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Monday, October 4, 2010

Monday Ground Up: A Brief Overview Of The Unique Culture of the Hutterites

The Hutterites have established a strict colonized community where, if given the chance and opportunity, larger cultures would fail at infiltrating the communal surroundings. Why you ask? The main reason is because of isolation. The Hutterites have gone to great lengths to section themselves off and give outsiders no reason to interfere.

The Hutterite.Org website has a fascinating history of the Hutterites coming to North America. Trace the entire migration and learn more about their culture. It's a great resource.

Why is this cultural isolation possible?

Hutterites bind together by way of their culture, using their German language and heritage. This, in and of itself, isolates them from those not subscribing to their belief system in the larger cultural areas. Furthermore, Hutterites use the German Bible which is unable to be interpreted and locked to outsiders.

The law requiring children to attend public schools was easily defeated by the Hutterites who built public schools within the community. They did, however, hire credentialed teachers to teach at those schools. Typically there’s more importance placed upon German teachings as opposed to what the typical public school system teaches.

Needless to say, cultural relativity is lacking in Hutterite society, where a strict sense of isolation has taught the members a shared social standing in the wake of community living.

Organization of the Hutterite Colony

Bruderhorf (colony)

The colony consists of persons of Hutterite parentage. The idea of communal living is met by way of economics, ceremony, biology, and subsistence (self-sustaining).

Gemein (church)

The church, not always a building, consists of baptized men and women. They welcome communion and repentant members back into the colony. Policies and positions are voted upon in the Gemein.


There are either 5-7 executives selected by the Gemein. The first minister, assistant minister, householder, and field manager, are always on the council. Sometimes an executive will hold two positions if there’s no assistant minister. The council grants permission for travel, make practical day to day decisions, judge disagreements, and help the colony run as efficiently as possible.

Informal Council

The first minister, assistant minister, householder, and field manager will meet after breakfast to assign tasks and daily work to men.


The Householder is in charge of the overall economic prosperity of the colony. He represents the colony to the larger culture or outside world. Outsiders call him “the boss”(Huntington, and Hostetler 32-36).

Head Preacher

The Head Preacher must take care of the community and “shepherd the flock”. He is directed by the Gemein and by preachers of his Leut, who ordained him to his position and have power to remove him should they see fit. The world is interpreted by the Head Preacher and he represents the community in all aspects of the outside world.

What makes the Hutterites unique?

Subsistence: If we consider the aspect of geography. A culture will rely on subsistence farming to only provide the colony what they need. There is no surplus, no shared agricultural means with the outside world. Subsistence therefore maintains for the relatively low population size, and excludes all facets of bargaining or trade with the outside world. There’s no reliance on material gain, so this type of exchange wouldn’t benefit them or support their isolated social structure. In case of the Hutterites, the economic goal of a colony is to be productive and profitable so they can be both self-sustaining and form new colonies by branching. So in one sense they are subsistence farmers and in another branched colony, they may be sharing their surplus.

Branching: Once the population starts to expand, branching takes place. Branching allows for the alleviation of social tensions, opens up new positions for colony members who can’t move ahead in their present colony, and simply gives the new members a fresh start. Branching is made possible by successful economic activities therefore contributing once again to the communal way of life. The small size of these branched communities will once again rely on subsistence to support only the members and the lack of reliance on material gain or attachment once again supports the Hutterites belief system.


Images ©  chimon1304

Huntington, Gertrude, and John Hostetler. The Hutterites in North America. Mason: Cengage Learning, 2002. 32-36. Print.

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