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The Chaco: Visit the Mennonite colonies

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Visit the Mennonite colonies

Mennonites are the people of pacifist Christian communities in Russia, Canada and Europe who fled the obligation to do military service in their countries of origin. Paraguay, which has absorbed refugees of many religious and political complexions, gave them refuge in the 1920s and 30s but they were obliged to establish their colonies in the most inhospitable territory, including the Chaco.

The towns and villages, of which Filafelfia is the most notable, are a mix of the Wild West and modern, Germanic-style efficiency. They have adopted modern dress and practices but jealously guard their autonomy. Each Mennonite colony operates an agricultural co-operative system. The main source of income is beef cattle: they are expert breeders. 

The Mennonites of the Chaco speak Plattdeutsch, a form of German although those of Canadian origin also speak English. They are also passionately Paraguayan. A visit to these unique communities and hearing their stories is a highlight of any visit to Paraguay and essential to an understanding of this complex country. 

What our experts say

Filadelfia was founded in 1930 by Mennonites fleeing the Soviet Union. Its population has grown to 10,000 and its makeup is more diverse than the other Mennonite towns but the Mennonites remain the most visible group. Filadelfia is the best town to stay in because it has a good hotel and an excellent museum with exhibits telling the story of the arrival of the Mennonites in the Chaco.

Claire Milner

Claire Milner

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