Known for its communal living tradition and connection to the rural setting and way of life, the Hutterite Colony can be counted amongst the lesser-known and practiced colonies of Christianity. Even after being one of the lesser-known denominations, this colony forms a major branch of the Canadian heritage and culture, with about 75% of the Hutterite population residing in Canadian provinces.
Let’s learn more about this ethnoreligious community.
1. How did the Hutterite Colony Begin: History
The Hutterite Colony was formed from the advent of the Anabaptist movement, also known as the Radical Reformation movement, which has its roots in the country of Switzerland.
1.1. What was the Anabaptist Movement (1527)
The Anabaptist Movement, whose roots lie back in the Reformation Movement, marked the beginning of the Hutterites with the practice of adult baptism.
Let’s first take a brief glance at the Reformation Movement:
1.1.1. The Reformation Movement (1521)
First initiated by Ulrich Zwingli, the Anabaptist Movement comes under the Christian Reformation movement, which was a response against the institution of the Catholic Church, whose power was going uncontrollable across the continent of Europe. As people started to question the church’s corrupt practices, the Reformation Movement (1521), under the leadership of Martin Luther, came into existence; which questioned and revolted against the unfair practices and tools used by the institution.
This revolution, which also led to a great societal upheaval, was practiced in various forms; the main tool was the possession of the Holy Bible by the common public and open interpretations of it. This whole episode brought forward and questioned the idea of ‘sin‘ as presented by the Catholic formal institution, and people started differentiating between the ideas of Free Will and Predestination.
1.1.2 How was the Anabaptist Movement initiated after the Reformation?
The Anabaptist Movement of 1527 has its roots in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. The main way of revolting against the prevailing corrupt system was Adult Baptism, which was considered to be a punishable offence, to be paid with one’s life. The pursuit was to prove that no child is sinful unless they get an understanding of the concepts of good and evil. The word Anabaptist translates to ‘someone who Baptizes again‘. Out of this movement were born many colonies, one group out of which is called Hutterites.
2. Migration Pattern of the Hutterite Colony
The Anabaptism first came to Tyrol with its leaders, where the practice of Credobaptism was first observed. This event marked the beginning of a violent peasant uprising, which was soon squashed. Here, Jacob Hutter, who later became the leader of the Hutterites was the first to convert. Due to this conversion, he was declared a revolutionary and was burned at a stake on February 25, 1536, a few months after he was captured. By the year, Anabaptism in south Tyrol was on a steep decline to escape more such captures.
From Tyrol, the Anabaptists migrated to Moravia, mainly in the years 1530-1535, and began their communal lifestyle. For several decades, the Hutterite Colony established themselves and there was peace within the colony. The society started spreading and reached upper Hungary.
However, in the year 1593, the Long Turkish war broke out and took a toll on society. Many Hutterites were captured and adbucted. What followed this war was the Thirty Years’ War, which began in 1618, followed by the bubonic plague of 1621. These events wiped out more than half of the Hutterite colony that existed.
In the year 1621, the Hutterite colony was invited to Transylvania by Gabriel Bethlen, the prince of Transylvania, who was a Calvinist. However, this invitation had the main aim of acquiring workers for his farms and developing crafts. After the Ottoman invasion, the Hutterite colony’s population saw a steep decline, with merely 67 members.
In the year 1767, they fled to Wallachia but faced even more havoc due to the Russian-Turkish war. Then, in the year 1771, a group of 60 living Hutterites reached Ukraine, where they found 55 new members for their colony. In the year 1820, the colony was divided into two, as a great faction of the population wanted private ownership of goods.
However, in the year 1864, military service was made a compulsion, which was against Hutterite colony’s beliefs. Thus, they migrated to the United States, beginning in the year 1874.
During World War I, the Hutterite colony faced mistreatment due to their pacifist beliefs, which was the primary reason for the group finally migrating to their longest-established colonies, the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada. Only one colony remained in the United States out of 18.
3. The Hutterite Colony: Theology and Beliefs
3.1. Religious Beliefs
Though a part of Christianity, the Hutterite colony has significant disparities from the typical Christian practices. The main belief that is different from other groups is the belief that communal living within the Christian community is seen as the only way of ‘returning to God’, which can be understood as something equal to ‘Nirvana’, as called in various other cultures.
The head preacher, a Hutterian brethren serves as the leader of the Hutterite population in all aspects and is necessarily a man. The selection of head preacher takes place via a voting system, in which the baptized men can vote to select the leader.
