Map of Hutterite settlements shows religion and evolution


Hutterite women and children from the Milford colony in Alberta. The size of the polka dots on the scarf indicates which specific group the women belong to. (Credit: Eye Ubiquitous / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

This is a map on religion – and evolution. It shows the geographic distribution of Hutterite settlements across North America, but it is also a snapshot of the evolving concept of speciation at work.

Speciation is the biological process by which the same population evolves into different species. The typical cause is the geographic isolation of a subgroup, which then becomes subject to another set of environmental pressures. In combination with genetic drift, this can result in a population with distinct habits and characteristics, which is no longer able to interbreed with the original species – in other words, a new species.

Finches and Anabaptists

Darwin got his first idea of ​​the concept when he observed how the finches and turtles of the Galapagos Archipelago differed from island to island. The archipelago continues to fascinate evolutionary biologists. In 2017, scientists captured a population of Galapagos finches emerging as a distinct species – the first time that speciation has been observed “alive”.

It is tempting to recognize the basics of speciation in processes outside of biology – for example, the turbulent world of religious ideas. Just look at the assorted family trees, showing the diversification over time of biological species and theological concepts. Obviously, something similar is happening here. Except that in “religious speciation,” geographic isolation is usually the effect, not the cause, which is usually a difference of doctrinal opinion – on the desirability of. make the sign of the cross with two or three fingers, for example.

This map of the Hutterite colonies is an interesting snapshot of this religious speciation at work. With a total population of around 50,000, the Hutterites are the smallest of the three major branches of the Anabaptist movement. Mennonites are the main branch (1.5 million people worldwide), but everyone is familiar with the Amish – around 360,000, mostly in the United States – who are distinguished by their typical dress and widespread rejection of modern technology.

South Dakota was the zero point for the Hutterites in North America. After World War I, they settled in Canada. (Credit: Alex McPhee, reproduced with kind permission)

Anabaptism emerged as one of the most radical Protestant strains of the Church Reformation in the 16th century. He rejects infant baptism, believing instead that candidates should be able to make a free and conscious choice for Christ as adults – hence the name of the movement, which in Greek means “to re-baptize”.

Each of the three main groups is named after the religious leader who established it as a separate movement.

Christian communists

Menno Simons (1496-1561) was a Catholic priest from Friesland (northern Netherlands) who became an Anabaptist preacher and leader, instrumental in the consolidation and institutionalization of the new faith. His followers were known as Mennonites.

Jakob Amann (1644-circa 1720) was a former Swiss Mennonite who wanted to preserve what he considered a biblical discipline within the church. In the 1690s, this led to a schism. Amann’s followers were called the Amish.

Jakob Hutter (c. 1500-1536) was a Tyrolean hatter and Anabaptist reformer. He led his followers, later called the Hutterites, to Moravia, where they adopted the early Christian practice of community property, in addition to traditional Anabaptist practices such as non-violence and adult baptism.

The Anabaptists were considered to be so radical that they were persecuted by Catholics and mainstream Protestants in Western Europe, which is why so many fled, first to Eastern Europe and then eventually to the ‘North America.

Many Hutterites in North America can trace their origin to Hutterdorf, a Hutterite settlement in Ukraine and the origin of a very successful “back to basics” campaign. In fact, in the middle of the 19th century, most Hutterites no longer lived in a strict community of property.

In 1859, Michael Waldner was one of the leaders of a congregation in Hutterdorf that reintroduced the practice. The group became known as Schmiedeleut (“Blacksmith’s people”), according to Waldner’s profession. The following year another group did the same on the other side of town. Their leader was Darius Walter, and they became the Dariusleut. Around 1875, both groups emigrated to South Dakota. Then, arriving in South Dakota a few years later, a third group of Ukrainian Hutterites under the leadership of teacher Jakob Wipf became known as the Lehrerleut (“The teacher’s people”).

Moving to Canada

The Hutterites established small agricultural settlements (called “colonies”), which rapidly grew in number due to the groups’ high birth rates. In the years immediately following World War I, due to anti-pacifist and anti-German sentiment in the United States, many Hutterites moved to Alberta in Canada.

Illustration of a Hutterite family from the beginning of the period, taken from a German pamphlet against the Anabaptists. (Credit: Christoph Erhard: Story (1588) / Public domain)

Over the following decades, as animosity died down, many new Hutterite settlements were established south of the border. As the map shows, Hutterites now live on either side of the Canada-US border. The map also shows how the three branches of the Hutterite movement come together geographically:

  • The Dariusleut are found primarily in the Canadian prairie provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan;
  • The Lehrerleut are found in the same two provinces, but with a center of gravity in southern Alberta and significant fallout in the US state of Montana.
  • The Schmiedeleut have two main centers: one in southern Manitoba, just outside the US border; the other in eastern South Dakota, with a pinch of settlements in between.

As the map indicates, the Schmiedeleut themselves appear to be dividing into two distinct groups, just like these Galapagos finches. In the early 1990s, various disagreements led to a split between a somewhat more accommodating Schmiedeleut group of certain innovations (led by Jacob Kleinsasser) and a more conservative group. The Kleinsasser group is known as the “Hutterite Brothers”, or simply generically as Group 1. They are nicknamed “Oilers”. The more traditional Group 2 is also known as “Committee Hutterites” and nicknamed “Gibbs”.

Join the dots

Hutterites live in rural communities, speak a German dialect, and dress conservatively, so they are often confused with members of other Anabaptist movements. However, unlike the Amish, they use electricity and other modern technologies. And unlike the Amish and Mennonites, they continue to live in community.

One way to visually distinguish the various Hutterite subgroups from one another is the size of the polka dots on the women’s scarves. Lehrerleut women have scarves with large dots, Dariusleut scarves have smaller dots, and Schmiedeleut have very small dots, if any. No wonder they are considered the most progressive of the Hutterites.

Map by Alex McPhee, reproduced with kind permission. Mr. McPhee is a freelance cartographer based in Grasslands National Park, Canada. Discover his Web page and his Twitter.

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