Mennonites in Bolivia
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Mennonites in Bolivia
Mennonites in Bolivia
A Mennonite boy in Colonia Del Norte, Bolivia
A Mennonite boy in Colonia Del Norte, Bolivia
Total population
140,000 (2018)[1] 70,000+ (2011)[2]
28,567 (1995)[3]
Regions with significant populations
 Santa Cruz Department
The Bible
Plautdietsch, Spanish

The Mennonites in Bolivia are mostly Russian Mennonites descended from Friesian, Flemish and North German people who came to South America from 1927 onwards. In 2018, there were about 140,000 Mennonites living in Bolivia.[4]

In the 16th century, groups of Mennonites started to migrate from what is today the Netherlands and Belgium to Danzig and the Vistula delta region. There they lived among Germans and adopted the dialect of the area, even though they retained the Dutch language as sacred language until the middle of the 18th century. There they were joined by Mennonites from other German regions, but mainly from the north. Starting in 1789 they moved to what is today Ukraine. In the years after 1874 parts of them moved to the Western provinces of Canada and starting in 1922 to Paraguay, to Mexico and other Latin American countries. In the 1950s small groups migrated from Paraguay to Bolivia and in 1960s and 1970s larger groups from Mexico, Paraguay, Canada and other countries followed. All these migrations were motivated by their search for religious freedom.

Mennonites in Bolivia speak Plautdietsch, an East Low German dialect with some Dutch and Friesian elements. Since coming to Bolivia, a number of other people from other ethnic backgrounds have converted to Mennonite Christianity, mostly through missionaries of more liberal forms of Mennonitism. The "Russian Mennonites" in Bolivia are among the most traditional and conservative of all the Mennonites denominations in South America.



In the early-to-mid 16th century, Mennonites began to move from the Low Countries to the Vistula delta region, seeking religious freedom and exemption from military service. There they gradually replaced their Dutch and Frisian languages with the Plautdietsch dialect spoken in the area, blending into it elements of their native tongues. The Mennonites of Dutch origin were joined by Mennonites from other parts of Germany.

In 1772, most of Poland Mennonites' land in the Vistula area became part of the Kingdom of Prussia in the first of the Partitions of Poland. Frederick William II of Prussia ascended the throne in 1786 and imposed heavy fees on the Mennonites in exchange for continued military exemption.

Earlier Migrations

In the 1760s Catherine the Great of Russia invited Mennonites from Prussia to settle north of the Black Sea in exchange for religious freedom and exemption from military service, a precondition founded in their commitment to non-violence. The ancestors of the Bolivian Mennonites settled in South Russia two main waves in the years 1789 and 1804, leaving Danzig and the Polish Vistula delta because they were being annexed by Prussia. After Russia introduced the general conscription in 1874, many Mennonites migrated to the US and Canada.

In the years after 1873 some 11,000 left the Russian Empire and settled in Manitoba, Canada, and an equal number went to Kansas, Nebraska and Dakota territory. The Russian Mennonites settled in Canada until a universal, secular compulsory education was implemented in 1917 that required the use of the English language, which the more conservative Mennonites saw as a threat to the religious basis of their community.

The more conservative Mennonites from Russia, some 6,000 people, left Canada between 1922 and 1925 and settled in Mexico. Another 1,800 more conservative Mennonites migrated to the Chaco region in Paraguay in 1927. In 1930 and in 1947 the Paraguayian Mennonites were joined by Mennonites coming directly from Russia. In the years after 1958 some 1,700 Mennonites from the Mexican settlements moved to what was then British Honduras and today is Belize.


The Bolivian government granted a privilege to future Mennonite immigrants including freedom of religion, private schools and exemption from military service in the 1930s, but that was not deployed until the 1950s.