Singing of hymns and verses, and delivery of sermons by the head preachers form an integral part of the Hutterite communities, which takes place in an evening service, where people wear special church clothes.
The day after Easter is of significant importance, which is called the Holy Communion, the major annual spiritual event amongst the Hutterite colony. This event is seen as a way of strengthening relations and signifies adult status and a marriage prerequisite.
Unlike other Anabaptist cultures and beliefs that have no written records of Anabaptist theology, the Hutterite society has its account, called the Account of Our Religion, Doctrine and Faith, of the brethren who are called Hutterites. It was written by Peter Reidemann, the second founder of the Hutterian brethren. The main concepts recorded in the final account are Credobaptism, the invisible church, Christian Pacifism, the principle of worldly separation, community rules, and a rejection of oaths.
3.2.1 Credobaptism or Adult Baptism
Also known as Adult baptism, Credobaptism is a practice of baptizing adults and knowing individuals, after they develop an understanding of concepts of faith and comes out as a contrast to infant baptism or Christening, believing that infants are incapable of consciously understanding such concepts. Many Hutterites first adopted this practice to revolt against the corruption of the formal Catholic Institution, but later, it became one of the major concepts of their colonies.
3.2.2 Church Invisible
This belief suggests that there is a mystical institution invisible of the elect to human lives, and is only known to God, in contrast to the ‘visible’ institution established on earth, which is established in God’s abode. It is said that every member of the ‘invisible’ institution is saved, or has returned to God. This invisible institution’s idea can be found in the Bible as well, mainly in Gospel according to Matthew.
3.2.3 Christian Pacifism
According to the doctrine of Christian Pacifism, any form of violence is viewed to be incompatible with the faith of Christianity, with the first practitioner of Pacifism being Jesus Christ himself. The roots of this belief lie in the Old Testament, according to many experts.
3.2.4 The Principle of Worldly Separation
Under this doctrine are two principles: personal separation and Ecclesiastical separation.
Personal separation implies that a child of god is to be separated from the world, as the world is a mixture of believers and non-believers of faith (but it does not imply that believers are having no contact with non-believers); while Ecclesiastical separation implies the separation of the church from other institutions and organizations, breaking ties with heresy.
4. The Hutterite Society and Culture
An average Hutterite colony has various beliefs and cultures:
4.1. Common Occupation
The Hutterite colonies are strictly rural communes and depend on operations like working on farms, poultry businesses and ranches. The main occupation of Hutterite colonies of Canada remains Agriculture and Poultry. However, with the advent of modern technology and culture, they were forced to inculcate activities like manufacturing within their culture, due to the rapid fall in the agrarian culture.
While traditionally the colony’s population grows only based on internal activities, in recent years they have started to depend upon outside sources as well and being employed in small communal business, which is related to both farm and non-farm operations.
4.2. Familial Setup
The Hutterite colony is perceived to be a patriarchal group, believing that women belong inside homes and men take up outside work. Women and children hold no voting rights within the Hutterite colony; only baptized men hold the power to elect their leaders in the three-tiered governance method that is followed.
4.3. Communal living
The major point of distinction between the Hutterite colony and other branches of Christianity is that the Hutterite colony is a part of the greater communal society; the believers of the Hutterite society are believed to ‘have all things in common’ and lead life in a group.
All the assets and profits, which are mostly acquired via Hutterite colony’s agriculture, poultry and small businesses; are considered to belong to the community as a whole; the houses built by the communal society as a result of communally earned profits are allotted to individual families or small groups, but are subjected to communal ownership; allowances are given out of the profits earned, but the paycheck system does not exist; and meals are eaten in a communal form.
Most Hutterite colonies comprise 15-20 families, with an average colony having no more than 250 people constituting its total population. When the population of a settled colony crosses this mark and when the need arises, another daughter colony is formed, to keep the cooperation alive, as the concept is the ground value of the communal form of living.
4.4. Technological Advancements
Though modern technology is not completely forbidden in the group, its use is limited within the provinces where the Hutterites live; but the attempt is to remove themselves from the outside world. Up until very recently, Hutterites were forbidden to use the internet or possess television. Currently, mobile phones are being actively used for both social and professional usage, and computers and radios are commonly found among most Hutterites to connect with their professional contacts and friends.
The most modern technology related to farm tools is observed within the colony of the Hutterites: it is said to be much more developed than that of other farmers who are from a Non-Hutterite colony.
Mostly, an ‘outside teacher’ is hired to teach the group of Hutterite children and young people some basic concepts, at the schoolhouses of the colonies. The main subjects that are taught consist of English and German, with the English instructor being an outside teacher and the German instructor being from amongst the Hutterites. Traditionally, Hutterite children are expected to study till the 8th grade; however, some established colonies might even offer a University level education.
