22 October, 2020

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Precept & Practice

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

For many years I had a copy of a book called “Hutterite Society,” authored by John Hostetler which, despite my knowledge of, interaction with and respect for the subject, I never cracked open. One of those things!

My relationship with the Hutterites was largely confined to about a decade when I worked in the livestock feed industry in that part of Canada better known as the “land of the blue-eyed sheikhs” because of its resource riches – oil, gas and oil sands. While the province of Alberta was famous for its non-renewable resources, it was also known as the “Texas of the north,” the only alleged difference being that Albertans claimed that, unlike in Texas, the b.s was on the outside of the (cowboy) boots! In addition to providing more than 60% of Canada’s beef supply from its prairies and foothills via its rangelands and feedlots, Alberta produced a significant amount of other livestock and their products as well. This encompassed lamb and mutton, chicken, eggs, milk.

The Hutterites came out of the Anabaptist stream of Christianity, among whom are the Amish and the Mennonite communities, both of which are best known for their settlements in Pennsylvania in the U. S. and Southern Ontario in Canada as well as parts of the Prairie provinces as well.

While the Hutterites share the basic Anabaptist theology with their better-known brethren which precludes child baptism, what distinguishes them from the Amish and the Mennonites is the fact that whatever wealth they possess is held in common. There are no individual bank accounts.

The families also live in what might be termed “row housing” rather than individual homes, the children moving out when they marry.

They have always been very successful farmers and stockmen, conducting their enterprises as a community and not as individuals. This is in total contradiction to the economic culture of the province of Alberta, in particular, which is about as right-wing, “free enterprise” as you can get, that econo-political philosophy being adhered to with an almost religious fervor! As an indication of where that province sits politically, it should interest aficionados of politics to know that the Progressive Conservative Party held majority government for 40+ years, with landslide political victories each election, until last year. The party that preceded the PCs was even more right-wing, free enterprise and it too ran the province for a similar length of time! Not exactly a place that a group sometimes denigrated as Christian Communists would be on the look-out for as their promised land!

In fact, it would be hard to find a less hospitable place for a group looking to co-operation rather than competition for economic survival, leave alone financial success. However, the Hutterites from the mid-sixteenth century in central Europe, largely in what was once Moravia had undergone truly unbelievable misery in maintaining the moral integrity of their faith, constantly on the move, essentially sheltering under the Middle-age umbrella of some “benevolent” noble who exploited their skills and hard work as farmers and stockmen!

The Roman Catholic church persecuted them relentlessly, using the Jesuits, in particular, to visit untold cruelty on these people who were consistent beyond belief in their adherence to non-violence, never once resisting being beheaded, burned alive and dismembered.

The many years of conflict between the Ottoman Empire and the Holy Roman provided them with no relief from either because it seemed that those allegedly practicing Christianity were in competition with the Islamists in the matter of who could inflict the most barbarous punishment on the Hutterite Brethren!

Where they had peace to conduct their agricultural pursuits was when various nobles simply exploited their propensity for hard and skilled work to enhance their own incomes, essentially paying the Hutterites for working the land, running their livestock etc. and occasionally giving them some land or buildings which didn’t seem to remain in the possession of the recipients for too long!

The Hutterite Brethren never had security of tenure and were buffeted by the fortunes of war irrespective of which religious/imperial group was in the ascendant.

They were subjected to the most unspeakable atrocities: burned alive, dismembered, starved to death. You name an example of man’s cruelty to man, they suffered it.

Ultimately, many of the Anabaptist tradition – Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites and other shorter-lived groupings crossed the Atlantic and, because of their absolute adherence to non-violence and refusal to contribute in any shape, form or fashion to war ended up in the three prairie provinces of Canada and the North-Western part of the US, where, in the earlier part of their history they were exempted from taxes that could be utilized for war or for purchasing the tools with which such conflicts could be waged.

There has been some equivocation and accommodation in respect of the manner in which the Federal and Provincial governments utilize a Hutterite Colony’s taxes but that has been the only “softening” that has occurred in the matter of their lifestyle.

The Hutterites still dress uniformly, both men and women, though there have been some barely perceptible changes over the years. For instance, buttons were permitted to take the place of hooks to hold personal clothing together and some of the clothes, particularly women’s, has become less severe in appearance, with some lessening of the preponderant black in the garments that clothe their upper and lower bodies.

