Living in the mist- the last nomads of Nepal
“Women have no caste, flatbread has no head, and the ‘Rautes’ have no houses,” says a man perched on a rock, pointing at a camp of cloth tents hidden in the mist. “You are duniya, the outside world, and we are the ‘Rautes’, we don’t have houses – we have camps.”
Only about 140 remain in the foraging tribe of ‘Rautes’, from the western mountains of Nepal. Living some 2000 to 10000 feet above the sea level they expedite up during summer and move down during winter.
‘Raute’ elders are convinced that their ancestral traditions will survive into the future. They don’t occupy the same place for long, they don’t grow crops, and they don’t work for outsiders. Nomadic Rautes have strong sense of attachment with the Forest. The main sources of living for the Rautes are the wooden materials they make. They have talent of crafting wood and creating household utensils. This craftsmanship is being handover from the generations. Earlier they used to exchange these materials for food but these days they do it for money also.
During 1970’s new concept of community forest was brought that handed over the forest to the community. This concept that has gained worldwide recognition slowly started creating problems to the Rautes. The one is they can’t cut the trees they like and sometimes they fight with the locals too. As the forest is handed over to local community they are not allowed to cut the trees they like but they don’t obey the locals. The government money they receive – one thousand rupees (approx. 12 USD) a month for each ‘Raute’ – might seem useful now, but will likely increase dependence in the future.
“Earlier they used to say that ‘to count the money is a sin’ but these days they ask for money whenever they meet”, experienced old man from Dailekh says. Likewise, members of the Raute community are seen drunk all the times. Even children of 8 or 10 years of age are also seen drinking. Rautes who were regarded as being stubborn but clear-headed and innocent and these days they are seem drunk at local hotels and sometimes even fighting with the locals.
“They have human sacrifices every twelve years! If you wander into their camp, they’ll enchant you and keep you prisoner!” Such are the tales told by villagers around the camp. All hearsay, because nobody has seen any of it. The ‘Rautes’ seem to prefer to remain hidden behind a shroud of mystery – perhaps to shield themselves from the influence of duniya. They don’t talk much, don’t like outsiders in their camp, and seek out isolated nooks for their enclosed world. Their life seems a conundrum: they endlessly wander along the boundaries of the world they have created. They roam like the clouds; they float across the landscape, free as the birds. But there seems to be clash between the modern society and their relationship to it and their desire to continue their own lifestyle. After all how many generations can give continuity to this lifestyle, only time can tell this.