Hutterite culture is something new to me; somewhat exotic and mysterious. Their presence is Swift Current is very tangible, immediately evident by their homemade and conservative dress. Looking further you begin to notice their carpentry styles, their farms, and of course their produce and delicious baked goods at the market.
I have now done several calls out to the colonies and I must admit I probably appeared a little doe-eyed to the multitudes of people surrounding our patients. In fact I probably looked outright stunned when one of the men measured their recently deceased- that’s right, with a tape measure. Wanting to become a little more culturally sensitive, I did a little research which was surprisingly difficult to dig up (especially photos).
Before I get to what other people have to say, I’ll tell you about my own impressions/experiences. My disclaimer- any cultural insensitivity forthwith is plainly due to ignorance and I apologize for that.
On my first call, as we sped toward the colony in our ambulance, my colleague informs me that it is probably going to be a “bad” call- meaning, severe injury or illness. Hudderites are not likely to call an ambulance for a cold or a hangover. They use our service for emergencies and take care of the minor ailments internally. Imagine that.
Arriving, naturally one of the first thing I notice is the colony’s architecture. Depending on the colony, the outlay of their homes remind me of barracks/cottages. Their dwellings are strategically arranged in rows. It is incredibly tidy and well kept. Although modest, they are beautiful carpenters and crafters. Much of their furnishings, for the floor mats to the tables, have been handmade.
The second thing I noticed were the aisles of (mostly) men lining the side walks like a human runway to our patient. When someone is very ill or has died on the colony, work is stopped and everyone gathers together for support and to help. I found this incredibly moving when compared to all the in-facility deaths/transfers I’ve attended where my often confused patient is utterly alone. But, as a new practitioner, I was also somewhat intimated/nervous due to my large audience.
The men waiting outside offered their assistance in carrying our kits/equipment and helped with our stretcher. Personally I believe that work gives life meaning, and allowing people to “help” us do our jobs as caregivers can often be therapeutic. Allowing someone to lend us a hand can provide them with a feeling of purpose and assurance that they physically honored their loved one.
More men, women, and children filled up the hallways and rooms adjoining the patient’s. The patient’s immediate family/caregivers (women) also filled up the patient’s room, lining their bedside. All the extra bodies make the house noticeably warm (I was sweating buckets). The main caregiver gave us a full report on the patient, their status, and history. Hutterites are known for taking care of their own- aka: they have their mother’s medication list ready for you. It would be highly unlikely to find a Hudderite member in a facility such as long term care. I really admire their sense of community and commitment to their family.
When it was time to leave, the men eagerly helped carry the patient down the front steps. They shook our hands and thanked us for our help (wow!). Sometimes we are even sent away with treats. Technically, we do not accept gifts for our service- but it would be rude to say no (and they are pretty persistent if you try!) Besides, their cookies are sooo good.
Did I mention how handsome Hutterian children are? I think they look incredible in their classic attire. They almost appear to be mindful watchers as the adults tend to the emergency. Mostly they hung around the door ways, curious and patient. They never got in our way or made a fuss but kept a close eye on the newcomers.
Hutterites also often have a thick accent. They are generally bilingual, speaking both English and an archaic German dialect. On one return trip I had the company of a girl about my own age and from our incessant chatting you could tell we were both very curious about each other. I found her very down to earth, open about her way of life, and of course more knowledgeable about agriculture than I could hope to be. She was also very realistic and matter-of-fact about her father’s fading health. I found her emotional maturity inspiring.
Oh and the man I mentioned earlier who measured the dead body? He was one of the colony’s carpenters preparing to build the coffin.
Now for the research…
Both the Mennonites and the Hutterites trace their origins to the Swiss Anabaptist movements of the 16th century; and both groups immigrated, directly or indirectly, to the Canadian Prairies from German colonies in South Russia, as had most of the German Catholics. But in the intervening period of over two centuries, their histories were quite distinct. While the Mennonite group was forming in the Netherlands, another communal Anabaptist group was developing in the South Tyrol (then in Austria, now in Italy), as well as later in southern Germany and Moravia (now within the Czech Republic). In 1528 the first real bruderhof (communal village or colony) was established in Moravia; five years later they were joined by a South Tyrolean preacher, Jacob Hutter, from whom the sect acquired its name. Despite repeated persecution (Hutter was burned at the stake in 1536), by the end of the century there were as many as 70,000 Hutterites and over ninety bruderhofe . 1
Each Hutterite colony averages approximately 100 men, women and children. Hutterites have tended to have a high, but recently declining, birth rate and a large family size; when a colony’s population grows well beyond the average, new “daughter” colonies are founded, usually about every fifteen years. Thus the Hutterite population as a whole and the number of colonies have grown quite rapidly. Prior to 1949 there were no Hutterite colonies in Saskatchewan; since then more than fifty colonies have been established
All Hutterites continue to live in their own colonies, which are small in population yet often control extensive farmland. Although they sell their produce (grain, livestock, poultry, vegetable crops) on the public market, they live within sequestered colonies where strict conformity is ensured in unique dress, religious education (together with limited “public education” from an outside teacher at the colony school), language (they converse in an archaic German dialect), authority (each colony is ultimately headed by a male boss), occupational specificity (male and female jobs are assigned even before adulthood), holding property in common, and an orderly lifestyle (for example, preparing meals and dining together; buildings arranged in rectangular order). Because Hutterites own their farmland and machinery in common, their farming is usually a profitable venture. 2
Hutterites live in colonies of about 15 families, but each family usually has its own home or apartment. Traditionally, Hutterite children leave school at age 15 (or whatever age allowed by each province) and work in the community. But this is where the differences start. According to John J. Friesen, professor of history and theology at the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Group 1 of the Schmiedeleut Hutterian Brethren Church in Manitoba provides high school classes for members. Some members eventually go on to the Brandon University Hutterian Education Program to become teachers for the colonies.
