Mennonites in Bolivia
A Mennonite boy in Colonia Del Norte, Bolivia
|Regions with significant populations|
|Santa Cruz Department|
The Mennonites in Bolivia are mostly Russian Mennonites descended from Friesian, Flemish and North German people who came to South America from 1927 onwards. In 2012, there were about 70,000 Mennonites living in Bolivia.
In the 16th century, groups of Mennonites started to migrate from what is today the Netherlands and Belgium to Danzig and the Vistula delta region. There they lived among Germans and adopted the dialect of the area, even though they retained the Dutch language as sacred language until the middle of the 18th century. There they were joined by Mennonites from other German regions, but mainly from the north. Starting in 1789 they moved to what is today Ukraine. In the years after 1874 parts of them moved to the Western provinces of Canada and starting in 1922 to Paraguay, to Mexico and other Latin American countries. In the 1950s small groups migrated from Paraguay to Bolivia and in 1960s and 1970s larger groups from Mexico, Paraguay, Canada and other countries followed. All these migrations were motivated by their search for religious freedom.
Mennonites in Bolivia speak Plautdietsch, an East Low German dialect with some Dutch and Friesian elements. Since coming to Bolivia, a number of other people from other ethnic backgrounds have converted to Mennonite Christianity, mostly through missionaries of more liberal forms of Mennonitism. The "Russian Mennonites” in Bolivia are among the most traditional and conservative of all the Mennonites denominations in South America.
In the early-to-mid 16th century, Mennonites began to move from the Low Countries to the Vistula delta region, seeking religious freedom and exemption from military service. There they gradually replaced their Dutch and Frisian languages with the Plautdietsch dialect spoken in the area, blending into it elements of their native tongues. The Mennonites of Dutch origin were joined by Mennonites from other parts of Germany.
In 1772, most of Poland Mennonites' land in the Vistula area became part of the Kingdom of Prussia in the first of the Partitions of Poland. Frederick William II of Prussia ascended the throne in 1786 and imposed heavy fees on the Mennonites in exchange for continued military exemption.
In the 1760s Catherine the Great of Russia invited Mennonites from Prussia to settle north of the Black Sea in exchange for religious freedom and exemption from military service, a precondition founded in their commitment to non-violence. The ancestors of the Bolivian Mennonites settled in South Russia two main waves in the years 1789 and 1804. Leaving Danzig and the Polish Vistula delta because they were being annexed by Prussia. After Russia introduced the general conscription in 1874, many Mennonites migrated to the US and Canada.
In the years after 1873 some 11,000 left the Russian Empire and settled in Manitoba, Canada, and an equal number went to Kansas, Nebraska and Dakota territory. The Russian Mennonites settled in Canada until a universal, secular compulsory education was implemented in 1917 that required the use of the English language, which the more conservative Mennonites saw as a threat to the religious basis of their community.
Mexico, Paraguay and Belize
The more conservative Mennonites from Russia, some 6,000 people, left Canada between 1922 and 1925 and settled in Mexico. Another 1,800 more conservative Mennonites migrated to the Chaco region in Paraguay in 1927. In 1930 and in 1947 the Paraguayian Mennonites were joined by Mennonites coming directly from Russia. In the years after 1958 some 1,700 Mennonites from the Mexican settlements moved to what was then British Honduras and today is Belize.
The Bolivian government granted a privilege to future Mennonite immigrants including freedom of religion, private schools and exemption from military service in the 1930s, but that was not deployed until the 1950s.
Between 1954 and 1957, a first group of 37 families from various Mennonite colonies in Paraguay established Tres Palmas colony, 25 km northeast of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Soon, a second colony was established five km away from Tres Palmas by a group of 25 conservative families from Menno Colony in Paraguay. The settlers from Paraguay were experienced and well prepared to practice agriculture in a subtropical climate. In 1959, the total Mennonite population in Bolivia was 189.
