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Kings of the Forest

Kings of the Forest: The Cultural Resilience of Himalayan Hunter-Gatherers

Jana Fortier
Copyright Date: 2009
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    Kings of the Forest
    Book Description:

    In today’s world hunter-gatherer societies struggle with seemingly insurmountable problems: deforestation and encroachment, language loss, political domination by surrounding communities. Will they manage to survive? This book is about one such society living in the monsoon rainforests of western Nepal: the Raute. Kings of the Forest explores how this elusive ethnic group, the last hunter-gatherers of the Himalayas, maintains its traditional way of life amidst increasing pressure to assimilate. Author Jana Fortier examines Raute social strategies of survival as they roam the lower Himalayas gathering wild yams and hunting monkeys. Hunting is part of a symbiotic relationship with local Hindu farmers, who find their livelihoods threatened by the monkeys’ raids on their crops. Raute hunting helps the Hindus, who consider the monkeys sacred and are reluctant to kill the animals themselves. Fortier explores Raute beliefs about living in the forest and the central importance of foraging in their lives. She discusses Raute identity formation, nomadism, trade relations, and religious beliefs, all of which turn on the foragers’ belief in the moral goodness of their unique way of life. The book concludes with a review of issues that have long been important to anthropologists—among them, biocultural diversity and the shift from an evolutionary focus on the ideal hunter-gatherer to an interest in hunter-gatherer diversity. Kings of the Forest will be welcomed by readers of anthropology, Asian studies, environmental studies, ecology, cultural geography, and ethnic studies. It will also be eagerly read by those who recognize the critical importance of preserving and understanding the connections between biological and cultural diversity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6324-1
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Conventions
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Ten thousand years ago, all the people in the world lived on wild plants and animal foods. They were hunters and gatherers who collected food rather than produced it. Even though the practice of hunting and gathering was universal, there were many cultural and technological variations in foraging that were determined by differences in the environment, wildlife resources, cultural technology, surrounding polities, and prevailing patterns of trade with others. From the perspective of the human species, this was a highly successful way to live.

    Even with the rise of agriculture, hunting and gathering did not simply wither away. Only five...

  6. 2 Encounters
    (pp. 13-23)

    In the middle of a rural district town in Nepal, a Hindu servant boy ran up to me. Breathless, he blurted out, “The Raute is there, hurry up!” I ran back to my host family’s house and found a Raute elder, named Mayn Bahadur, sitting in a chair. He had sparkling eyes and a noticeable twitch running along his cheek. He smiled at me from across the courtyard and beckoned me forward. I told him about my desire to study with the Raute, and we talked about the need to preserve their way of life.

    Most Americans know Nepal as...

  7. 3 Who Are the Rautes?
    (pp. 24-56)

    Anthropologists find classification according to subsistence types helpful for a variety of reasons, and often classify societies into food collectors (hunting, gathering, fishing) or food producers (horticulturalists, pastoralists, agriculturalists). They would thus refer to Rautes by their form of subsistence as “hunter-gatherers” or “foragers.” This basic subsistence orientation would then be used as a means of cultural comparison with other food collectors, such as the South African Bushmen, central African forest peoples, Southeast Asian foragers, the Birhor of India.¹ The classification “hunter-gatherers” does fit the Rautes’ own conception of themselves, for they refer to themselves asšyāola,which literally means...

  8. 4 Forests as Home
    (pp. 57-74)

    To Rautes, the forests are not wild places, even though they are filled with animals and few people. Rather, the forested world is peopled by tigers, bears, deer, monkeys, birds, small trees, yams, stones, and other sentient beings. This is where God’s children live, according to the Rautes, and it represents a domestic space. But other humans also live in forests and use the resources—wood collectors, surveyors, Hindu ascetics, trekkers, forestry officials, forest-user groups. All these groups view the forests through the prism of their own personal interests and cultural traditions. For these others, forests evoke fundamentally different ideas,...

  9. 5 Monkey’s Thigh Is the Shaman’s Meat
    (pp. 75-99)

    In the Kathmandu newspapers, the Rautes are called “The Monkey Hunters of Nepal.” This is true but a scandalous thing to publish given that most Hindus believe Hanuman, the monkey deity, to be the appropriate object of prayer rather than prey. In some foraging societies, such as among the Aché of South America, monkey hunting is a fairly low priority, as deer and the pig-like peccary provide more calories per time expended hunting (Hawkes, Hill, and O’Connell 1982). But among Old World foragers such as the Semang and Batek of Malaysia, langurs and gibbons are larger, providing a better return...

  10. 6 Let’s Go to the Forest and Eat Fruit
    (pp. 100-113)

    Because Rautes cultivate no crops and raise no animals, wild plants are particularly important for food, materials, and medicines. Rautes enjoy stewing, roasting, and boiling wild spinach-like greens and wild yams and other tubers. Forest greens represent one of their most important edibles, as they are a calorie-rich, indispensable accompaniment to monkey meat. They nibble on raw greens as they forage through the forests. In the warm rainy season, Raute women and men search for greens and fruit. In the dry season, they find wild yams and other tubers. In this chapter, I shall focus on their plant-based diet, while...

  11. 7 Economy and Society: A Complex Mix
    (pp. 114-141)

    To Mayn Bahadur and Chandra, there is a world of difference between “carving wood” and being a “wood-carver.” Artisans must spend years learning specialized skills to make jute baskets, umbrellas, grain bins, and other crafted objects. They must learn how to find the materials in the forest and how to prepare them for craft manufacturing. Mayn Bahadur knows that the people who can weave jute, geranium, wild cotton, birch, cannibis, yucca, and other fibrous materials into household wares have acquired special skills that mark them as basket makers, mat makers, rope makers, and other craft specialists. Likewise, Mayn Bahadur points...

  12. 8 The Children of God
    (pp. 142-158)

    The nomadic Raute lifestyle is founded upon religious ideologies that deify natural resources. Like other foragers in South Asia, such as the Birhor who live in Jharkhand and the Jenu Kurumba (Naiken, Nayaka) of South India, Rautes create a personal relationship with other beings in their environment. Some of these beings are celestial bodies, forest creatures, deceased ancestors, and weather events like thunderstorms. For Rautes, the “children of God” refers not only to people, but also to animals, stones, yams, trees, and other living, sentient entities. These beings are supernaturally living “nonhuman persons,” though we see them only as natural...

  13. 9 Cultural Resilience: The Big Picture
    (pp. 159-170)

    The Raute people’s right to pursue a life of nomadism represents one facet of larger issues concerning cultural diversity, resiliency, and human rights. Why is cultural diversity important? And why is Raute cultural autonomy important to those who read this book? Even though the term “cultural diversity” has become commonplace, small-scale societies are facing more challenges than ever before. They find themselves enmeshed in legal battles with powerful states. Their schools are unwilling or unable to meet their children’s language needs. Laws are enacted that prevent them from hunting and gathering in protected forest reserves. Broadly, the forces of globalization...

  14. Appendix
    (pp. 171-186)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 187-194)
  16. Glossary
    (pp. 195-198)
  17. References
    (pp. 199-210)
  18. Index
    (pp. 211-216)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 217-220)