of dominance and subordination. During the period of
Vedda history with which I am concerned, several different forms of appropriation have oc-
cured together, although with changing relative as well as absolute magnitudes. It may be
helpful at the outset to identify them briefly in the abstract.
One form of appropriation is based on the sale of labor power. This is the form
characteristic of “pure” capitalism, under which the direct producer, the wage laborer, i s
separated from the means of production and enters the market with nothing to sell but his
labor power, the surplus value realized by means of which i s appropriated by the capitalist.
By contrast, in peasant society, in which the direct producer does retain control of at least
some of the means of production beyond his own labor power, the typical form of ap-
propriation is rent. Eric Wolf has described the peasant cultivator as being

subject to asymmetrical power relations which . . . [make] . . a permanent charge on his pro-
duction. Such a charge, paid out as a result of some superior claim to his labor on the land, we
call rent, regardless of whether that rent i s paid in labor, in produce, or in money (Wolf
1966.9-101 ’
More recently Roseberry has proposed that “any extraction of surplus value not based on
the sale of labor power” be defined as rent, which thus comes to include ”actual rent,
taxes, interest on loans, forced presale of product at less than market price, etc.” (1976:51,
emphasis added). Among the Veddas different forms of appropriation have been a t dif-
ferent times associated with different productive activities. Whereas food collection and
swidden agriculture, for example, always have been largely free of appropriation, wet rice
agriculture traditionally has been liable, in varying degrees, to several forms of ”rent” (rent
in kind, taxation, interest on loans) and now i s subject increasingly to appropriation by
means of wage labor. In the next section the principal types of Vedda productive activity
are examined in terms of the specific form and magnitude of the appropriations that are
associated with them at present.

appropriations in Vedda production, 1969.1970‘

Appropriations today are confined largely to irrigated rice cultivation. Other types of
Vedda productive activity may therefore be treated quite summarily.

hunting The Veddas traditionally bartered game and other jungle products for cloth,
salt, and possibly other foodstuffs. Some informants also say that their ancestors used to
yield up a portion of what they hunted to the local Sinhalese aristocrats as a kind of tribute.
But whatever i t s former significance, hunting now contributes only minimally to Vedda in-
come or diet, and appropriation i s absent.

food gathering Food gathering retains a somewhat greater importance. The Veddas, or
at least the poorest among them, do still gather wild plants from the jungle, and these
plants can make a significant contribution to their diet; but there i s no market for such pro-
ducts, and, with the exception of small gifts among close kin, they are entirely consumed
within the households of those who obtain them. In short, they are not subject to any ap-

stock raising A few Veddas raise cattle and goats. The animals are maintained by the
household labor of their owners, who freely graze them at no charge on communal village
land and who sell them for meat to Moslem traders. There i s no appropriation.

Chena cultivation Most Veddas look upon their swiddens (hena in Sinhalese, chena in
Sinhalese-English) as their basic source of subsistence. Chenas are cultivated in the tracts of

450 american ethnologist

scrub jungle that separate the villages. Millet (kurakkan) i s the principal crop, alongside
which are grown maize and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Chenas are usually cultivated
for two years before being abandoned. The necessary tools are few and cheap. An axe, a
hoe, and a sickle can be bought for less than twenty rupees and will last from five to ten
years. The various tasks involved in chena cultivation can normally all be performed with
labor mobilized within the individual household. The scrub jungle is not so dense as to re-
quire supra-household organization even for the initial clearing.
In the Veddas’ view the jungle land surrounding each village i s the communal property
of the members of the village. Village members (game minissu, literally “village menlpeo-
ple”) are those who have grown up in a village where at least one of their parents i s already
recognized as a village member. Such people are allowed to cultivate a chena in any part
of the surrounding jungle that is not already being worked by some other member. Equally
unimpeded access i s also accorded to Veddas from other villages who have married into
the village.
The Vedda view of chena cultivation rights clashes with that of the government, which
claims the jungle as state property. For a hundred years official policy has tried to
discourage chena cultivation in favor of wet rice agriculture by means varying from restric-
tion of the size of chena plots to outright prohibition. But in the face of pervasive, stead-
fast, and ecologically sound opposition, this policy today i s reduced to a modest attempt
at supervision and regulation, which also expresses the state’s proprietorial claims in its
levy of a license fee of one rupee on chena cultivators.
There i s a small market for chena produce, but the overwhelming bulk of the food pro-
duced in chenas i s consumed within the household that produces it.
w i t h the minor exceptions that have been noted (the sale of a small part of the produce;
the purchase of agricultural implements], chena cultivation may thus be described as a
nonmarket mode of production organized on a household basis. Neither land nor labor i s
here marketed, and production is for use rather than exchange. Apart from the almost
token license fee, there i s no appropriation.

paddy cultivation In the ecological conditions of Anuradhapura District wet rice

agriculture depends upon the construction of reservoirs, or tanks, in which the monsoon
rains are collected for subsequent controlled distribution to the surrounding fields. Most
village tanks are independent of one another and are not connected to any of the major ir-
rigation systems that were gradually built up during the period of the Anuradhapura
kingdom that flourished during the first millennium of the Christian era. Tank construction,
however, does not ensure successful paddy cultivation, for the monsoon rains are
unreliable and often insufficient. In these circumstances the village cultivator gives priority
to his chena cultivation, which requires less water, and delays the start of paddy cultivation
until the water level in the tank i s high enough to persuade him that the rains will be ade-
quate. Unsuccessful paddy cultivation seasons are thus less often marked by crop failure
than by the failure to cultivate at all.
Paddy cultivation requires larger and more varied inputs than does chena. This i s so
despite the fact that the Veddas, like the majority of paddy cultivators in Anuradhapura
District, neither transplant their paddy, nor apply fertilizer or insecticide, nor devote much
labor to weeding. The tools necessary for paddy cultivation are also more numerous and
more expensive than those for chena cultivation. Moreover, paddy cultivation commonly
involves the application of animal, and today increasingly also machine, power as well as
human labor power. Furthermore, at certain stages labor usually i s mobilized from outside
the confines of the cultivator’s household.
Paddy cultivation demands close cooperation among those who are dependent on the
same water supply. They must coordinate their activities if their requirements for water at a

