Messy Notes 2: My Friday Afternoon at the U of W

Resuming my narrative from Friday morning at the University of Winnipeg, where I’d been taking in the Mennonites & Anthropology conference, put on by the Centre for Transnational Mennonite Studies…

After lunch, everyone hurried back to hear the third panel speak on Economic Transformation.

Paola Canova from the University of Texas shared her paper Radicalized Desires: The Intimacy of Mennonite Economic Transformations in Paraguay. I found her riveting. What an engaging, passionate, strong, badass speaker. Here are my smattered notes:

“Paraguayan charcoal for the Mennonites”

She told the story of a couple making charcoal — it’s different and not so good for their health but the money is worth it to them.

Working for a Mennonite NGO — exporting charcoal to Germany as “ecological charcoal”.

Mennonites from Fernheim Colony

a monetized (ecological) relationship to nature

capitalist development of the Chaco

myth = the Chaco has been developed thanks to the Mennonites’ hard work

New Tribes — beginning in 1947 — conversion methodologies — have been expelled by other Latin American countries for these methodologies

(Cornelius Isaac killed — worked with 5 others)

the indigenous Ayoreo quickly and violently introduced to the new market economy

informal labour pool for the Mennonites

living in temporary camps because Mennonites didn’t grant them their own land

in 1994 the Ayoreo people were unemployed because of the new power plant (no longer needed charcoal)

wanted their labour but not social implications

deforestation –> for charcoal production

colliding environmental subject conditions

Ayoreo engagement with charcoal production

monetized relationship to nature

Mennonite NGO’s agendas — not as pristine as…

Paola Canova

Next was Laurel Zwissler of Central Michigan University, on Buying, Selling and Being Fair: An Anthropologist at Ten Thousand Villages.

My very messy notes:

The consumer is ethically responsible for the maker of the object they are purchasing

the assumption that the store is a Mennonite space

shifting thinking from “how much can I get for as little money?” to “what are my ethical obligations facilitated by my purchases?”

your purchases carry moral weight

pushing Christmas buying makes some Ten Thousand Villages volunteers uncomfortable:

“I don’t want to encourage consumption”

“but that’s how we help them!”

Some volunteers talk shoppers out of making purchases. One wanted to discourage middle aged wealthy white women from making purchases, saying, “this won’t make you happy”


“you need to make that sale”

mission through action vs proselytizing (prohibited, actually)

share ethical project — social movement — store dynamic

fair trade movement

not profit value system

communities identified through material consumption

inspired by Mennonite origins

Laurel Zwissler

Next was Marilyn Rehnfeldt of the Catholic University of Asuncion, Paraguay, shared her paper Mennonite Haciendas and the Indigenous Labour Situation: A Study from Central Chaco.

My messy notes:

nervous being a non-Mennonite presenting to Mennonites (won my heart with this comment, I thought she was fabulous — also it’s fascinating and important and vital to get another’s perspective!)

forced labour since 2005

fear and a lack of knowledge about their labour rights prevents them from asserting their rights in unjust conditions — they’re afraid if they do, there will be no more work to be found for them

absentee owners, usually of Mennonite origin, so property managers offer work to people and entire families will come

power imbalance — social punishment if anyone tries to assert their rights — cannot get another job

no money for work — only food and permission to live there while they work there

sometimes they stay because they depend on their employer to truck them back, usually 200-300 km from their communities for months, years

when one worker’s son was sick and asked to have a ride to Filidelfia, owner said no, so he walked… and his son died. “that was the life of my son… and it was worth $100.” (because he wouldn’t complain to the labour board, the $100 was a settlement, he didn’t want to be seen as a troublemaker)

worsening health conditions — poor meals

lost their territories

forced near extinction

the state (government of Paraguay) is indifferent to indigenous problems

also, many cases of child labour

also, women work cleaning the stanzia (sp? houses) and do not receive payment because it’s seen as part of their husband’s pay

“there cannot be reconciliation if there is not the truth”

Ministry of Labour of Paraguay. Just a little shack, far from Filidelfia. “Present your concerns here.”
Marilyn Rehnfeldt

Next was Fabrico Vazquez of the Academia Diplomatica del Paraguay. Fabrico was not in attendance, but the their paper was read: Leisure, Tourism and Luxury: The New Mennonite Bourgeoisie of the Paraguayan Chaco.

My messy notes were short:

paper was written in Spanish… used Google Translate for translation into English

emergence of the middle class of Mennonite society through luxury and leisure

increasing wealth for a traditionally austere society (more time available)

accelerated economic development in the last two decades — never experienced before

(1932-1935 war between Paraguay and Bolivia)

tourism — needing credit cards to travel — changing how they bank

new sports — golf courses, water parks, individual swimming pools — in a place where there’s no drinking water for most people

leisure linked to personal success (I’d say excess as well)

And then, the Q&A! More incomprehensible notes!

Q: What is unique about labour exploitations and deforestation?

A: It’s the interplay with Mennonites –> Paraguay has been said to be an “absent state” — but it actually has perpetuated Mennnonite self-governing — including Mennonites to be now part of the government

Filidelfia — city established on Mennonite private land

Mennonite cooperative is the centre of this structure

income disparity too high, social aspects –> now everyone not Mennonite is being shut out

Marilyn said: Law #3050 says that if you have no job, you have no insurance

Paola said, “you have a social hierarchy within your community”

Laurel said, “asking questions that they don’t have to talk about because they already know” … “things they can’t speak out loud to each other” … “tell them the truth about what we see”

(Not all these notes were responses to that question! This is just all that I wrote down!)

James Urry, “larger than life” via Skype

Next was the Keynote Address from James Urry from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, on Mennonites, Anthropology and History: A Complicated Intellectual Relationship.

Just after he began speaking, Andrew suddenly slipped into the seat beside me. Hooray! (He had been unable to get a day off as easily as I had.)

My messy notes:

All social groups have changed over time

ways of life that elsewhere has passed

He originally wanted to study Mennonites in Belize, re: how they were isolated and unchanged, but first he had to study Russian Mennonites, and never returned to his original topic.

Complex past of the community (he feels it should be considered but feels it’s often dismissed when this is studied)

“My ethnographic people, for better or worse, are Mennonites.”

Mentioned how many Latin American Mennonites are referred to as “Low German Mennonites” (meaning they speak Low German)

Pointed out that when the Mennonites went to Russia, only two of the advantages they wanted had to do with religion, but the rest were economic advantages!

“closed” and “open” Mennonites — interacting with the market economy

“People live their lives… they do not usually reflect upon them.”

I snuck a pic from the back of the room when John Janzen was at the mic asking James Urry a question. I like that I can see Andrew in this pic.

Apparently he’s writing a long paper (or a book???) about GRUNTHAL. (What?!? WOW!)

“The good thing about Grunthal is it has Jack Thiessen.”

“Sometimes I feel sad for the Dutch, who somehow are left out of the historical accounts.”

“Faith stripped of ritual.”

I wish I could’ve asked him this: is there mysticism in Mennonite-ism?

Not sure what made me think of that question.

“Mennonites are wonderfully complicated. I’d need another lifetime but I haven’t got one.”

Aileen Friesen chaired this session.

And just like that, it was time for supper. We had a wonderful evening engagement with friends and had to miss the evening session on Rituals. I regret missing this. But it was good to rest my brain so as to return for Saturday morning!