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The first Mennonites of Colombia – a photo essay | Colombia

In a distant nook of the rolling plains that stretch throughout jap Colombia from the foothills of the Andes to the Venezuelan frontier, a cluster of grain silos juts up in opposition to the pristine blue sky.

Not way back, this area was tormented by Communist insurgents and rightwing paramilitaries; now it’s residence to an austere neighborhood of blond-haired, blue-eyed Anabaptist Christians which traces its origins to Sixteenth-century Friesland.

Youngsters, dressed immaculately and in plaid shirts and lengthy attire, end Bible research – in English, Spanish and Low German – and put together for a day’s labour within the fields; the household patriarchs gasoline up enormous mix harvesters, shipped particularly from Mexico and the US. Their wives, who seldom work the crops exterior harvest time, are inclined to chores of their houses.

At the church a quote from the new testament in German. 'The blessing of the Lord makes you rich without effort.'

The first members of this Mennonite neighborhood arrived right here in 2016, however their forefathers have been migrating for hundreds of years.

“The Anabaptist ancestors of the Mennonites had been chased out of Europe by Catholics as a result of they had been radical reformists,” mentioned Luca Zanetti, a Swiss photographer who not too long ago visited Liviney. Zanetti’s curiosity in Mennonite settlers was first piqued by a plaque in Zurich for Felix Manz, one of the group’s founders who was martyred within the Sixteenth century. “I needed to know who these ancestral neighbours are that now reside the world over.”

The Mennonite diaspora started fleeing their homelands in northern Europe – throughout Holland, Switzerland and Germany – within the Sixteenth century, to flee persecution from the Catholic church.

Women are rarely seen in the fields unless it is harvesting time. Then you can see them sitting in the small car-sized John Deer cabins together with their husbands.
Liviney is surrounded by patches of forest that look like islands in the sea of grass and form along rivers and creeks. Locals call them Morichales because the Moriche palm tree tower above the rest of the vegetation. These swamp forests are home to the jaguar the tapir and the anaconda.

  • Liviney is surrounded by patches of forest that appear like islands within the sea of grass and type alongside rivers and creeks. Locals name them Morichales as a result of the Moriche palm tree tower above the remainder of the vegetation. These swamp forests are residence to the jaguar, the tapir and the anaconda.

Many ended up in Russia, earlier than migrating to the prairies of the US within the 18th and nineteenth centuries. Right now, there are Mennonite communities throughout Africa and the Americas which dwarf those who remained in Europe.

Most inhabitants on this settlement, often called Liviney, maintain Mexican passports, and had spent most of their lives in a neighborhood of tens of hundreds within the Sonoran desert. However land there was costly and unsuited to many money crops, rains had been scarce and water sat deep underground, requiring intensive drilling.

Moreover, northern Mexico is at present the setting for a fierce drug warfare by which harmless bystanders continuously turn into victims: three years in the past, cartel gunmen murdered six kids and three ladies from a Mormon neighborhood which just like the Mennonites had settled within the nation within the nineteenth century.

If possible European migrants in new world have settled in areas that reminded them of the homes left behind. In the case of Liviney some residents are making an effort to introduce species of pine tree lookalike.
Fifteen year of David Bowen has finished school at help his parents with the farm
Sixteen years old Martin Klause has finished school at help his parents with the farm
Eight year old Eva Loewen
Previous to their decision of settling in Colombia they Mennonites have been seeking assurances by Government that they will be allowed to pursue their lifestyle i.e. open their own schools, churches and cemeteries as well as not have to send their children to the compulsory military service which could bring them to the frontlines of the war on drugs.

  • Eight-year-old Eva Loewen. Proper: Eva Fehr, the daughter of Issak Fehr, from a household of eight kids. Earlier to their resolution to settle in Colombia the Mennonites had been in search of assurances by authorities that they might be allowed to pursue their life-style, ie open their very own colleges, church buildings and cemeteries in addition to not must ship their kids to the obligatory navy service which might carry them to the frontlines of the warfare on medication.

Colombia’s 2016 peace course of, which put an finish to 5 many years of civil warfare, provided the Mennonites a option to carve out a new foothold in South America.

Earlier than the deal, such a undertaking would have been unthinkable: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), then the most important leftist insurgency in Latin America, dominated this remoted area, imposing their very own guidelines on the civilian inhabitants, whereas battling the Colombian military and its paramilitary allies.

Its Colombian truckers like Alberto Cardenas that bring the imported fertilizer south from Cartagena de Indias on the Caribbean coast 1500km away, in a three days journeys. The fertilizer unloaded he fills the truck with soya beans, grain or rice.