appropriations in Vedda agriculture 451

particular stage of cultivation are not to clash. Against the technical necessity of coopera-
tion may be set the social fact that paddy fields are subject to a qualified form of in-
dividual proprietorship. This latter fact also underlies the several forms of appropriation
characteristic of paddy cultivation, forms that may be analytically separated and clarified
by the elaboration of two ideal types of the social relations of paddy production.
These two ideal types derive from, and incorporate, the two basic forms of appropriation
previously described, namely, appropriation through rent and appropriation through wage
labor. In other words, they are constructs that provide an abstractly simplified yet
historically informed representation of these fundamental forms of productive relations,
while simultaneously they elaborate the implications of these productive relations for
other sectors of the total social formation.
The first type, which I call the “hierarchical type,” takes as its empirical point of depar-
ture the agrarian structure of the Kandyan kingdom, of which Anuradhapura District -then
known as Nuvarakalaviya-was a border province until the overthrow of the kingdom by
the British at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Land i s held individually, but the
holder is subject to claims both on his person and on his product by those located above
him in an all-encompassing but unitary structure of political, social, and economic rela-
tions, at the apex of which stands the king. That is, land is held in return for the execution of
certain economic, political, or ritual services. The right to receive these services is an ex-
pression of superiority in the status hierarchy mediated through a claim on the land, which
is not therefore subject to unqualified personal possession. Payment of these services,
which range from provision of a share of the produce of the land to required attendance at
the lord’s court on specified occasions, i s the prevailing form of appropriation.
The close association of the services owed on a piece of land and the holder’s social
status, which is expressed in the idiom of caste, inhibits the free transmission of productive
property. To take possession of a plot of land i s t o assume the services that attach to it, and
these are largely caste specific. This ensures a modicum of security of tenure to the lowest
ranking castes. But land is normatively acquired by inheritance from one’s parents, from
whom one also acquires one’s caste status.
Paddy lands are cultivated principally by the use of household labor, although there are
also several institutionalized forms of exchange whereby larger concentrations of labor
can be mobilized when necessary. Wage labor is absent. Where the members of one com-
munity or caste group regularly work in the fields of another, the relationship i s ac-
commodated within the larger social hierarchy as one of traditionally owed labor service that
i s recompensed with payment in kind, usually with a share of the produce. Production i s
principally for use and consumption within the producing household, and the market i s lit-
tle developed. It is not, however, entirely absent. The market for land operates primarily
through the mechanism of ukas (mortgage), whereby a needy proprietor obtains a cash loan
on the security of his land; the mortgagee obtains the right of possession in lieu of interest.
Ukas i s frequently combined with ande (share-cropping tenancy). Here the mortgagee gives
the land back to the original proprietor to work as his share-cropping tenant. The mortga-
gee provides seed and buffaloes, and sometimes specified units of labor, in return for
which he receives up t o half the crop. Land may also be given out on ande by proprietors
who have more land than they can work themselves, as well as by widows and invalids who
lack the wherewithal t o work their land.
Ande i s one of the two principal forms that appropriation takes in the hierarchical type
of social production; the other is the tribute paid to superiors in the hierarchy. Given the
close articulation, even the identity of the social order with the state, these latter payments
appear indifferently as tax or rent.
Strategies of advancement aim, on the one hand, at the acquisition of more land and, on
the other, at exerting claims to a share of the produce of others. Additional land may be ob-

452 american ethnologist

tained by bringing new land under irrigation, which may require a considerable investment,
by disputing inheritances, which i s facilitated by control of the legal machinery or by in-
fluence with the judicial authorities, or by acquiring land on mortgage. Claims by non-
producers to a share of the produce of direct producers are legitimized by the demonstra-
tion of superior status in the social order. To the extent that they are persuasive, religious
and ideological justifications of the hierarchical structure reduce the need to back such
claims by force. With a rudimentary communications technology, however, the ability to
extract a sizable surplus declines rapidly with distance from the appropriative center
(whether national or regional); and, in this connection, it may also be noted that the poorer
and more peripheral groups in the society, such as the Veddas, who are chiefly concerned
to evade or minimize the claims of others on their produce, enjoy the alternative prospect
of chena cultivation, the shifting and isolated nature of which serves to discourage at-
tempts at appropriation.
In the opposing ideal type, which may be called the "capitalist" type, both land and
labor enter the market. There is individual ownership of land, subject only to the claims of
the state. The rights of the state are here sharply distinguished from the private rights of
those who hold state office. Land may be freely alienated, without restriction by status con-
siderations of caste or kinship. Landowners cultivate their fields by means of wage labor
provided by a class of landless laborers separated from the means of production. Paddy
cultivation is an enterprise oriented to profit maximization through production for ex-
change on the market.
Appropriation takes two forms. There is the extraction of a surplus by the state through
taxation, and there is the making of profits by capitalist landlords through the appropria-
tion of the surplus value produced by wage labor.
Strategies of advancement focus on the acquisition of productive property. Those who
dispose of sufficient resources invest in land; they obtain it either through outright pur-
chase or by taking it on mortgage, and aim to make profits through the employment of
wage labor, Those who are separated from the means of paddy production have no other
choices than either to sell their labor on the market or t o remain outside the system and
make their living as best they can from other types of productive activity, such as chena
In summary, then, in contrast to the hierarchical type in which class factors are per-
vasively subordinated to those of status, the capitalist type of organization is preeminently
a market system from which status factors are systematically excluded. The dominant form
of appropriation in the hierarchical type is refit, in the broad sense that includes "any ex-
traction of surplus value not based on the sale of labor power" (Roseberry 1976:51).In the
capitalist type it IS,of course, precisely the extraction of surplus value from wage labor that
comes t o the fore

appropriations in Kukulewa paddy production, 1969-1970

Among the Veddas today both these forms of appropriation, including several forms of
rent, occur together in the social relations of paddy production. This section offers a quan-
titative estimate of their respective magnitudes during one year of production in a single
village. Analysis continues t o focus on relations of appropriation between the Veddas and
their neighbors, but estimates of appropriations among the Veddas themselves are also in-
cluded. These will show the comparative underdevelopment of class formation within the
Vedda village c o m m ~ n i t y . ~
The data are drawn from Kukulewa, which is the largest of the Vedda villages, but which,
on the basis of some research in all the Vedda villages in Anuradhapura District, does not

appropriations in Vedda agriculture 453

appear to be in other respects atypical.6 In October 1969, at the beginning of the
agricultural season, Kukulewa contained ninety-one households and a total population of
548 persons. In the cultivation season that was then beginning, Kukulewa villagers had an
interest as proprietors or tenants in the cultivation of approximately 147 acres of irrigated
paddy land. Of these, 123 acres were located within the village. These 147 acres produced
an estimated yield of 5,252 bushels, which, if it had all been sold on the market, would have
fetched Rs. 73,534. The average output of the fields located within Kukulewa was 36.82
bushels, yielding Rs. 51 5.48 per acre.
An estimate of the average costs of production in the Kukulewa fields is presented in
Table 1 . Labor costs are here calculated as if all labor were wage labor; that is, unpaid
household and exchange labor i s included by multiplying the total number of manidays
plus woman/days by the prevailing daily wage for these categories of labor. The cost of
seed paddy i s also calculated as if it were purchased on the market, although a small
number of farmers used seed that they themselves had saved. Likewise, the cost of buf-
faloes to the minority of cultivators who owned and used their own animals i s calculated as
if they had hired them. No Kukulewa villager owned a tractor, and the cost here i s that of
Table 1 Average variable costs of paddy production per acre, 1969-1970'

Seed K s 4459
Labor 158 78
Depreciation of tools 20 00
Buffaloes and/or tractor 59 34
Total 282 71