As might be expected of groups living in isolation from the mainstream in a rich north American country, there are some who are enticed by the glittering world outside. However, the vast majority return to the Bruderhof’s security after a taste of the fleshpots of capitalist north America! During the years I spent in contact with these people, I was witness to this fact and one young man whose father was the “chicken boss” (in charge of the poultry on the Bruderhof) after working on the oil rigs – a phenomenally high-paying occupation at the time – returned to the security and simple life of his “colony”

Rather than a single-family dwelling or an apartment he came back to the row-housing, with the simplest of furniture and appliances where the men and women gather for their meals, for prayer and for community meetings in unadorned spaces and then return to their familial lodgings. It should be noted here that the space in which the Hutterites pray is no different from any other meeting space in the colony: no pews, no altar, none of the usual accoutrements of a Christian church of any denomination.

They also, despite being consistently and falsely accused of taking their not-inconsiderable purchasing powers outside the smaller agricultural towns to the larger centres, keep buying their agricultural equipment, food and other essentials from the small prairie towns and I would suggest that you don’t know “small” until you realize a population of 5,000 entitles a town in Saskatchewan to call itself a “city,” not surprising given the fact that Saskatchewan’s total land area is about ten times that of Sri Lanka and it is populated by about a million people – 5% of Sri Lanka’s population in 10 times its space!

With their tradition of non-violence and non-resistance despite provocation beyond belief over six centuries, it isn’t surprising that there has not been one murder among them in the time they’ve been in North America.

They were harassed in the United States during the first World War because of their refusal to support the taking of life in any shape, form of fashion and the first colonies moved into the Southern parts of the prairie provinces – Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta – at that time. With the population increases of the colonies of the south, they have “hived off” to the more northern parts of the prairies.

They were legislatively discriminated against by the Province of Alberta which prevented them from buying land to “hive off” colonies from those that had grown beyond a certain population. This legislation was, after many years, thrown out by the Supreme Court of Canada. However, the discrimination against the “Black people” as they are often known in the prairie provinces because of their predominantly black garb, still continues, though nowhere as virulently as is often the case in other jurisdictions that shall remain nameless!

They do not place any value on intellectual achievement as we understand it and believe that the formal education they receive should be sufficient to fulfill their obligations to the other members of their Colony and to humankind generally. That said, the Anabaptists, and the Hutterites in particular, were the first people in all of Europe and perhaps any part of the world, to ensure that every child had several years of formal education. This was about five centuries before such a practice became the accepted norm in Western Europe!

On a personal level, they have a justified reputation for being excellent, caring neighbours to other (non-Hutterite) farm families and I’ve known of colony harvest equipment being used to bring in the crop of a neighbor who had suffered an accident and couldn’t operate his own equipment. Place this in the context of a very short harvest season where farmers work well into the night, without other help, to bring in their crops and where those crops would, literally, rot in the field if such help was not forthcoming in such an emergency and you’d have the context for such behaviour.

Why the Hutterites as an example of “good people” came to mind was because of the plethora of pseudo-religionists that we seem to have a massive surplus of in our country, only too ready to denigrate and persecute people who do not share their (alleged) belief system which, looked at in the cold light of day, is, at best, a bastardized version of one or the other of the great religions or philosophies that have been nurtured and polished by adherents of wisdom over the years. This kind of thing and its support is nothing short of criminal as has been proven time after time in our own bailiwick and in adjacent jurisdictions too numerous to list.

That we can and MUST live in harmony with the “other” is something that hardly needs laboring given examples such as this. This is particularly so because it was the east that gave birth to all the faiths of substance that we have succeeded in undermining and destroying because of our obsession with removing the “other” from our midst.

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Latest comments

  • 0
    1

    Mr. Pooten:

    You are correct. People make fun of saskethuvanites saying, one farmer has to drive at least 100 miles to meet his next door neighbour.

    I heard Armis Christians are very disciplined and far beteer than Sri lankan buddhists who are mostly christian-buddhists. Sinhala buddhists eat meat, drink alcohol, live on lies and now I heard, adultery (I don’t say, all 100%) is a fashion for them.

    If a woman or a man is not adulterous he or she is old school.

    • 8
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      Jim Softly, I don’t know what else is soft in your body, but definitely your brain seems to be very soft and unable to absorb facts.