  • Colombian truckers like Alberto Cardenas carry imported fertilizer south from Cartagena de Indias on the Caribbean coast 1,500km away, in a three-day journey. When the fertilizer is unloaded he fills the truck with soya beans, grain or rice.

In simply a few years, nevertheless, Mennonite traders have snapped up the titles for 20,000 hectares of land. Fleets of 18-wheeler vans make common pickups of Liviney’s largest exports: rice, corn and soya beans, the latter offered to a pig farm owned by a former president.

“The blessing of the lord makes you wealthy with out effort,” reads an inscription in German on the wall of one of the colony’s a number of church buildings that additionally doubles as a faculty.

However the progress of the settlement has not come with out laborious work – and many of funding: the Mennonites have invested greater than $20m via two newly integrated native firms.

The Loewen family with father Abram wife Eva Harms one year old Ana, eight year old Eva and six years old Abram. The family had a very good grain and Soya harvests which allowed them to buy a home off a less fortunate family that returned to Mexico.

  • The Loewen household with father Abram, spouse Eva Harms, one-year-old Ana, eight-year-old Eva and six-year-old Abram. The household had good grain and soya harvests which allowed them to purchase a residence off a household that returned to Mexico.

Rice farmer Abram Loewen and his daughter Ana.

“Right here it’s worthwhile to throw a lot of cash on the land earlier than you achieve one thing,” mentioned Abram Loewen, a rice farmer. Like different senior members of the neighborhood, he employs different Mennonites who’ve been unable to get their very own crops going.

Liviney’s gleaming pickup vans and air-conditioned houses distinction starkly with the poverty in surrounding area, which had lengthy been uncared for by the Colombian authorities.

And in contrast to the tough grime trails in neighbouring villages, Liviney’s roads are paved with high-quality pink gravel and flanked by brand-new electrical energy pylons and cables.

Pastor Abram Fehr on a Sunday morning.
Pastor Abram Fehr with his family.

Abram Fehr, tall and with a pair of Arctic-blue eyes, is a pastor and likewise the proprietor the one lodge on the town, which, earlier than the pandemic, obtained Mennonite guests from so far as Mexico, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina trying to purchase land.

Argentine Mennonites are at present the largest patrons, mentioned Fehr, as they’re eager to flee what they see as authorities “meddling” within the upbringing of their kids.

Mennonite kids research from ages six to 13, however then they’re put to work – the boys work the fields, even when they’ll barely see over the steering wheel of the tractors, whereas the women are inclined to the kitchens and gardens – a customized which frequently places them at odds with schooling legal guidelines all over the world.

Youth makes out on Sundays to play volleyball listen to rock music, drinking beers (only the boys) and vaping.

  • Youths exit on Sundays to play volleyball, hearken to rock music, drink beers (however solely the boys) and vape.

In current many years, related tensions prompted a wave of Mennonite migrants to depart Canada – “virtually a Communist state,” scoffed Fehr.

The Mennonites have little contact with their neighbours, who discuss with them as “the Germans” and touch upon their “bizarre accents”.

Some locals complain concerning the Mennonites’ intensive farming practices, and the neighborhood’s speedy growth has additionally introduced them into battle with the indigenous Sikuani individuals, after the Mennonites moved on to land claimed by the tribe.

Additional friction has been brought on by the settlers’ aggressive logging – a observe which for many years was banned by the Farc rebels.

“Whereas the Mennonites take to each other with the native inhabitants, shopping for merchandise in close by cities and visiting eating places and boosting our economic system, there are some environmental points,” one native authorities official mentioned diplomatically.

Escarlet’s family is from Venezuelan her partner works for Abram Loewen. Many Venezuelan migrants roam the lengths and width of Colombia in search of a better living.

When requested concerning the local weather disaster, which is heightened by worldwide deforestation, Ramon Dick, one of Livney’s leaders, was fatalistic.

“As a Christian I don’t worry demise or the tip of the world as a result of I’m entrusted to Christ,” he mentioned, his broad grin revealing a set of good white enamel. “I comply with him, the day I die I’m with him, strolling on a golden pavement to a crystalline sea!”

Liviney’s new cemetery. A 20 x 20 meters square encircled by a 1-meter tall cement wall. Placed flat on the ground in one corner a small lone marble tomb stone with the inscription: The baby of John Fehrn Janzen born on the 22 of June 2018 and died on the 5th of December 2018 it lived for 5 month and 13 days. The first person to die in the new colony.

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