36 82 bushels @ Rs 14 51 5 4ad
~ ~ ~ ~~~

the basis of a survey conducted in 1966-1967, the Central Bank (1969)estimated the average in-
puts and outputs per acre of paddy land in Anuradhapura District as follows labor costs, Ks 161 76,
nonlabor costs, Rs 141 92, total costs, R s 31068. gross value of output, Rs 461 42 Note that the
nonlabor costs include an average payment of R s 45 11 in rent to the owner of the land, a type of cost
that i s excluded from my estimate

ande The Sinhalese word ande may be adequately translated as "share-cropping tenan-
cy." In discussing such tenancies I use the term ''landlord'' to describe the person who i s in
effective possession of the land and who gives it out to be worked on ande, whether he is
the owner of the land or whether he holds it on mortgage. The normal terms of tenancy are
the same in both cases. The landlord provides certain specified factors of production,
namely, the seed paddy and the buffaloes that are used both in preparing the soil for sow-
ing and in threshing. If a tractor is used for ploughing, the landlord pays only half the rental
because this method reduces the labor costs, which are the responsibility of the tenant. The
landlord's share of the yield i s 50 percent.' When the costs of production that are met by
the landlord are subtracted from his share of the yield, the resulting figure describes the
surplus that he has appropriated.' In Kukulewa in 1969-1970 the average appropriation by
means of this form of ande was Rs. 190.49 per acre.
I t will be seen from Table 2 that somewhat more than half of the appropriations made
through ande tenancies were obtained by outside landlords. Ande tenancies were also im-
portant within the village, among the Veddas themselves, but there was only one instance
of a Kukulewa villager giving out land to be worked on a share-cropping basis by an out-
sider. Moreover, this case was doubly exceptional, for the landlord in question was not a
Vedda by birth. He lived in Kukulewa and had indeed grown up in the village, but his con-
nections with his fellow villagers were only affinal, and most did not consider him to be a

454 americsn ethnologist

Vedda. The land that he gave out on ande was a plot he had purchased in a nearby village,
which was not a Vedda community.
The cases of appropriation through ande tenancies between outside landlords and
Kukulewa tenants were of two types. First, there were several Kukulewa villagers who had
mortgaged their fields to outsiders and who had then been given back the land to work on
ande. Second, there were outside landlords who had given some of their own fields, in their
own villages, to be worked on ande by Kukulewa tenants. The total appropriation of Rs.
4,759acquired in these two ways was divided among only seven landlords, five,of whom
were residents of the small Coyigama (cultivator caste) village of Mekichchawa, located a
mile or so south of Kukulewa on the road from Anuradhapura t o Trincomalee. The two who
appropriated most from Kukulewa ande tenants both also ran shops that were frequented
by Kukulewa villagers.

taxation The state exacts irrigation dues, known as a water rate, of Rs. 6 per acre. The
total appropriated from the paddy lands within the village in 1969-1970would have been
Rs. 738,with a further Rs. 72 being collected from the Kukulewa villagers who held land
outside the village. Not all of this amount went out of the village, however, for the agents
who collected the dues were allowed to retain 40 percent of what they collected, and these
agents were local men. They were in fact chosen by members of the local Cultivation Com-
mittee, which selected some of its own members to serve as agents. This committee is an
elected body that supervises agricultural practice in Kukulewa and three neighboring
villages, including Mekichchawa. In 1969-1970 the twelve-member Committee included
three Kukulewa villagers, one of whom was the Committee’s treasurer. These three men
were appointed the agents to collect the irrigation dues on the fields within Kukulewa and
so would have retained Rs. 295 out of the Rs. 738 that was collected.

interest on loans In recent years the government, as part of its program to increase the
output of paddy production, has sponsored a system of loans to cultivators. The money i s
intended to ensure that cultivators have available t o them the resources necessary for effi-
cient cultivation at the beginning of the season. I t is loaned at 6 percent interest by the Peo-
ple’s Bank t o the local Multi-Purpose Cooperative Societies, which in turn lend it to the
cultivators at 9 percent interest. Because of the failure of the rains the previous year, many
Kukulewa villagers had been granted extensions of time in which to repay their earlier
loans and were therefore already considerably in debt even before they obtained their
loans for the 1969-1970season. After they had obtained these loans, the basic amount of

Table 2 The appropriation of Kukulewa paddy cultivation. 1969-1970 (in rupees)

Wage Irrigation Interest

Ande Labor Dues on Loans Total

made within
Kukulewa 4,201 8,076 295 ? 12,572
Outside landlords,
laborers 4,759 73,275 - > 78,034
landlords, outside
laborers 331 - - - 331
made by the state - - 51 5 2,279 2,794
Total 9,291 81.351 810 2,279 93,731

appropriations in Vedda agriculture 455

which was Rs. 142 in cash and Rs. 83 in kind per acre, their total indebtedness to the local
cooperative amounted to Rs. 25,319. At a rate of 9 percent, the interest due on this amount
would have been Rs. 2,279.
Some proponents of the cultivation loan program have expressed the hope that the pro-
vision of these loans would reduce the amount of peasant indebtedness in the private sector.
But there i s little evidence that the villagers have ceased t o have recourse to private
moneylenders and traders (mudalalis). Rather, the availability of the government program
has probably increased their overall indebtedness. Indebtedness to a mudalali is a private
matter hedged about by considerable secrecy, and because its extent in Kukulewa,
although undoubtedly considerable, could not be accurately assessed, it i s passed over in
this account. Some idea, however, can be given of the prevailing rates of interest. At the
Sinhalese New Year (which i s the time when villagers customarily buy new clothes and also
incur sundry other ceremonial expenses) wealthier people, who in relation to Kukulewa
villagers were mainly residents of Mekichchawa, advanced cash on the promise of delivery
of paddy at Rs. 8 per bushel. Because the government buys paddy through the cooperatives
at Rs. 14 per bushel, the moneylenders were obtaining an interest rate of 75 percent. At
other times it was said that the usual interest on a loan of Rs. 100 not secured by the mort-
gage of land was four bushels of paddy, that is, Rs. 56 or 56 percent.

wage labor Most Kukulewa villagers derived a substantial part of their cash income
from wage labor. Some older people maintained that wage labor was demeaning, but few
could afford to abstain. Wage labor was mainly employed in paddy cultivation, although
occasionally other kinds of manual work were available, such as house construction or
employment in some outsider's attempt at the commercial production of chillies or gingel-
Iy. Such opportunities were infrequent, however, and the distortion will not be serious if,
for the sake of convenience, appropriation by means of wage labor is here treated as if all
such labor was engaged in paddy cultivation.
Wage labor was differentially available to men and women. Women were engaged only
for reaping and, in those villages where it was practiced, for transplanting. The standard
wage throughout the period was Rs. 5 plus a midday meal and refreshments for men and
Rs. 3.50 plus meal and refreshments for women. This wage difference is included here in
the calculation, for example, of the number of days of labor involved in cultivating an acre
of paddy; a woman's day of work is calculated at 75 percent of a man's day (the value of
the meal and refreshments i s estimated at Rs. 1).
A numerical estimate of the amount of appropriations from wage labor i s achieved by
means of the following formula:

A = 0-c - W
where A = appropriation from one man/day of labor
0 = the market value of the output
C = the costs of production other than labor costs
D = the number of man/days of labor
W = the wage paid for one manlday of labor
The total of nonlabor costs, including seed, depreciation of tools, and buffalo andlor trac-
tor costs, i s first subtracted from the market value of the output. The remaining figure is
then divided by the number of manfdays of labor used t o work the land. This represents
what would be the daily return to labor in the absence of appropriation, and the amount of
appropriation i s figured by subtracting from it the actual daily wage.
One complication stems from the difference in wages paid to men and women. If one
assumes that this is a "social" rather than an "economic" difference, and that women ac-

456 american ethnologist

tually produce as much as men, then clearly the extent to which their labor is appropriated
is greater than if one assumes that the sexual wage difference accurately reflects a dif-
ference in productivity.
In Kukulewa, cultivation of an average acre of paddy land took 22.94 man/days and 4 70
wornanldays of labor, a total of 27.64 man-womanldays. The difference between total out-
put and nonlabor costs was Rs. 391.55 (Table l), thus giving, at the standard wage rates of
Rs. 6 for men and Rs. 4.50 for women, appropriation estimates of Rs. 8.17 per manlday of
wage labor and Rs. 9.67 per woman/day of wage labor. O n this basis the total appropriation
by outside employers from Kukulewa wage labor in 1969 i s estimated at Rs. 73, 275 (Rs.
66,169 from men and Rs. 7,106 from women).' The total extracted by employers within the
village is Rs. 8,076 (Rs. 3,132 from male labor and Rs. 4,942 from female labor).
An alternative method assumes that the sexual wage difference was an accurate reflec-
tion of productivity. If this was so then i t would have taken a total of 26.47 man/days to
cultivate an acre of paddy using only male labor, and 30.59 woman/days using only female
labor. The appropriation figures under this method emerge as Rs. 8.79 per man/day and Rs
6.60 per wornanlday.
Clearly, most of the wage labor was performed for outside employers When Kukulewa
cultivators employed wage labor they always employed their fellow villagers, but wage
labor comprised only 20 percent of the total labor at work in Kukulewa fields. The re-
mainder was unpaid labor drawn from the cultivator's own household.
The appropriations made by outside employers of wage labor represent by far the largest
item in Table 2 (Rs. 73,275), and it may be interesting to compare them with the market
value of the total output from all the paddy fields worked by Kukulewa villagers, either as
owner/cultivators or as ande tenants. That figure is Rs. 73,534.

historical analysis'O

In 1969-1970 wage labor accounted for 90 percent of the total appropriation from
Kukulewa villagers' paddy production by outside landlords, employers, and the state. This
i s a very recent development, for no more than a generation ago wage labor appears to
have been virtually unknown in the local agricultural economy. I turn now to analyzing the
historical processes that have brought about this sudden change and to describing the shift-
ing interplay between status considerations and class relations that has resulted in the pres-
ent state of affairs.
The Anuradhapura Veddas, like the famous "Wild Veddas" of eastern Sri Lanka who
were the subject of the Seligmanns' classic study (1911), occupied a peripheral and
somewhat ambiguous position in relation to the Sinhalese kingdom of Kandy, which was
overthrown by the British at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The marginality was
expressed in several ways. Some observers tried to locate the Veddas within the hierarchy
of the Sinhalese caste system, whereas others have asserted that they stood completely
outside it. There has also been some dispute over what, if any, forms of tribute or other
dues ("rent") were owed by the Veddas to their putative overlords in the feudal-like Kan-
dyan political order. Today this marginality i s still expressed in rituals, as Obeyesekere has
convincingly shown in an article specifically concerned with homologies between the
Sinhalese supernatural order and the traditional structure of the Kandyan kingdom.
Obeyesekere's analysis clearly demonstrates the exclusion of the Veddas from "the
Sinhalese Buddhist moral order." At the same time it acknowledges that the Veddas "are
not total strangers, for both Sinhalese and Veddha are united in worship of the guardian
dieties, Saman and Skandha, protectors of the secular and supernatural order of both Ved-
dha and Sinhalese" (Obeyesekere 1966:20).In a different context, the ethnological interest
that has dominated the anthropological study of the Veddas has consistently emphasized

appropriations in Vedda agriculture 457

the separation of the Veddas from the Sinhalese by its sometimes uncritical concern to link
the Veddas to the pre-Sinhalese aborigines of the island. Although there is undoubtedly a
higher frequency of aboriginal genes in at least some Vedda populations than there is in the
Sinhalese population as a whole (Kennedy 1965, 1974; Wickremasinghe et al. 1963), one
must also recognize the common Sinhalese practice of describing as “Veddas” those
among themselves who are remote from the mainstream of Sinhalese civilization. A
number of criteria are applied here, the most relevant of which designates as Vedda those
communities, relatively poor, whose members subsist more from their chenas than from ir-
rigated rice cultivation.

Kandyan period: the traditional hierarchy The Kandyan kingdom never embraced the
whole island of Sri Lanka. An independent Tamil province remained in the north, while
from the time of arrival of the Portuguese at the end of the fifteenth century, control of the
coast was gradually surrendered to the Europeans. Nor was royal authority everywhere ex-
perienced equally firmly even within the restricted confines of the kingdom.
Nuvarakalaviya, the traditional name for the region now contained within the boundaries
of Anuradhapura District, was one of the more remote of the kingdom’s provinces. For
more than a thousand years it had been the very center of an expansive civilization based
on a dual system of massive major irrigation works and small, independent, village tanks
(Leach 1959; Cunawardana 1971). but by the fourteenth century it had declined into an
area of poverty, underpopulation, and endemic malaria, its cities abandoned and its tanks
destroyed (see lndrapala 1971 for accounts of this decline). Separated from Kandy by ex-
tensive tracts of jungle and occupying an area that bordered both on the coastal districts
controlled by the Europeans and the Tamil province t o the north, the local aristocrats of
Nuvarakalaviya, the Vanniyars, were able to exploit their marginal position by playing off
against one another the Tamils, the Europeans, and their nominal superiors in Kandy
Under these circumstances it seems unlikely that more than minimal payments of rent
passed from Nuvarakalaviya to Kandy, either directly from the producers to the state
treasury or indirectly through the mediation of the Vanniyar aristocrats. Unofficial
payments may have been greater. In the seventeenth century Robert Knox had noted the
presence of traveling peddlers in Nuvarakalaviya (Knox 1911:246); and Nagel’s Account of
the Vanni, written in 1793, describes the activities of traders from Jaffna, who advanced
goods on credit to the cultivators of the region ”in order to receive in return at the next
harvest paddy at the rate of eight stivers per parra” (Nagel 1948:74).
Relations of appropriations on the local level, between the Vanniyar chiefs or local
temples and direct producers, probably resembled those between the central authority and
the region. The authority of the Vanniyar chiefs was nominally recognized, and their
hereditary control of the system of caste courts that regulated matters of material as well
as ritual importance to the members of the village communities (Leach 1961:69-74) gave
them a measure of real power. But in a sparsely settled jungle region with poor communica-
tions, their ability to extract a sizable surplus probably fell off rapidly with distance from
their local manors (valawwe). This would have applied particularly t o the Veddas, who oc-
cupied the most remote villages in an already marginal area.
During the Kandyan period, then, Vedda productive activities probably remained to a
very large extent free from appropriation. The earliest accounts that specifically identify
the Anuradhapura Veddas (Brodie 1883; Parker 1887; Lewis 1895) are not entirely in agree-
ment with one another on the subject of their subsistence, but there can be little doubt that
the Veddas lived mainly from hunting, food gathering, and chena cultivation, although not
necessarily in that order of priority. In all probability the Veddas had for a long time
operated as economic specialists on the margins of Kandyan society, exchanging a portion
of their jungle products with their Sinhalese neighbors (Fox 1969). But the only form of ap-