Hutterites wear dark clothing. Men wear simple pants, shirts and jackets, and sport beards. Women wear long sleeves, headscarves and long skirts, and never wear pants. Both the women’s and men’s attire aren’t limited to black. 3
Their beliefs (based on the Bible) include that only adults, not infants, can choose their faith and Hutterites aren’t baptized until age 20 to 25. They also believe church and state should be separate, and Christians should not take up arms. Hutterites live in colonies and have a “community of goods” – there is no private ownership of property except for small things.
Hutterites go to church services on Sunday and to half-hour services daily. Members don’t watch TV or listen to the radio to keep separate from the outside world. Some Hutterians believe they cannot willingly have their photos taken, based on the second of the Ten Commandments. “The commandment is, ‘Thou shalt not make no graven images,’ ” says David Goa, director of the Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public life, at the Augustana campus of the University of Alberta. He says this is generally understood as no images of God, but can be interpreted differently (because man was made in the image of God). The groups in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Dariusleut and the Lehrerleut, won’t make images of themselves, says Friesen. 4 (That explains why it was hard to find many pictures on the internet).
In contrast to the fast (and therefore supposedly painless) “death ideal” of much of Western culture, Hutterites consider a slow and drawn out period of dying desirable. This extended period allows the dying person to socialize other Hutterians into a joyous acceptance of death’s promise of a better heavenly afterlife. 5 Accordingly, “[They] want to have plenty of time to consider eternity and to confess and make everything right.” 6
In the colonies suicide is equated with murder and is an intrusion on God’s prerogative. However children who die in their innocence are envied by adults, for they have been spared many temptations and struggles of self-denial.
The body of the deceased is normally embalmed by an undertaker. On the day of the funeral the body is placed in the coffin by the colony carpenter.
Ideally the burial is held the third day after death.The wake, held in the room of the deceased, usually held for two nights preceding the funeral. Food and wine is interspersed with hymn singing, periods of silence, sponateous remarks about the deceased and gestures of mourning. After a midnight lunch all the guest leave, but the family members keep watch until morning. For religious reasons it is expected the body will be buried before sundown. 7
Hutterites do not have family burial plots but are buried in order of their death. News of deaths reaches the other colonies by phone. Many donate food and their time to help with preparations. There is often a large gathering at the wake/funeral. Usually only baptized people are allowed to attend. It is virtually unheard of for a Hudderite wake/funeral to take place on a different colony than where body will be buried. 8
The health of the members of the colony is the concern of the whole community. While interest in health in individualistic society is largely in terms of monetary value, the cost of medical services, and the loss in earnings, this concern with the economic implications of poor health is secondary in a Hutterian colony. The sick and invalided and their families have no worries about the cost of medical care, the loss of wages through unemployment, or the economic future of the family in the case of the death of a parent. Colony members are free to select their doctors and hospitals.
Hutterians carry no life insurance but the family provider’s illness or death in no way affects the financial security of the family. The resultant absence of worry may partly explain the group’s good mental health. Hutterian lifetime risks of mental disorders is low or lower than any contemporary Euro-American group. Although the Hutterian way of life is not an antidote for severe mental disorders, it does provide an atmosphere within which emotionally disturbed persons were encouraged to get well or to function in a socially accepted manner within the limits imposed by their illness.
The almost complete absence of polio and some other diseases has attracted the attention of medical and biological researchers. Their good health may be the result of; adequate access to medical services, lead regulated lives, believe in plain fare, and consciously practice temperance in all things. 9
According to the Prairie Post, in 2011 Hutterite colonies in southwest Saskatchewan helped to provide some Christmas cheer to needy families with a 25,000-pound contribution of food to the Salvation Army food bank in Swift Current.
Getting to know my patient clientele,
(6, 7) http://books.google.ca/books?id=WBbBRt5UPI4C&pg=PA218&lpg=PA218&dq=hutterite+death+rituals&source=bl&ots=fQrVSm8Ycz&sig=p-KU_cR-CCCCWD8pYf-_5jJZo8M&hl=en&sa=X&ei=5J_WUa-YH46BqgHekoH4CQ&ved=0CFYQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=hutterite%20death%20rituals&f=false