Monday, June 27, 2011

Gentle People: A Case Study of Rockport Colony Hutterites

By Joanita Kant

What is a Hutterite? Well, they are kind of like the Amish, but with trucks, computers and tractors. They embrace a similar religious lifestyle but they also are not afraid of modern devices or conveniences. They live in a commune and they dress different and they keep themselves separate from the rest of society because they wish to keep their focus on leading a Christian life, as they define it.
They came to the upper Midwestern United States to escape military conscription. They are pacifist and refuse to serve in the military.
Although they came to America from a region under Russian domination in the nineteenth century, they are not Russians and they are not really Germans, although they speak a dialect of German. They spent so many decades, centuries, even, wandering Europe, trying to find a safe haven, that they became pretty mixed with other Europeans. Kind of like a lot of people in the upper Midwest.
Anyway, they came to America hoping for religious freedom and tolerance and once again were disappointed. Other folks viewed them with a leery eye and their refusal to serve in the military became a very sore point during World War I, so sore, indeed, that most of the Hutterites left America and migrated to Canada. But not all, and later some of them returned to the places they left behind. And since the U.S. military has developed a program of alternate service for conscientious objectors, maybe they feel more secure back in America.
Still, they are different, the women in their long flowery dresses and head scarves, and the men with the black pants and suspenders and the plaid shirts. Religious fanatics, that's for sure, but unlike those Middle Eastern religious fanatics who also demand their adherents conform to an archaic dress code, Hutterites are non-violent pacifists. It's is a good thing to know, considering that the average Hutterite family has about seven kids. Which means we can expect to see a lot more of these oddly-dressed throwbacks to the nineteenth century from now on.

This was a very informative little book about the Hutterites in South Dakota. I see these people almost every time I go to Walmart. I knew they were some old-timey religious group, similar to the Amish but not Amish, since they don't arrive at Walmart in a horse and buggy but in large, multi-passenger vans and pickup trucks. But other than that, I didn't really know anything about them, except that they all live together in what is known as a colony. I also didn't know how widespread the Hutterites are but they have colonies all over the upper Midwest in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. And, of course, Canada, the land they fled to to escape persecution in the United States. Yes, the United States persecuted them, they even have two martyrs who died in federal custody where they were being held for refusing to serve in the military in World War I and these two martyrs are buried in Rockport Colony in South Dakota.
So if you too have noticed these odd-looking people and have wondered about them, this book is an easy primer with a short history of the Hutterites and of their society today. And at only 119 pages, it's a breeze to read.

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