The Hutterites and The Zuni
Often confused for Amish countrymen these people practice a similar way of life. However the Hutterites, unlike the Amish embrace some yet few creature comforts. Of these are electricity and gas powered machinery such as trucks and tractors. The Hutterites originated during the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century and are one of the three surviving Anabaptist groups. (Hostetler, 1) Their beliefs hold that man is evil and “fallen” from the grace of God. The harmony of nature is deterministic and man stands outside this harmony because of the Genesis account of original sin.
The Hutterites exist and a pseudo-egalitarian manner. They are communal yet deal with a market economy. This market economy is yet based on a fundamental principle of positive reciprocity. Profit is strictly viewed as sin. Fair trade is upheld in all exchanges. Most of what is traded is done so between colonies. Which gives rise for marital prospects between them. These trades are done is hope of redistribution of geographically scarce resources.
The Hutterites live in the northern Midwest states and the central southern provinces of Canada. They speak the original tongue of their ancestors, which is German and hold fast to their customs of an agricultural society. Their geographic location provides rich soils for crop raising and virgin land is excellent grazing field for cattle. Livestock is used as a food source, often traded, or bought depending on the economical need of the colony. Their agricultural needs are met by the use of natural fertilizers, a formidable workforce consisting of men age 15 and older, and by use of modern farming machines, that only unmarried men are allowed to use. Smaller tools for harvesting and processing are still made and used communally.
Every person capable of working is expected to perform work assigned to him or her. Work patterns are clearly marked with age and sex distinctions and by formal authority patterns enforced through informal means. Men are more directly engaged in the income producing phases of the colony, while the women are assigned to family, domestic, and food preparation tasks. With the exception of these positions, work roles [communal] for women rotate, with the change over taking place on Sunday night. (Hostetler, 31) This overall efficient use of labor groups despite sexist argument results from strong adherence to tradition. Work is considered important, not in terms of individualistic conceptions of time, money, or man-hours, but as means of communal living.
The distribution patterns reflect colony conceptions of impartiality and equality in sharing. The amount and kinds of goods are determined by the rules of the council, a grouping of the elders. Although the society is communal and modern in its technology and productive features, its adherence to religious authority prevents a distributive economy based on material wants. The Hutterites are not only communal in production, but also in their consumption and distribution. Food is consumed in a communal setting. Clothing and most needs of the individual are distributed through the resident household. A communal corporation for the welfare of the colony and its constituents holds any profits made from outside commerce with the outside world. Patterns of reciprocity between individuals and families are made possible through monthly allowances to individuals from the colony. Kinship is especially relevant in the exchange of gifts, favors, and work substitutions. The Hutterite view of property forbids merchandising or profiteering from inter-colonial trade of goods. This inter-colonial trade is fundamental for redistribution of resources and inter-colonial relationships, including marriages.
After Baptism, women are eligible for courtship, which is done mostly secretively and solely known by the couples parents. This courtship lasts from two to six years, where in this time the prospective mates may only see each other once a year, depending on truck transportation and trading needs of the colony. When a man wishes to marry and a significant courtship has preceded the man may ask his father’s permission to marry. In which upon his consent the man must ask his preacher for permission. The preacher in turn asks for consent from the council. After the announcement of the council for permission the man must be accompanied by his father and grandfather to the would be bride’s colony on a Wednesday. Upon arrival, permission from the brides preacher and council allows the groom to request the brides hand in marriage. When acceptance is granted everyone of church age accompanies them to the ceremony the same day. The ceremony lasts fifteen minutes and the bride and groom’s parents retire to the brides house for celebration; this celebration is called a “hulba”. Thursday the “hulba” is continued and on Friday the bride, groom, father and grandfather return to their colony. The newlyweds will live with the groom’s parents in the groom’s room, which is no longer referred to as his room but “her” room.
In a new environment, the bride is familiar with only one aspect of her new life. She need only memorize who is who and their relative social significance. The political structure of the Hutterites is based mostly on informal age groups: birth to two years, kindergarten (three to five), school children (six to fourteen), young people (fifteen to baptism). To the Hutterites baptism is one of two life rites of passage, the other that of death.
