Oh Ratnavalli, oh Rodi woman

Sri Lanka is home to an array of ethnic groups, the smaller of which live partly outside the mainstream of society. Undoubtedly, the best known of these are the Veddah, who conform to the aboriginal, hunter-gatherer archetype. A lesser-known community, the only 'untouchable' group until the 1950s, is the Rodi. Indeed, the Rodi's intriguing myth of origin, their tragic history and the much-renowned beauty of their women, have combined to distinguish them. Not only has the tribe transformed into an oppressed caste in the mists of history, but the Rodi women have suffered disproportionately due to the burden of myths about their sexuality. While their beauty has been romanticised, the mystique of their sexual prowess has inspired both desire and fear in men of higher castes.

Although their beginnings are far from certain, it is possible that the Rodi were originally a hunting tribe from the Subcontinental mainland. Their current numbers are unknown, as Sri Lanka ceased to include caste in the population census over a hundred years ago. Anthropologist Nireka Weeratunge's research in 1988 (the most recent to date) found one of the villages studied to have a larger population than the figure that had previously been used for the Rodi population for the Northwestern Province as a whole. While definite numbers thus cannot be cited, the Rodi population is today estimated to be around 25,000.

Loading content, please wait...
Himal Southasian