The Hutterites: Communal Life on the Prairie
What do we really know about our Hutterite neighbors? These quiet people represent the largest, oldest and most successful communal society in the Western World. Today in South Dakota alone, there are 54 separate colonies with a total population of about 6,000 residents. These people are farmers raising grain, hogs, cattle and turkeys. But what do we really know of their daily lives, customs, and beliefs? The Dacotah Prairie Museum, with assistance from three area colonies (Grassland, Pembrook, and Hutterville) have mounted a major exhibit which highlights much of the history behind the Hutterite way of life.
Hutterites originated in Tirol region of Europe ( in the Eastern Alps mostly in Austria) in the 1500s under the leadership of Jacob Hutter. They are part of a religious movement called Anabaptist, meaning baptism does not take place until a person reached adulthood. Anabaptists were a persecuted group. Many were imprisoned or even killed for their beliefs of separating church and state affairs.
The forces driving the life of a Hutterite are not individual success, high standards of living, or popular fashion, but rather a firm quest for maintain a simple lifestyle that reflects God’s will for them. Hutterites believe in the common ownership of goods. They do not believe in war or violence.
Education has always been an integral part of Hutterite life. They had kindergarten 270 years before the first ones were started in Germany in 1837. Religious education begins at home and at age three the children attend kindergarten where they learn German hymns and prayers along with obedience and the concept of sharing. By age five, children begin to learn English but also taken German classes.
The Hutterite style of dress is simple to reflect their humility. Women all wear the same style of dress. Jewelry, even wedding rings, are a sign of vanity so are not worn. Men do wear beards after marriage.
The Hutterites came to America to escape the persecution of Russia. They settled in the Yankton area because the landscape reminded them of the Steppes Region of Russia that had previously been their home. From there, they eventually moved into Canada and the Western United States.
The museum exhibit attempts to show a glimpse of daily life on a modern colony. There are hands-on stations where visitors can attempt to write German script or do hand sewing. A musical background features the harmonious acappella style singing of German hymns. A small diorama illustrates the physical layout of a colony including all its various buildings.
To view other past exhibits, click here.