Nepal’s Last Nomads Still Hunt and Eat Monkeys
But the Raute tribe’s odd menu choice is quickly vanishing with global warming
Text and Photos Ram Paudel
God said to set the screaming monkey free –at least, that’s what the Raute hunters believe. Though the men have gone to great lengths to capture the day’s hard-won dinner, it is customary (and arguably rather forward-thinking) to release a male-female pair to ensure the langur population’s sustainability. After all, it is to Dade Masto, the Raute’s pagan god, that they owe the success of their hunt, and to whom they sacrifice a chick to pacify him for their primate hunting lest he let the sky fall down upon the Earth.
“If we don’t keep God happy, he will say that monkeys are like our own children, and we can’t kill and eat them,” says Raute leader Mahin Bahadur Shahi. “That would be a disaster. If we can’t hunt langurs, what will our people eat?”
Deity satisfied, the hunters walk the long route back to camp at the foot of the Himalayas. In the evening, they will distribute the pickings equally among the villagers. If a stranger arrives at mealtime, they hide their dinner: Outsiders must never lay eyes on it – nor see the Raute hunting – or it will mean immense bad luck on everyone’s heads.
West Nepal’s last hunter-gatherers still live in the wilderness, and for the most part subsist off the land. The exogamous tribe is split into four patrilineal clans, from which at least one man per family participates in the hunt – including boys as young as 12.
Often referred to as ban ko raja (“kings of the forest”), this small, closed society lives in huts made of branches, leaves and cloth. They hunt rhesus macaques, Assam macaques and Hanuman langurs, and make wooden household items from the timber of felled trees, which are exchanged for food from surrounding villages.
Those who do manage to get grain and vegetables in exchange for their woodware are excluded from the day’s meat spoils, since they already have food. But there is one exception… This story is a feature in ASIAN Geographic. To read the full story, check out Issue 130.