458 american ethnologist

propriation to which they would have been liable was the ritual payment of some game to
the Vanniyar lords.
The principal unit of economic organization was the household, and there was close ap-
proximation to Sahlins's model of the "Domestic Mode of Production" (Sahlins 1972) The
centrifugal tendencies of this mode were moderated by the integrating ties provided by the
dominant institutions of kinship and marriage, although the low population density permit-
ted the easy establishment of new settlements. As late as 1891 the average population of
the twenty-seven Anuradhapura Vedda villages was no more than 43.33.
The Veddas, however, were not entirely isolated, and certainly by the last quarter of the
nineteenth century at least some of them were also engaged in paddy cultivation. There is
little reason to suppose that they did not grow some paddy earlier, although it i s clear that,
by and large, they had been able to enjoy possession of only the smallest, least reliable,
and most remote tanks. This again would have ensured that external appropriations of their
paddy production were minimal.
I have already indicated that the structure of appropriation in paddy cultivation ex-
pressed the hierarchical order of the traditional Sinhalese kingdom. Changes in the amount
extracted from direct producers reflected changes in the degree of effective control exer-
cised by superior authorities. Several centuries earlier, when Anuradhapura was the center
of an impressive irrigation empire, local cultivators were doubtless subject to much larger
appropriations than had become the case by the end of the eighteenth century. The
minimal external appropriation of Vedda produce expressed their marginal incorporation
into the larger sociopolitical order.
In the gradual ebb and flow of centralized political authority and hierarchical appropria-
tion, the Veddas retained their marginality. In this connection, I must refer again to the con-
trast between the dominant anthropological identification of the Veddas as a distinct racial
group and the common Sinhalese usage of the term to describe those who do not fully par-
ticipate in the mainstream of Sinhalese culture, for example, those whose practice of Bud-
dhism i s meager or, with more relevance to this paper, those who subsist more from chena
cultivation or food collection than from irrigated rice agriculture. The latter, Sinhalese,
usage allows one to speak of Sinhalese "becoming Vedda" or of Veddas "becoming
Sinhalese." Thus, Vedda groups that increased their involvement in paddy cultivation and
simultaneously increased their subjection to hierarchical appropriations may, in the course
of time, have become Sinhalese. Likewise, those Sinhalese who gave up paddy for chena
and thereby became more marginal to the larger Sinhalese social order gradually became
Veddas. Contemporary debates in Kukulewa as to whether the Veddas are a kind of
Sinhalese or are a people quite distinct, and related disputes as to the relative nutritional
value of rice and millet, express dramatic moments in such largely unrecorded but entirely
plausible processes of social transformation.
The alternative of ethnic continuity and physical mobility i s not precluded. In periods of
Sinhalese expansion, while some Veddas may have increased paddy cultivation and
become Sinhalese, others may either have preferred or been forced to retreat deeper into
the jungle frontier where they would have retained their Vedda identity. Instances of such
mobility have occurred in the present century. Whole Vedda communities have lost con-
trol of their paddy lands by mortgage to outsiders and have subsequently abandoned their
settlements to pioneer new villages in the jungle. Ethnic transformation and physical
retreat may thus be seen as alternative Vedda responses t o Sinhalese expansion. As so far
described, however, such movements have not involved any radical transformation of the
hierarchical Sinhalese structure itself.
The transformations that have occurred in the last hundred years have, in general, been
exogenous and have involved the introduction of new, capitalistic relations of production
that have become intricately enmeshed with the older, hierarchical forms. Only very

appropriations in Vedda agriculture 459

recently have ecological changes and technological innovations begun to have a signifi-
cant effect on the local social order.

the colonial period: capitalist penetrationof the traditional economy it was not un-
til the last quarter of the nineteenth century that the British began to take a sustained in-
terest in the affairs of the region. Only in 1873 was a Government Agent dispatched to
Anuradhapura to administer the newly created North Central Province, composed of
Nuvarakalaviya and Tamankaduwa. These Sinhalese districts had previously been ad-
ministered as parts of the predominantly Tamil Northern and Eastern Provinces, respective-
ly. The British were doubtless motivated by a "blend of paternalism and self-interest"
(Roberts 1973:140). They wanted both t o improve the condition of the peasantry and to
raise revenue. To this end they again took up the task of improving irrigation works that had
been briefly attempted during the 18505, but the grain tax they had imposed encountered
successive problems and various forms of opposition and was finally abolished in 1892.
Concurrent with the attempt to improve wet rice agriculture, shifting cultivation was
systematically discouraged, but without significant success. Villagers maintained their first
loyalty to an agricultural technology that, in an area of uncertain rainfall in which irrigated
rice cultivation is successful in no more than three years out of five, more regularly ensures
at least their subsistence. The area was officially surveyed around the turn of the century,
and title to land was settled at that time. By and large, house sites and land under regular ir-
rigated cultivation were deemed to be ancestral private property; the tanks themselves and
the jungle land on which shifting cultivation was carried out were reserved as Crown land.
Subsequently, until 1935, Crown land could be purchased as freehold (sinakkera) for con-
version to wet rice agriculture. Since the Land Development Ordinance of 1935, however,
Crown land has only been obtainable on long-term lease (badu), with no right of alienation
or mortgage. This policy has been maintained since political independence was granted in
1947. A major government investment in the restoration of the larger irrigation systems of
the ancient Anuradhapura Kingdom was initiated before the Second World War and con-
tinues to the present. The immigration of settlers, who have mostly been landless villagers
from other, and more densely populated, parts of the country, in the agricultural colonies
thus established has contributed to a rapid rate of population growth.
In 1891 the population of Nuvarakalaviya was 69,302. By 1953 it was 171,268 Between
1891 and 1970 the Vedda subpopulation grew from 1,150 to 6,600. But rapid population
growth did not precipitate a drastic deterioration in average per capita holdings of paddy
(wet rice) land. Given the continued availability of more land to bring under irrigation, it
was accompanied less by an intensification of wet rice agricultural practice than by its ex-
pansion over a larger acreage. In the district as a whole, it was officially estimated at the
end of the nineteenth century that between forty thousand and fifty thousand acres were
under paddy cultivation (Fisher 1885; levers 1899). In 1952 the estimate was 115.670 acres
(Rajendra 1952). For the Veddas, I have estimated that although the most rapid population
growth has occurred in the last forty years, the average per capita holding of paddy land
only declined from about .35 acres in 1931 to .32 acres in 1970 (Brow 1976).
The causes of the initial population growth remain uncertain, but they can hardly have
included improved health care, which has been a more recent introduction. The hypothesis
i s highly speculative, but I suspect that improved communications were a decisive factor.
The construction of roads and railways made the district more accessible to the rest of the
country and would have stimulated the exchange of commodities between Anuradhapura
and other districts. The improved facilities would have encouraged traders, whose earlier
presence in the region has already been mentioned, to engage more actively and exten-
sively in the region's agriculture. By taking land on mortgage and by offering credit on the
security of as yet unharvested paddy crops, in the manner described earlier, they could

