Plautdietsch, a dialect of German that was spoken hundred of years ago in Holland, is still spoken by nearly everyone. Unlike the German communities of southern Brazil, German is still alive and well, with everyone from young children to the elderly speaking it.
Many of the older Mennonites were born in Manitoba, Canada. I asked one man if i could take a portrait of him, and he handed me his hat from Manitoba instead.
Inside the Cooperativa Chorlitzer Supermercado. The market is the main employer in the Menno Colony.
Imported German beer at the local market.
The Cooperativa Chorlitzer produces and sells dairy products across Paraguay and Bolivia. The majority of the employees are Mennonites, who work in a cooperative system, giving away part of their income to the cooperative in order to finanical benefits for their family.
The Loma Plata Public Library feels more like suburban Canada than rural Paraguay. The books are almsot exclusivly in German. The library provides free reading lessons in German for children.
The German Embassy in Paraguay provides financial help for all Mennonite public schools and libraries.
Some Paraguayans have complained that the Mennonites habor racist sentiments. Employment in the the most profitable businesses in town are exclusively reserved for Mennonites.
Many of the Paraguayans that live in Loma Plata are Guarani, an indigenous tribe of 260,000 people who inhabit large sections of Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia.
Rubens, a man who is “spreading the word of god” spends his days driving across Paraguay, working in local prisons, teaching the Bible to inmates and working on brining people closer to God.
As I waiting for the bus to Bolivia, Rubens suggested that we hang our head in prayer. He blessed me, thanking me for visiting the Menno Colony and wishing me good luck on the voyage to Bolivia. Rubens opened his eyes after the prayer, ran to his car, opened up a fresh box of Bibles and told me I needed this. He said many Mennonites in Paraguay are slowly becoming less religious, and stated that “this, this Bible, this word of God is what we need.”
As the sun set in the sweltering Chaco, I hitched a ride into town with two Paraguayan men in a mini van. They both worked as doctors in the Chaco, treating the rural indigenous communities. I asked both men about their relationship with the Mennonites. The first man responded, “You have to admire what they have done. They came from nothing and have created this (pointing to the Chortitzer Cooperative). My only complaint is that they think of themselves as superior, as better”. The other doctor responded, “well…they simply are better”.
The Mennonites have resided in the Chaco region of Paraguay since 1927, turning an inhospitable land into one of the most productive and wealthiest regions of the country. Paraguay is a landlocked country sandwiched between the giants of Brazil and Argentina. Often forgotten and overlooked, Paraguay is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Far from the capital Asuncion, the Mennonites inhabit the most remote and arid part of the country. Today, with diary and ranching, the Mennonite colonies produce 6-7% of Paraguay’s total Gross Domestic Product despite only making up less than 1% of the population.
The Mennonites are a deeply pacifist religious group that originated in Europe during the 16th century and are known for their collectivism and cooperative farming practices. Fleeing religious persecution in Europe, many of them emigrated to Canada. At the turn of the 20th century, the Canadian government implemented mandatory secular education, which angered the Mennonites who saw this as a threat to their way of life. In 1927, the Paraguayan government encouraged the Canadian Mennonites to settle and develop the remote parts of the country near the Bolivian border. This allowed them to practice their religious and culture beliefs without government interference.
Loma Plata (located in Menno Colony) is the oldest and most traditional of the communities. Most people work at the Cooperativa Chortitzer, which producers high-grade dairy products that are sold throughout South America. The Mennonites are generally viewed positively by the Paraguayans. Most seem to admire their perseverance and work ethic, and wonder why the cooperative Mennonite model cannot be implemented across the country. However, some believe that they harbor racist sentiments which translates into hiring discrimination.