Cultural Elements of the Raute in Kings of the Forest

In Kings of the Forest, “cultural resilience” of the nomadic Raute hunter-gatherer society refers to their methods of incorporating the cultural elements of the larger neighboring Nepalese and manipulating it in order to preserve their own. The Nepalese have made numerous attempts to assimilate the Raute into their agrarian Hindu-Nepalese society, but have failed to do so as a result of their cultural resilience. To the typical outsider, one may view their nomadic lifestyle as one that is uncivilized, barbaric, and savage. On the contrary, the Raute are an intelligent group of hunter-gatherers who are well aware that they are but a single “strand in a larger web of nature and society.” The importance of their interconnectedness and relationship with their surrounding environment is apparent, especially in their use of language. The word “mana,” meaning elder brother, or ruler reflects their subordination to their Nepali counterpart. The Raute understand this, so to avoid any conflict they must use certain survival tactics to preserve their way of life.

One of their survival tactics, to avoid political conflict, is that they do not claim to be a separate entity or group. In the face of the Nepalese, the Raute claim that they are one in the same as them that is they also practice Hinduism and other values but the only difference is where they choose to live. The impression they want to give the Nepali is that they have already assimilated in to Nepali culture and do not require any additional change. In truth, their religious ideologies lie on opposite sides of the spectrum. Hindus have adopted a caste system consisting of a social hierarchy that divides them into specific classes ranging from the “Untouchables” to the Brahman class. On the other hand, the Raute practice an Egalitarian social system where they value equality regarding rights and opportunities. Hinduism itself is polytheistic, whereas the Raute believe that there is only a single deity. The Raute avoid any unnecessary violent conflict by falsely adopting some of these beliefs in order to ensure their survival.

Another survival tactic of their cultural resilience is their resistance to change. The Raute constantly emphasize that they do not want to be changed. They intend to preserve their way of life by not teaching outsiders their language “Khamci,” doing so would give an outsider the ability to communicate to the Rautes and possibly interrupt their cultural equilibrium. According to John Reinhardt’s 1968 study of the Rautes little has changed in their use of tools and utensils. When encountering the Nepalese however they do not display their resistance, they accept any offerings and at times ask for more of the Nepalese. The Nepalese are inclined to deliver any Raute requests for goods in exchange for good karma. Karma is also another cultural element that the Raute have taken advantage of. According to a Nepali farmer, the Raute are known to be heavy solicitors. In this sense the Raute manipulate this cultural element of karma to ensure their survival.

The Raute’s cultural resilience has allowed them to co-exist within the greater Himalayan societies. Whether it is through religious conformity or interdependence, their understanding and reaction to these cultural elements are exactly the reason why the Raute are one of the last standing hunter gathering societies in the world.