460 american ethnologist

have made considerable profits while at the same time affording the cultivators a measure
of security against the devastating effects of an unpredictable succession of drought
years.” In short, it i s not implausible that in i t s early stages the growth of population was
the product of improved nutrition resulting from a somewhat more stable basis of sub-
sistence. But this improved nutrition was obtained by the cultivators only at the cost of an
increased burden of indebtedness. It may even be that as a larger proportion of their paddy
production was appropriated by trader-creditors, cultivators came to rely more than
previously on chena products for their subsistence.
Most traders stood outside the local status (caste) hierarchy. Both in running shops within
the villages and in linking the villages to the outside world, trade was largely in the hands of
Tamils, Moslems, and Low-Country (that is, not Kandyan) Sinhalese. Writing of conditions in
the Coyigama village of Pul Eliya, about twenty miles from Kukulewa, in 1954, Leach
reports that “of the numerous shops that have operated in the village since 1890 the only
ones that have survived for more than a year or so have belonged to Tamils, Moslems or
’Low Country Sinhalese’ (Leach 1961:131).The same situation also prevailed in Kukulewa

and the other Vedda villages. Enterprising native villagers did try their hand at shopkeep-
ing, but as Leach makes clear, in the traditional ideological context they could scarcely
avoid overextending credit to their kinsmen. An aspiring shopkeeper’s fellow villagers, who
were also his kinsmen, were willing enough t o give him business, but in return they ex-
pected the privileged treatment due to kinsmen. Such customers ”exert constant pressure
to give terms of credit which must ultimately lead to bankruptcy” (Leach 1961:131)
Notwithstanding such attempts at commercial activity, locally rooted people for the
most part held fast to the old hierarchical order. Service tenures, and hence traditional
forms of tribute, had been abolished by the British, but villagers continued to orient their
actions more to the acquisition of political power and social status than t o profit maximiza-
tion. Those who could dispose of a surplus were more likely t o use it in conspicuous and
prestige-gaining consumption (for example, in splendidly expensive marriage celebrations)
or in acquiring more land than they were to invest i t in commercial enterprise. Thus,
although larger appropriations could probably have been made by cultivating paddy land
with wage labor rather than by giving it out on ande, the latter method retained i t s populari-
ty, for the ande tenant was usually a reliable client and political supporter and the relation-
ship could express the landlord’s superiority in the status system.” Leach found that
despite the availability of wage labor the people of Pul Eliya preferred to employ workers
from the neighboring Vedda village of Tulaveliya, whom they claimed were their tradi-
tional ”tied-servants” (1961:75)or ”serf[s]” (1961:190),on the less profitable basis of pay-
ment in kind. They insisted that
they ought t o employ the Tulawelliya people because they were their established friends from
ancient times. In Tulawelliya the particular Pul Eliya landlords who employed Tulawelliya
laborers (for payment in kind] were singled out by name as individuals of especial merit (Leach
1961.252;emphasis in the original)
These traditional hierarchical values retained their force until the 1950s. The period from
the early nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century (essentially the period
of colonial rule) may thus be characterized as one of increasing capitalist penetration, the
extent of which was veiled by the fact that the agents of penetration were principally
traders (mudalalis) who stood outside the traditional hierarchy. The result was that village
landlords and cultivators who were socially rooted within the hierarchy were not directly
challenged in their loyalty t o the older order. But the extent of penetration was such that by
the 1950s the traditional hierarchy had become reduced to little more than a shell, and a
few further minor changes were sufficient to effect some major transformations.

postcolonial period: the spread of wage labor In the last twenty years important
changes have taken place both in the relations among fellow villagers and in the relations

appropriations In Vedda agriculture 461

between traditionally linked villages. To take the latter first: the traditional relationship ex-
pressed in the compensation of labor by payment in kind that Leach observed between the
Veddas of Tulaveliya and their Coyigama neighbours in Put Eliya has largely given way to
the strictly contractual relationship of daily wage labor. Some Kukulewa villagers have
continued to work outsiders‘ land on ande, but the amount is very small when compared to
the present extent of the wage labor that Kukulewa men and women perform outside the
village. it i s true that outside landlords who hold land in Kukulewa on mortgage almost in-
variably give it back on ande. but even here it is not certain that this expresses a continued
attachment to traditional values at the expense of profit maximization. Working land by
means of wage labor brings a larger average appropriation to the landlord than does an
ande tenancy, but the average difference is only Rs. 42.26 per acre (Rs. 232.75 as against Rs.
190.49). and this calculation does not include any estimate of the cost to the landlord of
having to supervise production, which must be much more closely attended to when the
landlord is employing daily wage labor than when production is in the hands of an ande
tenant. If the land in question does not lie in his own village, the landlord may well
calculate that he i s better off settling for the smaller appropriation that comes from an
ande tenancy, regardless of any status considerations.
As to the structure of relations within Kukulewa itself, the most striking example of
change has been K. Wannihamy’s success as a mudalaii in his own native village. Wan-
nihamy’s enterprise take various forms. He runs a shop, takes land on mortgage, advances
credit, and organizes wage labor for outside landlords. Of the Rs. 4,201 appropriated within
the village by means of ande in 1969-1970, Wannihamy‘s share was Rs. 2,076. In all his ac-
tivities he has demonstrated an astute commercial skill, which he has combined with a mar-
riage policy for his dependents that has confined the range of his effective kinship within
narrow limits. But his policy of restricting effective kinship by means of closely interlinked
marriages has been commercially successful only because it has taken place during a
period in which the claims of privilege by virtue of kinship have been generally diminishing.
While older informants maintain that twenty years ago such relations among kinsmen were
unknown, today it i s quite common for Kukulewa villagers to employ one another as wage
laborers or to pay cash for seed paddy or the use of one another’s buffaloes. And today it is
also quite possible for Wannihamy to extend credit to his fellow villagers without letting
the claims of kinship privilege override financial prudence.
I have shown that in the last twenty years or so it has become rapidly and increasingly
tolerable for status considerations to be excluded from the economic relations established
both among kinsmen and among members of communities (caste groups) that were hierar-
chically linked in the traditional order. It still remains to explain these changes. Neither
ecological nor technological changes can claim a decisive role. The shortening of the
fallow period in chena cultivation, enforced by the increasing population density, is only
now beginning to become critical, and advanced techniques of intensive paddy cultivation
have not yet been widely adopted. The introduction of tractors to do the first ploughing of
close to half the Vedda fields has been the most prominent technical innovation. We must
look then for other changes in the social structure and the culture that may have been
responsible for the observed changes in the relations of production.
One may note the effects of the colonization schemes that were initiated before the Se-
cond World War but that have had their greatest impact since the 1950s. The majority of
the large number of settlers who have been granted land in the colonies have come from
outside the district and have not, therefore, been integrated into the traditional social
order, This relative absence of traditional constraints on the development of a market
orientation has been strengthened by the policies of successive governments. They have
supervised cultivation more closely in the colonies than in the traditional villages and have
been explicitly concerned with increasing the amount of paddy that enters the market.