Socialization during childhood is a preparation for initiation into adulthood. (Hostetler, 57) This socialization occurs through age groups or levels of institutionalized education. These levels are respectively: Klein-Schul (kindergarten), Gross-Schul (German school), Suntag-Schul (Sunday school), and Gebet (daily evening sermons). Gender and obedience are taught through patriarchal sexual constraints in work, school, and prayer. Corporal public punishment and general fear of social ostracization reinforce these.
However all social control in the Hutterites is derived primarily from their religion. All laws and social mores governed by their collective interpretations of the bible. Sundays are strictly reserved for prayer, and service is held nightly at the end of the workday. The colony (those of church age, 15 and older) sits on wood benches and the council sits to the side of the preacher facing the audience. Seating is organized by sex and age; men on one side, women on the other. .
An analysis of the Hutterite church service can function to highlight characteristics of their pattern of life. (Hostetler, 34) There is no real tangible church. Service is held in an unimportant and inornate schoolhouse. Sacred space is not confined to one room or one building (Hostetler, 34), rather all of which God respects can be a place of worship. Service is restful and unhurried; the hymns are sung slow and with emotion of a people that take God’s worship seriously and soulfully. The service makes visible the authority pattern of the community and the emphasis of its supernatural right. Service is used also as instruction in their discipline, faith, history, and their reason for existence. Even the post service communal meal serves as a symbol of “breaking bread with one another.” The church service reinforces the basic patterns of Hutterite life and simultaneously gives relief and depth to daily work. (Hostetler, 36)
The peaceable meetings of service and post communal meal set the night for pleasant discussion and debate for new expansions or group projects. Any grievances are sought to be extinguished through passive group discussion with the preacher and council as authoritative figures whose words are carefully sought and respected. Aggression is all but non-existent. Children are enculturized to handle anger, frustration, and violent thought stoically. They tend not to harbor long term grievances and hold council decisions as if ordained by God himself. This lack of aggression is not from blind obedience or fear of lawful repercussion, for the Hutterites have an informal law doctrine. Obedience comes from a mixture of tradition, respect, and intimidation. Gossip and side-talk form an elaborate and intangible social adherence to the rules and decisions of the elders.
The pattern of socialization is remarkably consistent from one colony to the next, from one family to the next, and from one individual to the next. The system is sufficiently flexible and rewarding that an unusually high rate of success occurs, and deviancy is rare. The Hutterites regard themselves as Christians maintaining the proper social order and not as a rationalized experiment in communal living. (Hostetler, 93) The continual existence of the society is secondary only to God. The Hutterite is raised and lives in a social pattern that is believed to be divinely ordained, apart from any cause and effect relationship. He exists in the service and obedience of God’s word integrating economic and spiritual values into a community of absolutist ideology without compromise.
The Zuni Mountains rise from the jagged and ruptured plains of New Mexico, hundreds of feet high, rock-strewn by wind, sand and water. The wild canyons, painted sandstone mesas, red-banded cliffs, and the solitary buttes of rock all interposed by pinon and cedar best characterize these mountains. The Zuni Mountains and surrounding region is a harsh desert environment, visited seasonally by floods, droughts, raging sandstorms, and intensely hot and dry summers. Below and beyond these mountains, in the nearly waterless wilderness lives the American Indian tribe of Zuni.
The Zuni people have made many adaptations to survive the harsh seasons. Similar to cliff-dwellings, Zuni domiciles are long, boxed ranches of adobe, crisscrossed in squares, piled up and receding from the one below to form a massive pyramid resembling a broken flight of stairs (Cushing, 48). The structure is a honeycomb hill of mud connected by ladders, rafters, chimneys, and irregular fences enclosing gardens.
The adobe buildings offer the Zuni protection from the elements. The adobe clay is unscathed when the strong winds begin to blow across the desert and raise red clouds of scouring sand into the air. The clay fences provide barriers for their precious gardens from winds that would otherwise destroy the crops. Livestock is housed in adobe corrals, giving the animals shade. Cool in the summer, the buildings are also easy to heat when temperatures plummet.
Before the American Government changed it, the Zuni were practicing a system of floodwater irrigation over a wide area, cultivating over ten thousand acres of corn. Once herded onto reservations by impoundment teams the Zuni became sheepherders (Tedlock, 24).
Zuni society is still relatively dependent upon the corn they harvest. With the means of their crop support badly hampered, Zuni began growing crops in arroyo’s, little declevities between hills or mountains to provide a natural barrier against elemental forces. Planters provide for his household willfully, delineating jobs to the younger males within the household. Once an arroyo is secured, boundaries are marked with stones bearing images declaring ownership of the property. Land ownership is granted once a man has “pulled the sand” or cultivated the land (Cushing, 273).