      There is a special place in hell for you, use it soon.

      • 3
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        Emil have you hears of the latest Ranil Sira b.s? They want to teach us good manners!!!

        Despite, Sira-Ranil Ayahapalanaya Govt. having not convicted a single CORRUPT Jarapassa stooge or family member for Financial Crimes, they want a “well mannered society” and are setting up a Ministry to teach people politeness!

        What bloody nonsense.

        What Sri Lanka needs today is ACCOUNTABILITY and TRANSPARENCY and a POLICY for Equal Opportunities for all, particularly equal opportunities for Tamil minority and women, who are underrepresented in all Govt. institutions at leadership levels.

        We need the institutionalization of a CULTURE OF MERITOCRACY and PROFESSIONALISM, up rooting corruption, croniyism and nepotism, and respect for and valuing Cultural Diversity and prosecuting all criminal and corrupt politicians.

        We do not need a Ministry for Good Manners! If at all, it is the corrupt politicians who drive around in SUVs in convoys and push civilians off the road who need to be taught manners!

        What happened to Shiranthi’s corrupt brother who mortgaged Sri Lankan Airlines – the bugger, a womanizing planter and crook should be behind bars for the massive debt that the Lankan tax payers have to pay to keep Sri lankan flying..

        And what happened to all the off shore bank account and Panama Papers investigations? Why is Ranil not getting help from World Bank and IMF to have the funds returned to pay off the massive national debt?

      • 1
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        Boom Boom, hahahaha a damn good one matey. Jim Shit is a moron with emptiness in his scull.

  • 2
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    Thanks. Read through it all, wondering how many others would go through this Wikipedia-like account of Hutterites. I hope others, too, would, but obviously it all leads up to the last two paragraphs – and the showing up of pseudo-religionists.

    Yes, there are far too many of them in our land.

  • 0
    4

    Mr. Pooten.

    Precept & Practice

    Buddhism has precepts. But, it does not force the devotee to practice. Lord Buddha only has exaplined what is good, what is bad etc., Buddha never forced anything upon devotees.

    But, theistic religions force the devotee to practice.

    I think, you people are not critical thinkers as buddhists are.

    Start thinking a bit.

    • 5
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      Jim Softy:
      May I refer you to the title of the piece – “Precept and Practice” – and view what the loudest proponents of the so-called “2500 Years of Sinhala Buddhist Civilization” are proclaiming from the roof-tops and seeking to impose on this land and its people?
      I don’t pretend to any expertise in theology but am not so myopic as to disregard what I have seen and continue to see around me.

      • 4
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        Isn’t it interesting how this uncivilised monkey uses various guises to insult our 3000 year civilisation at every turn?

        Coming from a crowd of vagabonds with Chris-killing background, this character is closer to the dreaded Pharisees (the curse of the universe) than to the Hutterites or whatever else he is referring to. The little mix of rural Thumpane blood has failed to enlighten him. The detestable hymie traits show up.

        This conspirator needs hell like all the Pharisees.

        • 4
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          Pansila Ka:
          The only thing that is comprehensible among this racist filth is that the “2500” years has grown by another 500 to “3000” Interesting arithmetic if nothing else which should bear some explanation, even under yet another pseudonym!

      • 0
        2

        Just beating around the bush. YOu tried to kill two birs with one stone. Is it working ?

        All the the catholic, anglicans, Evangelicals to become Armis – christians and what is that word hutte-rites ?

  • 1
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    [Edited out]

  • 2
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    The Amish treat each other very well. They bring that mindset when dealing with other communities.

    The Amish do not ever burden other communities nor do they greedily encroach more than what is absolutely necessary.

    What enforces their well being is their own goodness and down-to-earthiness.

    Its very simple – they who live in the image of God are protected by the God.

  • 4
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    are the tamils the hutterites of srilanka?persecution after persecution.unbelievable atrocities etc.

    • 0
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      SHANKAR:

      Read and see the following. Do you Believe That Tamis can even become Armis ?

      The Amish treat each other very well. They bring that mindset when dealing with other communities.

      The Amish do not ever burden other communities nor do they greedily encroach more than what is absolutely necessary.

      What enforces their well being is their own goodness and down-to-earthiness.

