This project documents the life and inner struggles of the Mennonite community in Eastern Bolivia. Mennonites are Christian Anabaptists who arrived during the 1950s from Canada, Mexico and Belize. The Government in Bolivia promised them land and religious freedom, and they came with the hope of preserving their traditional, simple way of life, free from modern utilities. There are now more than fifty thousand Mennonites living in the country.
Mennonites live in the same way their ancestors did, without cars, telephones or electricity. They farm the land, which not only what puts food on the table, but brings meaning to life.
The colonies are remote and difficult to access. This isolation is not accidental; living far from towns and cities increases the strong sense of community. There is a desire among Mennonites to be close together and detached from society in order to live quietly. It is vital, however, to be within reasonable distance of locals to be able to trade, although there is a fear that living in close proximity may influence the colonies.
Pressure from society is indeed creating difficulties for Mennonites, making it hard for them to survive. The Government is increasing environmental control, preventing Mennonites from cutting down trees, and Mennonite colonies are unsure how to deal with the growing influence of local people, which means easier access to alcohol, music and cars.
Some Mennonites eventually decide to leave their colony for a new one that is more isolated. New land in Bolivia is, however, difficult to find, as are new countries in which to settle, so there is the sense that this could be the end of an era.
This series of portraits explores the relations and familial roles within the Mennonite community and their deep isolation from contemporary society. The Mennonite story is one of perpetual migration – from continent to continent, country to country – in order to live as they always have or, more accurately, as they always wanted.
As long as there are new lands to migrate to, Mennonite communities have a chance of survival, and yet the influence of the modern world with its threats and temptations is never far away.