Between 1954 and 1957, a first group of 37 families from various Mennonite colonies in Paraguay established Tres Palmas colony, 25 km northeast of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Soon, a second colony was established five km away from Tres Palmas by a group of 25 conservative families from Menno Colony in Paraguay. The settlers from Paraguay were experienced and well prepared to practice agriculture in a subtropical climate. In 1959, the total Mennonite population in Bolivia was 189.[4]

In 1963, new settlements were founded where Mennonites from Paraguay and Canada lived together. In 1967, Mennonites from Mexico and from their daughter colonies in Belize began to settle in the Santa Cruz Department. Las Piedras colony, founded 1968, was the first colony founded exclusively by Mennonites from Canada. Most settlers in Bolivia were traditional Mennonites who wanted to separate themselves more from "the world". Altogether there were about 17,500 Mennonites living in 16 colonies in Bolivia by 1986, of whom nearly 15,000 were Old Colony Mennonites and 2,500 Bergthal or Sommerfeld Mennonites.[4]

Colonies and population

In 1995, there were a total of 25 Mennonite colonies in Bolivia with a total population of 28,567. The most populous ones were Riva Palacios (5,488), Swift Current (2,602), Nueva Esperanza (2,455), Valle Esperanza (2,214) and Santa Rita (1,748).[3] In 2002 there were 40 Mennonite colonies with a population of about 38,000 people. An outreach of Conservative Mennonites can be found at La Estrella, with others in progress.

The total population was estimated at 60,000 by Lisa Wiltse in 2010.[5][6]

In 2012 there were 23,818 church members in congregations of Russian Mennonites, indicating a total population of about 70,000. Another 1,170 Mennonites were in Spanish-speaking congregations.[4] The number of colonies was 57 in 2011.

Martyna Wojciechowska, a Polish journalist, created a TV documentary as a part of her TV programme Kobieta na kra?cu ?wiata about the colony in Santa Rita that aired on Polish TV on 1 October 2017.

Name Estab­lished Origin Population
in 1997
in 2007
Tres Palmas 1954 Paraguay - -
Canadiense 1 1957 Paraguay 402 207
Altbergthal 1963 Canada, Paraguay - -
Las Pavas 1963 Paraguay 17 10
Schönthal 1967 Paraguay - -
Riva Palacios 1967 Mexico 5,728 5,560
Las Piedras 1 1967 Canada - -
Swift Current 1968 Mexico 2,614 2,925
Sommerfeld 1968 Mexico 669 920
Santa Rita 1968 Mexico 1,579 2,010
Nueva Esperanza 1975 Mexico 2,687 3,748
Canadiense 2 1975 Canadiense 1 777 980
Valle Esperanza 1975/6 Mexico 2,318 2,305
Cupesi 1976 Canada, Las Pavas 753 530
Del Norte 1980 Mexico 1,016 1,323
Belice 1981 Mexico 2,139 2,620
Las Piedras 2 1984 Las Piedras 1 1,150 848
Nueva Holanda 1984 Las Pavas 698 824
Neu Bergthal 1986 Belice, Canada,
499 640
Pinondi 1988 Riva Palacios 1,533 2,429
Chihuahua 1989 Bolivia 332 607
Campo León 1991 Bolivia 73 40
Yanahigua 1991/2 Valle Esperanza 723 1,116
Las Palmas 1992 Paraguay, Las Plamas 254 322
Valle Nuevo 1993 Swift Current 1,185 1,699
Manitoba 1993 Riva Palacios 1,825 1,669
Leoncito 1994 Bolivia 11 10
Santa Clara 1994 Sommerfeld 248 456
Durango 1 1994 Paraguay 1,813 2,846
Oriente 1995/6 Santa Rita 651 1,063
Alberta 1996 Canada 167 -
Casas Grandes 1996 Mexico 280 883
El Cerro 1996 Las Piedras 2 - 506
El Dorado 1996 Riva Palacios 298 1,848
El Este 1996 Cupesi - -
Fresnillo 1996 Mexico 164 271
Hohenau 1996 Paraguay 336 634
Centro Shalom 1997 Valle Espeeanza 20 37
Del Sur 1997 Mexico - 1,063
El Tinto 1997 Paraguay 66 823
Florida 1997 Del Norte 8 343
La Luna 1997 Mexico, Bolivia 15 -
Milagrosa 1997 Belize 14 266
Monte Cristo 1997 Canada 9 -
Waldheim 1998 Paraguay - 243
Villa Cariño 1998 Las Piedras 1 - 227
Buena Vista 1999 Bolivia - 33
Durango 2 2001 Mexico - -
La Sierra 2002 Argentina - 228
El Palmar 2002 Paraguay - 292
La Estrella 2002 Canada, Bolivia - 220
Berlin 2003 N. Esperanza - 513
Nueva Asención 2004 Valle Nuevo - 448
IBNIAS (Pailòn) 2004 Bolivia - 66
Monte Rico 2004 Swift Current - 384
Neuland 2004 Paraguay - 384
Nordenheim 2005 S. Rita - 65
La Honda 2005 Durango 1 - 249
Barrio N. Estrella 2005 Bolivia - 60
Nueva México 2005 Riva Palacios - 507
Villa Hermosa 2005 Valle Esperanza - 270
Villa Nueva (Pailon) 2005 Bolivia - 207
Schöntal (S. Pablo) 2005 Fresnillo (Chihuahua) - 105
Rio Nego 2006 Swift Current - 120
California 2006 Manitoba - 22
Las Piedras 2006 Belize - 30
Bajio Verde 2007 Paraguay - 16
Total 33,089 49,813