      • 0
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        jim

        if you are referring to prabhaharan for the first one,he was not a tamil.

        as for the second one tamils have not encroached on anybody’s land.north and east has been their traditional homeland for generations.In colombo they have always paid for and bought the land.As for the hill country tamils they are not to blame.They were bonded labourers in tamilnadu and in order to pay off their debts they were forced to come to srilanka and toil and build up the no 1 exports,the tea industry.if the sinhalese were not lazy,the british need not have brought them to build it up.

        as for your third one,some work has to be done to catch up with the hutterites but we are getting there.See how murali has done so much charity work.However i must say more and more tamils should follow him.When raj rajaratnam was in srilanka and the tsunami struck he took out a cheque book and immediately wrote out a cheque for 5 million dollars.Many houses were built with that cheque and the people are grateful to him and mention his name always.compare that with the tsunami hora or shane warne who pledged money but never gave it.

  • 1
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    Have I been asleep or has brother Emil not been taking his meds? Isn’t this the Colombo Telegraph and not the Saskatchewan Times!

    • 1
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      he is implying tamils are hutterites.hardworking,disciplined and persecuted.Non violent too until they coudnt bear the suffering and torture anymore..

      • 3
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        Shankar:
        I’m afraid the comparison is NOT simply between the Tamils, of whatever persuasion, and other communities in this country. It seeks to point out the necessity for people who espouse the eternal verities to begin to practice at least the major ones as the Hutterites have in the matter of financial selflessness, rather than blather self-righteousness.

        • 1
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          Hello Poorten,

          I’d imagine you be familiar with these pictures since its from Dutch collection.

          http://www.jaffnahistory.com/Northern_Province/Sinhala_Villages_of_Jaffna_1695.html
          http://www.jaffnahistory.com/Eastern_Province/Tricoil_to_Bathkalapuwa.html

          The Hutterites weren’t settled in NA in their millions without the consent of the natives.

          Either the Dutch or the British colonists have brought millions of Tamils and settled in Ceylon. (refer above)

          Now, would your imagination stretch long enough to conclude the problems Sri Lanka keeps having is because an alien culture was introduced in another country ?

          So whom should you be preaching about precepts?

          • 3
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            Hello Mr. De Silva,
            Are you by any chance also known as Vibhushana, the resident cartographer of CT? Welcome back. I did miss your (photoshopped) input .

            • 5
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              old codger

              Since De Silva didn’t refer to jaffnahistory website, I doubt he has anything to do with Vibushna.

          • 0
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            De Silva
            Which recent alien culture that invaded this country does your name originate from.
            The Tamils in the island were already settled in it for many many thousands of years which became SriLanka only in 1972. As for the source of your reference, it is something that was concocted and is of fictional relevance for people like you to believe in.

  • 0
    1

    Hello Poorten,

    See what your people have left behind?

    One guy thinks its “photoshopped” when I have given him the link to the original collection here.

    http://www.gahetna.nl/en/collectie/afbeeldingen/kaartencollectie/zoeken/q/zoekterm/ceylon

    • 4
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      old codger

      I am sorry De Silva is also hearing voices in his head. Is it Vibushna’s ghost?

      • 1
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        N.V,
        Vibhushana lives again!

    • 3
      0

      De Silva/ Vibhushana my friend,
      I have shown many times that the names in
      . http://www.gahetna.nl/en/collectie/afbeeldingen/kaartencollecti are NOT the same as the ones in the Jaffnahistory site. In fact the original Dutch map has a lot of Tamil names in the south west coast of the island, like Paneture and even Mature. I don’t think it is necessary to go through all that again. But kudos to you for your persistence.
      Oh, by the way, you say” Its very simple – they who live in the image of God are protected by the God. “
      I always thought you were a Sinhala Buddhist. Have you seen Jesus?

  • 4
    0

    A delightful Sunday read. Having, in my worldwide travels, come across these small communities, I have marvelled at their resilience and perseverance in their quest to lead a life based on simple principles. They have asked for nothing more than to be treated with decency and humanity. Their communities have often survived egregious elements, and flourished and survived because of their indomitable spirit, and the enduring integrity of the lifestyle they practice.

    Does all this ring a bell in our fair isle? How is it that in this land where the majority who have been entrusted by the Noble One to nurture and practice simple truths, we fall far short of the ideals. Or is it just the timidness of the decent majority that allow them to be dragged down by devious politicians to inhabit an altogether miserable and totally unbecoming world. Is there still hope?