Most Hutterite colonies have a fashion that is contrasting with traditional Anabaptist clothing, with their children’s and women’s clothes having bright colors like bright blue, red and yellow among others, and bold patterns such as large dots or florals; however, many colonies prefer to maintain plain attire. Men often wear black jackets and pants with a black hat and suspenders.
The Hutterite Colony converses in its distinct dialect, called the Hutterisch or the Hutterite German, which is based upon the Tyrolean dialect of German-speaking Europe. In religious activities, Lutheran German is used.
Traditionally, Hutterite colony does not believe in the judicial concept and formal persecution and avoid getting involved in any form of litigation of the secular system. Some major cases have been observed, with a majority of them being concerned with the safety of the Hutterite colony and their culture against the Non-Hutterites.
This involvement with the formal judicial system has been a matter of debate among many Hutterites, due to their renouncement of formal persecution, which was traditionally followed.
Based on recent statistics, the total population of the Hutterite Colony is somewhere around 50,000 people, with about 75% being settled in Canadian provinces, and the rest 25% in the United States. The average birth rate of the Hutterite colonies shows a sharp decline since 1950, with the number of children per family falling from 10 to 5.
Out of all Hutterite Settlements, the biggest colony is located in Canada, covering about 75% of the total Hutterite population. Currently, there are more than 370 Hutterite colonies in Canada, out of these: more than 170 were in Alberta (mostly Southern Alberta)and more than 110 in Manitoba. Areas near Saskatchewan had about 70 colonies as well.
In the United States, around 120 Hutterite colonies were recorded to exist. Out of these, the majority resided in the area of South Dakota and Montana, with more than 50 colonies each. There were also some colonies in Minnesota and North Dakota, with 9 and 7 colonies each, respectively.
4.11. Major Branches
Over the last few centuries, many sub-groups and branches of the Hutterite colony have emerged. After they emigrated to the United States, there was a split in the colony, majorly into two groups: first who lived within the colony and lead a community-based lifestyle; and second, who decided to settle on their private farms. Later, those who settled within the community were further divided into three groups or new colonies: Dariusleut (founded by Darius Walter), Lehrerleut and Schmiedeleut.
The Hutterites have ever since been subjected to change, in the context of their major branches. Currently, there are five colonies under the group, who believe in a communal form of living, which formed after the third group (Schmiedeleut) further split into two sub-groups. At the beginning of the 20th century, three new colonies joined the Hutterites, names the Owa Hutterite Colony, the Neo-Hutterite group and the Community farm of the Brethren.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What is the difference between Amish and the Hutterite colony?
The Amish are known to live in single families and adopt traditional methods of farming; on the other hand, the Hutterites live in communities and have adopted industrialization on their farms. Hutterites are known to have the most advanced technology for their farms.
2. Where do Hutterites live in South Dakota?
In South Dakota, the Bon Homme Hutterite Colony, the oldest Hutterite colony in the world, is the main colony where communal ownership is practiced. The colony was founded in the year 1874. This colony was the only one that remained back in the United States during their migration to Canadian provinces.
3. Are there Hutterites in Europe?
Up until the late 18th to early 19th century, the Hutterite colony emigrated from one place to another across Europe: mainly central and Eastern Europe. In the succeeding years, the Hutterites migrated to the United States.
4. What is the total population of the Hutterites today?
There are about 50,000 brethren who are Hutterites and reside mainly in the United States and Canada (mainly in South Alberta and Manitoba) in their colonies.
5. Who was the leader of the Hutterites?
A Tyrolean Anabaptist leader called Jacob Hutter was the leader of the Hutterite colony. He was born in South Tyrol in the year 1500. He was burnt alive for being the first person in Tyrol to convert to Anabaptism, and being the head of the Hutterites. His last name later was adopted by the Hutterite brethren.
Hutterite colonies have suffered a long and violent past due to their beliefs in Christian pacifism and the renouncement of Catholic beliefs. Century after century, they have travelled from one place to another in search of a safe place called home, was at last found in Canada, after centuries of bloodshed and suffering. The cost of being non-violent, in a world where great wars took place, was proven to be the life of most of the ancient population of the community.
The Hutterites are highly cultural people who have established their colonies mainly in Canada today, the only place where they could be established at rest and lead a normal life. Canada proved to be the only place where they could embrace the individuality of their culture and practice communal and pacifist living.
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