Raute are a nomadic ethnic group officially recognized by the Government of Nepal. They are known especially for their hunting of langur and macaque monkeys for subsistence. They also gather wild forest tubers, fruits, and greens on a regular basis. They normally do no gardening, farming, or work for others as tenants or wage laborers. To obtain grain, iron, cloth, and jewelry, they trade handmade wooden bowls and boxes to local farmers.
They do not sell other forest products, bushmeat, or forest medicinal plants. Their population is estimated at about 650 persons living in small settlements in the Karnali and Makahali watershed regions of western Nepal, but there are probably less than 200 of the still nomadic hunting Raute. This latter were located in 1969 in western Nepal by the American anthropologist Johan Reinhard, who conducted ethnographic research among them and the Raji, a related ethnic group of largely settled agriculturalists.
The Raute language is currently classified as Tibeto-Burman. It is called “Raute” in most studies and sometimes “Khamci,” meaning “our talk” in a few other studies. The Raute use this name for their autonym, their own name for themselves, as well as their exonym, the name used by outsiders to refer to them. It is closely related to the language spoken by two related ethnic groups, the Ban Raji and Raji of the same region. The closest well-documented language to Raute known at the present time is Chepang, spoken by an ethnic group of west-central Nepal who also have been hunter-gatherers until the current generation.
The Rautes are one of the most typical indigenous groups of Nepal sustaining their unique cultural identities for generations. They are the only nomadic people in the country who never settle permanently in any particular place. The Rautes deny any idea on permanent settlement, education or agriculture. The fact that the Rautes, the last fulltime nomads of Nepal, have survived into this century is truly remarkable in our current period of diminishing cultural diversity.
It is estimated that the total population of Rautes in Nepal is about 180, or roughly 52 families. The Karnali Province of Nepal remains their only sanctuary. There is no documented history of the Rautes.But one common ground is that once they fled from the state, they never returned and established a different pattern of life in the jungle. To eke out their living, they mastered the craft of wooden products, learned to hunt monkeys, and adapted to forest life. Only the Mukhiya of the Rautes, on behalf of their tribe, talks to outsiders regarding their lifestyle and tradition.
The Rautes bear traditional knowledge of living in a community. The heredity of the Raute is categorized into three types as Kalyaal, Raskoti and Samaal. It is therefore very important to note the various aspects of these people, such as their ethical norms and values, rituals and livelihood patterns. At the time when acculturation has been widespread the world with the diminishing diversity, the Rautes have been quite successful in sustaining their tradition.
Humanity has to learn a lot from the Rautes, since they have been very successful in preserving their tradition in today’s world. Their maintenance of the nomadic culture in a rapidly globalising world is commendable. This global uniqueness makes them a precious part of the diverse people of Nepal. Like any other ethnic group following the Hindu society, the Raute community also maintains a patriarchal social hierarchy. However, in matters of internal management, women have a more prominent role than that of their male counterparts.
The Rautes maintain a clear division of labour between men and women. Most often the male members get involved in making wooden utensils, hunting monkeys, trading their products in the market, and collecting food grains. It is also common for unmarried girls and widows to go to the countryside and collect food grains and deliver the order for the craft items. Women in the
Raute community bear the major responsibility in the household chores and dominate in almost every facet of the livelihood except in the areas of socializing, hunting, carpentry, and dancing. They have the indigenous know-how on spring water sources. Since it is a part of their job to search for medicinal herbs, firewood and vegetables in the jungle, they also have extensive knowledge of the forest and its ecosystem.
The husband and wife have great respect and love for each other. Married women never travel outside of their settlement area with anyone else other than their husbands. The women are mainly responsible for collecting firewood, cooking meals and rearing their children. They also may assist the males while shifting homes to new locations and building new homes there.
The women do not participate in making wooden utensils and hunting as they are considered to be the male tasks. Children until the age of 10-14 are not assigned any major household responsibilities, they only spend their days playing with natural objects and roaming around the settlement.
On special occasions, they may help their parents in fetching water from the spring and carrying small items while shifting to new locations. Monkey hunting is considered to be the fundamental side of giving the cultural permanence of the hunting life of the Rautes. Their hunting technique is also very rare in the sense that around 8-30 young and middle aged Raute members go for hunting in a group with their nets. They do not use guns or bows and arrows for hunting.
The Rautes observe the festivals like Saune Sankranti, Dashain, Tihar, Chaite Dashain and Maghe Sankranti as practiced by the local Hindu community. For the celebrations, the Rautes manage food, homemade ale and meat in advance. As they enjoy complete participation in the community events, they do not like to meet strangers or travel beyond their settlement area during their celebration period.
They take complete leave from carpentry and hunting during the festivals. These festivals are observed with much joy and fervour amidst singing, dancing, feasting and their own ritual performances. Rice, meat and drinks play an important role in their feast.
The government is to provide citizenship cards to the Raute people leading a nomadic life in various districts of Karnali province. The Ministry of Social Development of the Karnali province government is providing the citizenship cards to the Rautes on the basis of the identity cards issued by the Gurans rural municipality of Dailekh district.
The Gurans rural municipality had issued the identity cards to the Rautes last year in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Development. Ministry secretary Man Bahadur BK, speaking in an interaction program, said the ministry will provide citizenship cards based on the identity cards. The interaction was held with stakeholders working in the welfare of the Raute community. Secretary BK said distribution of citizenship cards to the Rautes would make it easy for the local governments to provide them social security allowance and other government facilities.
He added that the citizenship cards would be distributed in coordination and collaboration with the stakeholder organizations working for the Rautes. The Rautes would get the citizenship cards as the residents of Gurans rural municipality-8 from where they got their identity cards. Chief District Officer of Dailekh, Laxmi Prasad Banskota, said the district administration has started the process for issuing citizenship cards to the Rautes. The Raute population in the rural municipality is said to be 146. The Rautes claim themselves to belong to the Kalyal, Raskoti and Rajbanshi clans.
Meanwhile, the Gurans rural municipality has started collecting fees from people visiting the Raute settlements, citing outsiders coming to the Raute settlement to observe their lifestyle and culture in an unregulated manner has threatened the Raute’s unique culture and tradition. The rural municipality has fixed Rs 10 for residents of the rural municipality, Rs 20 for Nepali citizens, Rs 500 for foreign nationals, Rs 100 for recording audio-video documentary in mobile and Rs 1,000 for audio, video through camera.
The amount collected from fees would be spent for the uplift and conservation of the Raute people. The Raute settlement at Kanchhi Bazar, Gurans rural municipality-5 has been fenced with the help of thread. The rural municipality has assigned two of its staff to collect fees from the visitors coming to the settlement. A health worker and two teachers have also been deputed at the Raute settlement through the Raute Project implemented by SOSEC, Dailekh in coordination with Gurans rural municipality and with the support of AEIN, Luxembourg.