Mennonites in Paraguay

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Mennonites in Paraguay
San Ignacio.jpg
Mennonite children in San Juan Bautista
Total population
29,045 in 2000,[1] about 40,000 in 2014
Regions with significant populations
Boquerón department (Menno Colony, Filadelfia)
Plautdietsch, Standard German, Spanish, English

Mennonites in Paraguay are ethnic Mennonites with a central European ancestry or of mixed (southern European/Amerindian) or Amerindian ancestry as the vast majority of Paraguayans. Ethnic Mennonites contribute heavily to the agricultural and dairy output of Paraguay.


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. After Russia introduced the general conscription in 1874, many Mennonites migrated to the US and Canada. The members of the Colonia Menno settled first 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. 1743 pioneers came from Canada to Paraguay in 1927 and turned the arid Chaco into fertile farmland over the years. It was the first Mennonite colony in the region.

At the beginning, the pioneers in the Chaco had to overcome many adversities. Many became sick due to the lack of medical care, whereof 121 died and some 60 families returned to Canada.

In 1930 more Mennonites immigrants arrived to the Chaco area from Russia mostly via Germany and founded the Fernheim colony, fleeing the persecution by the Communists and a bad economic situation that was caused by the collectivization in the Soviet Union and eventually led to the Holodomor. More Russian Mennonites fled to the west with the receding German Army fearing persecution, Russian forced labor camps and deportation. Some 3,500 of these Mennonites arrived in Paraguay and founded Neuland and Volendam colonies in 1947.[2]

Origin and languages[edit]

Ethnic Mennonites, that is Mennonites of German, Swiss German and Dutch descent in Paraguay are spread across 19 colonies and in the city of Asuncion. The vast majority of ethnic Mennonites in Paraguay can trace their origin to the Mennonite settlement in the Vistula Delta, from where they migrated to the Russian Empire. 25% of the Mennonites of Paraguay came directly from Russia, 51% from Russia via Canada, where they lived for several decades and a further 22% from Russia via Canada via Mexico (some from Mexico via Belize). Another 2% are descendants of Amish immigrants from the United States, who came originally from Switzerland and southern Germany.[3] All Russian Mennonites share the same ancestry, language (Plautdietsch) and a lot of other traditions in contrast to the Amish-Mennonites, who speak or spoke Pennsylvania German along with English.


There were 22,710 ethnic Mennonites living in Paraguay in 1987 [4] and 29,045 in 2000.[1] Plautdietsch speakers were estimated 40,000 in 2007 according to Ethnologue.

Major colonies[edit]

There are two major Mennonite concentrations in Paraguay. The first one in the Gran Chaco region (West), and the second one in Eastern Paraguay.[5]

In 2014 Menno Colony has about 10,000 inhabitants, Fernheim about 5,000 and Neuland about 3,500.

Colony Location Established Origin Population (1987)
Menno West 1927 Canada 6,650
Fernheim West 1930 Russia 3,240
Neuland West 1947 Russia 1,330
Friesland East 1937 Russia 720
Volendam East 1947 Russia 690
Bergthal East 1948 Canada 1,490
Sommerfeld East 1948 Canada 1,860
Reinfeld East 1966 Canada 120
Luz y Esperanza East 1967 US 110
Agua Azul East 1969 US 170
Rio Verde East 1969 Mexico 2,490
Tres Palmas East 1970 Mixed 220
Santa Clara East 1972 Mexico 130
Rio Corrientes East 1975 US 180
Florida East 1976 US 100
Nueva Durango East 1978 Mexico 2,050
Campo Alta East 1980 Mexico/Belize 120
Manitoba East 1983 Mexico 290
Asuncion East N Mixed 750
Paraguay 22,710

Mennonites of the Central Chaco[edit]

The Central Chaco region probably has the highest concentration of ethnic Mennonites anywhere in Latin America. Ethnic Germans (almost all of them Mennonites) formed 32% of the total population of the Central Chaco as of 2005. Only Paraguayan Indians (52%) were more numerous compared to them. Latin Paraguayans, the majority ethnic group in Paraguay, constituted just 11% and Braziguayans and Argentines another 5%.[6][7]

Mennonites have received some criticism from human rights organizations for their relations with a number of indigenous tribes, including the Ayoreo people in Paraguay.[8]

Conservative Mennonites[edit]

Colonies of Conservative Mennonites can be found in Asunción, Catupyry, Colony Florida, Canindeyú Department, Itapúa Department, and in Hohenau.

See also[edit]


  • Gerhard Ratzlaff et al.: Lexikon der Mennoniten in Paraguay. Asunción 2009.
  • Peter Klassen: Die Mennoniten in Paraguay : Reich Gottes und Reich dieser Welt. Bolanden 1988.
  • Hendrik Hack: Die Kolonisation der Mennoniten im paraguayischen Chaco. Den Haag 1961.


  1. ^ a b Rendi D. Klassen. ""Statistik der Mennonitenkolonien in Paraguay" in Jahrbuch für Geschichte und Kultur der Mennoniten in Paraguay 2000". Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  2. ^ "Paraguay". Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ Anabaptist/Mennonite Faith and Economics - Google Books. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
  5. ^ Anabaptist/Mennonite Faith and Economics - Google Books. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
  6. ^ "ASCIM - Data". Retrieved 30 November 2014.
  7. ^ [2] Archived August 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ John Vidal in Filadelfia. "Chaco deforestation by Christian sect puts Paraguayan land under threat | Environment". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-03-22.