Affiliation Membership
in 2009
in 2012
Altkolonier Mennonitengemeinde 14,424 19,096
Canadian Old Colony Mennonites 344 524
Sommerfelder Mennonitengemeinde 2,065 2,157
Bergthaler Mennonitengemeinde 199 557
Reinländer Mennonitengemeinde 147 203
Kleingemeinde 394 682
Conservative (Plain) Mennonites 70 105
La Iglesia Evangélica Anabautista en Bolivia 630 630
Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Boliviana 450 450
Iglesia Misionera Anabaptista 90
Independent colonies 125 494
Total 18,848 24,988


Rape and sexual assaults

In 2011, eight men belonging to the Manitoba Mennonite Colony were convicted of a series of sexual assaults committed from 2005 to 2009. Prior to the discovery, the rapes had been attributed to a ghost or demon. The victims were reported to be between the ages of 3 and 65. The offenders used a type of gas used by veterinarians to sedate animals during medical procedures. Despite long custodial sentences for the convicted men, an investigation in 2013 reported continuing cases of similar assaults and other sexual abuses. Canadian author Miriam Toews has made these crimes the center of her 2018 novel Women Talking.[8][9][10]


  • Huttner, Jakob. Zwischen Eigen-art und Wirk-lichkeit: Die Altkolonie-Mennoniten im bolivianischen Chaco. Berlin 2012.
  • Schartner, Sieghard and Schartner, Sylvia. Bolivien: Zufluchtsort der konservativen Mennoniten. Asunción 2009.
  • Cañás Bottos, Lorenzo. Old Colony Mennonites in Argentina and Bolivia: Nation Making, Religious Conflict and Imagination of the Future. Leiden et. al. 2008.
  • Hedberg, Anna Sofia. Outside the world: Cohesion and Deviation among Old Colony Mennonites in Bolivia. Uppsala 2007.
  • Pasco, Gwenaëlle. La Colonisation Mennonite en Bolivie: Culture et agriculture dans l'Oriente. Paris 1999.


  1. ^ ""Plautdietsch"". Retrieved 2019.
  2. ^ ""Bolivia"". Retrieved 2019.
  3. ^ a b Schroeder, William; Huebert, Helmut (1996). Mennonite historical atlas. Kindred Productions. pp. 144-145. ISBN 978-0-920643-05-1. Retrieved 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Bolivia". Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2019.
  5. ^ Wiltse, Lisa (2010). "The Mennonites of Manitoba, Bolivia". Burn. Retrieved 2019.
  6. ^ "Plautdietsch". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2020.
  7. ^ Schartner, Sieghard and Schartner, Sylvia: Bolivien: Zufluchtsort der konservativen Mennoniten, Asunción 2009, pp.48-49.
  8. ^ Schwartz, Alexandra (28 March 2019). A Beloved Canadian Novelist Reckons with Her Mennonite Past, The New Yorker. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  9. ^ Friedman-Rudovsky, Jean (28 December 2013). "The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia". Vice. Retrieved 2014.
  10. ^ Pressly, Linda (16 May 2019). "The rapes haunting a community that shuns 21st Century". BBC News. Retrieved 2019.

External links

Accessed August 29, 2020.

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