482 amerlcan ethnologist

Where market-oriented paddy production in the colonies has been successful, one may
reasonably suppose that it has had a demonstration effect. Moreover, the opening up of
new paddy lands in the colonies has provided new opportunities for labor, rights to whtch
cannot be claimed on a traditional basis under traditional terms, that is, in exchange for
payment in kind or for a share of the crop. Conversely, immigrants to the colonies have pro-
vided a new source of labor that i s attractive to the more market-oriented landlords in the
traditional villages precisely because the colonists cannot claim a customary right to work
the land on traditional terms.
There have also been the effects of the government's rice subsidy, which has two
aspects. Beginning during the Second World War, the government has issued a weekly ra-
tion of rice, the quantity and price of which have varied, but when there has been a charge
the price has been well below that prevailing on the open market. The ration has never
been enough to ensure subsistence on its own, but its availability has surely reduced the
amount of paddy that cultivators have retained for domestic consumption. At the same
time, the government has also committed itself to the purchase of domestically produced
rice at a guaranteed price that has always been sufficiently high to encourage cultivators to
market their produce. Both parts of the program have therefore encouraged a market orien-
A third factor i s cultural. The success of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike's appeal to sentiments
of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism in his upset victory in the general election of 1956 was
achieved at the expense of an English-speaking, Western-oriented elite that had previously
dominated the national political arena. But in Anuradhapura District the most prominent
members of the English-speaking elite were also members of the traditional elite, such as
the Vanniyar aristocrats, who had taken advantage of their privileged position to gain early
access to an English education and civil service jobs. Thus the electoral rejection of the
westernized elite was a rejection of individuals who simultaneously ranked high in the old
and persistent hierarchical order, and the critical questioning of their privilege must surely
have had a ripple effect. Where the alien (that is, "westernized") was represented in the
same persons as was the traditional hierarchy, rejection of the former also threatened the
latter and brought into question the values and relationships that comprised it. Paradoxical-
ly, therefore, the appeal t o traditional and communal sentiments served also to inspire
within the majority community of Sinhalese Buddhists a consciousness of individualistic
and egalitarian values that were in direct opposition to those of the traditional status
hierarchy. Among themselves Sinhalese Buddhists were now encouraged not to celebrate
the traditional order whose apical representatives had been successfully challenged, but to
pursue their individual interests. Relationships governed by status considerations increas-
ingly gave way to the individualistic principles of the market.
Finally, this shift i s most readily observable in a comparison between the generations. In
Kukulewa it is, by and large, the older men who deplore the necessity of wage labor and
who continue to work outsiders' land on ande. Younger men lack such inhibitions about
wage labor and they have, moreover, a greater and more immediate demand for the con-
sumer goods that wages can buy. It i s they for whom wrist watches and nylon shirts have
the greatest appeal, and they do not want to wait until the division of the crop at harvest to
gain the price of admission to the cinema.
This generational division i s not, of course. absolute. There are some traditionally
oriented youths, just as there are older men, like Wannihamy, whose activities are more
decisively dominated by profit seeking than by considerations of status. But the differences
are there in Kukulewa, and the mixture of orientations to the market and to tradition inserts
a tragic irony into Vedda debates about their diet. Those who advocate rice consumption
are asserting that the Veddas are a kind of Sinhalese, for a respectable Sinhalese identity
demands paddy cultivation and rice as the staple f 0 0 d . l ~But Veddas who favor rice are

appropriations in Vedda agriculture 463

either orienting themselves to a market system in which, by virtue of their inferior resources
(their relatively small and unreliable tanks), they are seriously disadvantaged, or they are
s t i l l aspiring to integration and respectable status within a hierarchical social order that is
profoundly threatened in its basic principles by the increasing dominance of the market.
On the other hand, those who affirm the superiority of millet are asserting the distinc-
tiveness of the Veddas from the Sinhalese, as they advocate the chena cultivation that en-
sures at least their partial isolation and autonomy. But population densities are now rapidly
approaching the level that will prohibit this strategy. Under present conditions the
Anuradhapura Veddas can survive neither as independent chena cultivators nor as respec-
table Sinhalese paddy cultivators within a stable hierarchy, for they are already fast
becoming a class of rural proletarians.


1 have attempted in this paper, by examining changes in the forms and magnitudes of ap-
propriation, to delineate the shifting pattern of class and status group relations in which the
Anuradhapura Veddas have participated. In the early nineteenth century the peripheral
social status of the Veddas seems accurately t o have reflected their marginal incorporation
into the larger Sinhalese economy and polity. Their social relations of production were
predominantly nonappropriative. From then until the 1950s the expansion both of the
population and of the area under irrigated paddy cultivation was accompanied by the in-
creasing penetration of the market; but despite this, village cultivators were able to sustain
a primary orientation to a traditional social order in which the forms of appropriation were
hierarchical and not capitalistic. By the 1950s this orientation had become so enfeebled by
i t s increasing remoteness from the realities of the developing economic system that in the
last twenty years it has been forced to beat a significant retreat. The status factors both of
kinship, which used to govern relations among the Veddas themselves, and of hierarchy,
which formerly governed their relations with other traditional caste communities, have
rapidly, but not yet entirely, become subordinated to the cash nexus. The Veddas may
themselves have retained a cultural focus on chena cultivation or on paddy cultivation
within the old hierarchical order, but quantitative analysis of the forms of appropriation
clearly shows that their chief function within the regional economy now is to provide a
source of wage labor.