  • 2
    1

    Neat article about them Hutterites, EVDP! Guess you Poortens came from the same community.You might have felt a great kinship with them in Canada.

    Guess your people started off as the same kind of land-owners in Sri Lanka, but got a bit infuenced by the mercantile Burghers on our shores who stole Sinhala Buddhist lands. There was no other way actually – Sri Lanka became more crowded and greedy with all these colonists, compared to Sasketchewan, and so you Hutterites had no other way but to point and shoot guns at the Natives. Guess you were a nuicance in crowded Europe too, taking up land and looking holy when eveybody else was suffering in the cities. You on the other hand, would have worked side by side with the Sinhala Buddhists, and formed consensus. Guess at those time, nobody knew how to convert land ownership with agriculture, forestry and fishing, to actual egalatarian currency. In this enlightned age, we should know better how to manage currency.

    So,we will leave it to you to start the program of your ancestors again, with Sinhala Buddhists. Sinhala Buddhists Elites have lost the trend. They are full of jealousy for minorities, and are sacred that they will be left behind as godayas. Therefore, it is up to you to recreate the imperative environmentally friendly and agricultural, forestery and maybe fishery friendly schemes on our island. You have the genes for it.

    • 0
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      scared*

    • 0
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      Ramona Therese Fernando:
      Is there truly no limit to your stupidity or is there some kind of competition for “idiot of the edition” at CT which you are firmly convinced should be awarded to you?

      • 2
        1

        No disrespect towrds the Sinhalese of course…….just that they were pulled down so much during colonial era, they have a chip on thier shoulders. It’s up to former colonials like you to show them the right way. Sri Lanka needs to be secured by her majority race, and first and foremost, bg her agriculfure, forests and fisheries.

        • 0
          0

          their* ; by* ; agriculture*

          It is through the health of the soil, and plants that grow on the soil, that the country will sustain. Elite Sinhalese should set a better example and be proud of their agricultural heritage and encourage it as an enterprise. Instead they have made their heritage, merely one to brag on about the past, and use useless and embarrassing Mahavamsa rhetoric and mannerisms to belittle minorities….guess that’s the extent of their badness, but it has caused so much embitterment and strife.

  • 0
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    Ps. Guess Native Indians were forced into reservations before Hutterites started baling hay in Saskechewan………but it was not the Hutterites that did it, but the other colonists. And the Hutterites were the only ones who could till the land uncorrupted.

  • 0
    0

    for every hutterite there will be a hitlerite.The battle between god and the most powerful angel lucifer will continue into eternity.God’s mistake in giving lucifer so much powers before lucifer broke away from gods fold.

  • 3
    0

    Spring Koha, I agree that this is a delightful read. I’ve never been outside Asia, still living as a villager! The one reservation that one can have about the Hutterites is how effective they are; we marvel at their resilience and perseverance in their quest to lead a life based on simple principles, but unfortunately they fail to get their message across.

    While being here, in Sri Lanka, I have interacted a good deal with Conservative Quakers. They have tried to combine the high principles of the Hutterites, but also confront social problems head on. Their numbers are negligible, perhaps they are dwindling even now, because they are clear about not wanting to proseletise:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quakers

    Within that Wikipedia entry, you will see the dilemma that they face. There are “Evangelical Quakers” who seek to strike a compromise, but even they will not imagine that they have to convert the world.

    As against that, what do we have here: does this account indicate that our prominent “anything goes” Christianity really care, or are they indifferent? What happens there rarely makes the headlines; this is an exception – but read very carefully:

    http://www.ft.lk/article/567140/Uduvil-Girls-College-crisis–Students-petition-President

    One has to identify real issues, and follow them up. Not always easy. Our memories are short!

    • 1
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      Sinhala man:
      I can’t pretend to any extensive knowledge about Quakers except that my association has been with the LIBERAL end of their spectrum and NOT with the conservative ones and I know there is a world of difference there as there is with the Mennonites.
      Something that has to be realised with the Hutterites is that they, in no way, seek to evangelise or change the world, except by example perhaps. As far as they are concerned, that might be a strength. As far as social discourse in the larger community is concerned, it could be otherwise.

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