In 1963, new settlements were founded where Mennonites from Paraguay and Canada lived together. In 1967, Mennonites from Mexico and from their daughter colonies in Belize began to settle in the Santa Cruz Department. Las Piedras colony, founded 1968, was the first colony founded exclusively by Mennonites from Canada. Most settlers in Bolivia were traditional Mennonites who wanted to separate themselves more from "the world". Altogether there were about 17,500 Mennonites living in 16 colonies in Bolivia by 1986, of whom nearly 15,000 were Old Colony Mennonites and 2,500 Bergthal or Sommerfeld Mennonites.
Colonies and population
In 1995, there were a total of 25 Mennonite colonies in Bolivia with a total population of 28,567. The most populous ones were Riva Palacios (5,488), Swift Current (2,602), Nueva Esperanza (2,455), Valle Esperanza (2,214) and Santa Rita (1,748). In 2002 there were 40 Mennonite colonies with a population of about 38,000 people. An outreach of Conservative Mennonites can be found at La Estrella, with others in progress.
In 2012 there were 23,818 church members in congregations of Russian Mennonites, indicating a total population of about 70,000. Another 1,170 Mennonites were in Spanish-speaking congregations. The number of colonies was 57 in 2011.
|Las Piedras 1||1967||Canada||-||-|
|Canadiense 2||1975||Canadiense 1||777||980|
|Cupesi||1976||Canada, Las Pavas||753||530|
|Las Piedras 2||1984||Las Piedras 1||1,150||848|
|Nueva Holanda||1984||Las Pavas||698||824|
|Neu Bergthal||1986||Belice, Canada,
|Las Palmas||1992||Paraguay, Las Plamas||254||322|
|Valle Nuevo||1993||Swift Current||1,185||1,699|
|El Cerro||1996||Las Piedras 2||-||506|
|El Dorado||1996||Riva Palacios||298||1,848|
|Centro Shalom||1997||Valle Espeeanza||20||37|
|La Luna||1997||Mexico, Bolivia||15||-|
|El Cariño||1998||Las Piedras 1||-||227|
|La Estrella||2002||Canada, Bolivia||-||220|
|Nueva Asención||2004||Valle Nuevo||-||448|
|Monte Rico||2004||Swift Current||-||384|
|La Honda||2005||Durango 1||-||249|
|Barrio N. Estrella||2005||Bolivia||-||60|
|Nueva México||2005||Riva Palacios||-||507|
|Villa Hermosa||2005||Valle Esperanza||-||270|
|Villa Nueva (Pailon)||2005||Bolivia||-||207|
|Schöntal (S. Pablo)||2005||Fresnillo (Chihuahua)||-||105|
|Rio Nego||2006||Swift Current||-||120|
|Canadian Old Colony Mennonites||344||524|
|Conservative (Plain) Mennonites||70||105|
|La Iglesia Evangélica Anabautista en Bolivia||630||630|
|Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Boliviana||450||450|
|Iglesia Misionera Anabaptista||90|
Rape and sexual assaults
In 2011, eight men belonging to the Manitoba Mennonite Colony were convicted of a series of sexual assaults committed from 2005 to 2009. Prior to the discovery, the rapes had been attributed to a ghost or demon. The victims were reported to be between the ages of 3 and 65. The offenders used a type of gas used by veterinarians to sedate animals during medical procedures. Despite long custodial sentences for the convicted men, an investigation in 2013 reported continuing cases of similar assaults and other sexual abuses. Canadian author Miriam Toews has made these crimes the center of her 2018 novel Women Talking.
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- ""Bolivia"". Retrieved 20 May 2019.
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- Schartner, Sieghard and Schartner, Sylvia: Bolivien: Zufluchtsort der konservativen Mennoniten, Asunción 2009, pp.48–49.
- Schwartz, Alexandra (28 March 2019). A Beloved Canadian Novelist Reckons with Her Mennonite Past, The New Yorker. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
- Friedman-Rudovsky, Jean (28 December 2013). "The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia". Vice. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
- Pressly, Linda (16 May 2019). "The rapes haunting a community that shuns 21st Century". BBC News. Retrieved 16 May 2019.