'Research was conducted under a grant from the Foreign Currency Program of the Smithsonian Insti-
tution, with supplementary funds from a Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science
Foundation. The data were analyzed with assistance from a grant from the American Council of
Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council I am grateful to Steven Piker, Jennie-Keith
Ross, and Robinson Hollister for their critical comments. An earlier version of the paper was presented
to the Stanford University Anthropology Colloquium in February 1977
zHereafter, my use of the term "Vedda" refers specifically t o the Veddas of Anuradhapura District
and not t o Veddas in any other part of Sri Lanka, unless so indicated.
'It will be noted that the idea of a "superior claim," introduced into my definition of
"appropriation," is derived from this formulation by Wolf.
'A more extended description of the ecological context and the technical process of labor in Vedda
production is given in Brow (n.d., 1976).
IAs mentioned earlier, the structure and process of appropriation within the Vedda village are
analyzed elsewhere (Brow n.d.). Briefly, differential inheritance and the transmission inter vivos of pro-
ductive property, especially paddy land, have allowed the development of considerable differences in
wealth within the village so that at any one time control of paddy land has often been concentrated in
relatively few hands. However, bilateral inheritance rights, ambilocal residential options, lucrolocal

464 american ethnologist

residential practice, and the likelihood that only resident heirs will press their claim have combined to
produce a situation in which wealthier Vedda landlords tend to have a larger number of effective
heirs. The result is that the larger estates become dispersed in each generation Wealthier Vedda
landlords have traditionally made their appropriations through giving out land they control on an&
The increasing tolerance of wage relations between Vedda employers and employees permits a novel
form of appropriation among fellow villagers that i s further discussed below.
It i s beyond the scope of the present paper t o analyze fully the various combinations of productive
relations into which particular Veddas enter among themselves, for the structure of class relations
within the village i s greatly complicated by the fact that a single individual may be the owner of one
plot of land, the share-cropping tenant of a second, and a wage laborer on a third. O n the other hand,
relations among the Veddas and their neighbors, which are the principal object of analysis here. are
more clearcut. As will be seen, in relation t o members of other communities, Veddas are, with very few
exceptions, wage laborers rather than employers of labor, and tenants rather than landlords.
It should also be noted that the estimates of appropriations within the Vedda village that are includ-
ed, for example, in Table 2, take the household as their unit of analysis. Certain appropriative relations
that are common to almost all societies, for example, the claims of children t o a portion of the product
of their parents, the claims of husbands over their wives‘ productivity, and vice versa, and the claims
of the sick and elderly t o maintenance by their immediate kin, are thereby excluded. Among the Ved-
das these kinds of claims are usually confined within households. Also excluded are appropriations
between any two households in which, with respect t o any particular property that i s engaged in the
production from which the appropriation is made, a member of one household is the present holder of
the property and a member of the other household i s the heir. This is an important exclusion because
the appropriation of the product of the labor of sons by their fathers and of sons-in-law by their
fathers-in-law i s a crucial factor in the internal dynamics of Vedda village life (Brow n.d.)
‘The data on paddy cultivation have been assembled from a number of sources, including the
(a) A copy of the Survey Department’s official map of the village, which shows the various
categories of all plots of land in the village as they were determined by the government during the f i r s t
decade of the twentieth century. Later overlays show all parcels of Crown land that have subsequently
been alienated, by sale or lease t o villagers.
(b) Copies of all officially registered land transfers. These include sales of Crown land, grants of
Crown land on lease, sales between villagers, and mortgages.
(c) Copies of official records of cultivation, showing extent and output.
(d) Records of the investigators‘ enquiries into household budgets, possessions, and activities
Members of all households were interviewed and information was obtained on a variety of topics, in-
cluding detailed inputs and outputs of villagers‘ paddy cultivation activities in 1969-1970 Detailed
estimates of annual income and expenditures were obtained from a sample of twenty households to
which a general economic questionnaire was administered. In addition, a stratified sample of ten
households was given a daily budget and activities questionnaire. Members of each of the ten
households were interviewed for eight successive days every seven weeks from January to December
1969, and information was obtained on a number of topics that included the activities of each member
of the household on the previous day.
(e) Records of enquiries into cultivation practices during the 1969-1970 season. O n three-quarters of
the days during the cultivation season either I or my assistant visited every plot being cultivated and
recorded the kind of work being done, the names of the people doing it, the terms on which they were
working, the sources of the buffaloes and tools being used, the terms on which they were obtained,
and so forth When villagers were working their own fields, they often only worked a particular plot for
a portion of a day, so a number of instances of labor input will have been missed To compensate,
each recorded instance of a labor input was counted as a full day’s work and total labor inputs for
each plot were estimated by multiplying the recorded instances by 4/3. These results tallied well with
informants’ own estimates of total labor inputs
(f) Other ethnographic notes of interviews, conversations, and observations during the two years of
field research
On the basis of this information it was possible t o calculate the inputs and outputs associated with
each plot of paddy land that was cultivated in the 1969-1970 season in a way that took account of
such significant variations as the use of buffaloes as against tractors for ploughing and the differences
in yield characteristic of differently located blocks of land.
’Compare Leach (1961:268269).In Pul Eliya in 1954 several different forms of ande were practiced
in which the landlord‘s share varied with his provision of different inputs. In most cases, as contrasted
with Kukulewa. these included labor.
Olt should be emphasized that while the concept of appropriation employed here i s derived from
Marx‘s fundamental categories of variable capital (v), constant capital (c), and surplus value (5). the ac-
tual calculations of appropriations are based not on Marx’s labor theory of value but on the market
price of the various factors of production. This i s largely a matter of convenience. Calculation of
surplus value requires a previous calculation of the value of labor power (Marx 1967: 1 , 186-1981, but
as Marx recognizes, “there enters into the determination of the value of labor-power a historical and

appropriations in Vedda agrlculture 485

moral element (Marx 1967 1 171) Exhaustive data are required for the calculation of the labor time
necessary for the production and reproduction of labor power at a level of subsistence that i s cultural
Iy and historically given, and such data are not available at present
At least a partial justification for the present procedure i s given by the intimate relationship be
tween price and value “The law of value dominates price movements” (Marx 1967 1, 179) and value
i s the center of gravity around which prices fluctuate, and their continual rises and drops tend to
equalise (Marx 1967 1, 178)
91n estimating appropriations from wage labor done outside Kukulewa it would have been
preferable to use input and output figures from outside the village in order, among other things to
take account of the fact that some Anuradhapura District cultivators do practice transplanting and do
hire Kukulewa women for this purpose Unfortunately, the data provided by the Central Bank of
Ceylon (1969)do not allow an inference as to the division of labor between male and female The Cen
tral Bank’s survey does report, however, that in Anuradhapura District, only 6 6 percent of the
cultivated area was transplanted in 1966-1967 In view of these considerations appropriations froin
wage labor outside Kukulewa have been estimated as i f inputs and outputs were the same as they were
inside the village
’OSome of the topics touched on in this section have been more fully discussed elsewhere For an
analysis of “Vedda” as a social rather than a racial category, see Brow In d ) for Sinhalese 5ocial
organization in the Kandyan period. see Pieris (1956), for changes in the relationrhip between
Anuradhapura District villages and the state since the nineteenth century. see Brow (n d ), Robert\
(1973) and Samaraweera (19731. for an account of population growth and the expansion of paddy
cultivation, see Brow (1976. n d )
” I t should also be noted that the colonial government sometimes provided relief work in ywr, of
l2Landmortgaged to rnudalalis was also often worked on ande but for the reason that the rnuda/a/i>
were normally not themselves cultivators
”The normal way t o enquire in Sinhalese whether someone has eaten i s to ask bat h w w e dc.?
literally, ’ have you eaten rice, ’


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Date of Submission October 17, 1977

Date of Acceptance January 9, 1978

appropriations in Vedda agriculture 467