Once the surrounding sagebrush is cleared from the desired arroyo plot, the plants are burned in the center of the plot and then the ashes dispersed across area. The earth is then hoed, tilling the soil to mix the ashes with the earth. Fertilizers are not used because of lack of availability. Rows are dug and then seeds planted.
With no irrigation system available, the crops success and/or failure is easily undermined. Droughts, torrential downpours, and severe windstorms are visited frequently upon the surrounding regions. Much of the Zuni religious focus during crop season is dedicated to securing favorable position with the gods to prevent their wrath of unkind weather.
When weather patterns are fair and crops are doing well, other factors play important essential roles in undermining bountiful crops. Coyotes are problem as they come to eat the corn once it has begun to mature. Rabbits are also responsible for crop destruction. These two vermin are pests but by far the greatest threat, excluding weather, comes from groups of crows dropping into fields to eat the kernels.
A very peculiar adaptation the Zuni have made in preventing the crows from eating their crops seems to have played an early roll in the development of their religion. All across the cornfields, twine is strung from poles driven into the ground. From the line bit of cloth are hung along with bones, hides, and anything that will flutter or sound in the wind. The crows that are killed early into the season are also hung by their feet to deter other birds. Scarecrows are also made and placed randomly in the fields; with eyes protruding from their skulls and large wooden beak give the scarecrows an ominous similarity to the gods they worship during ceremonies.
If everything goes well, the crops are harvested and brought to the households by nearly everyone in residence, including women. It is a festive time of peace and thanks and the entire community shares it. The corn must be husked and prepared for storage; a daunting task that is very time consuming. The Zuni engage in the enterprise with joy and efficiency.
The Zuni are a matrilineal family. Ownership of the sacred objects, the house, and the corn stored within it belong to the women of the household. No matter what occurs in a marriage, the women stay with the house for life. Their husbands are considered outsiders for it is the women’s brothers who are tied to household affairs. A man goes to his mothers house for any important occasions. It is not until the children are mature that a father has authority in his wife’s household (Benedict, 74).
Seated at the highest level of social life is the priesthood. There are four major and eight minor priesthood’s. They are revered as holy men; their sacred medicine bundles containing the power they retain. The bundles are kept in bare inner rooms within the priests home. It is forbidden for anyone to enter the room, save for the priest during rituals. The priests never hold public ceremonies but are a constant presence during the preliminary rites before a public ceremony begins (Benedict, 70).
The heads of the major priesthood’s, with the chief priest of the sun cult, and the two chief priests of the war cult, make up the ruling body, the council of the Zuni. They make appointments for ceremonies, initiate the events of the Zuni calendar and pass judgements on sorcery but as far as our understanding of government goes, they have neither jurisdiction or authority (Benedict, 71).
The cult of the masked gods is the most popular in the Zuni affection for they are the chiefs of the supernatural world. Their popularity is due to their direct involvement with the people by adorning masks resembling their gods and commencing ceremonial rites (Benedict, 71).
The third division of the Zuni ceremonial structure is that of the medicine societies. The medicine societies are the keepers of the great esoteric narratives, which is memorized piece by piece. They are the fire walking, sword swallowing men of medicine resigned to the position of tribal doctors. They perform ceremonies geared towards mass healing of the entire Zuni population (Benedict, 72).
The Zuni war, hunting, and clowning societies are grouped with the medicine societies. The war cult, like all parts of the Zuni council, is made up of men. They are responsible for protecting the people and act as a policing force in the village. The hunter and clowning cults have obvious differences but they too are grouped in with the medicine society (Benedict, 106).
Religion is typical of most of the southwestern tribes. Basic beliefs are in animism, Force, Life, and Form. As every living thing they observe, every animal, has form, and acts or functions accordingly to its form; animals with feathers fly, creatures with fins swim. Form is at the highest in regards to adorning clothing, pots, shields, and ornaments. All Force is necessarily derived from life since the Zuni see force as motion. Winds that arise from the four cardinal directions they believe are caused unseen, but living entities breathing. Conversely, this breath is what they believe is life.
Occurrences is nature are anthropormorphosized by association with animals. Serpents are considered beings that are closer to the sky gods because of their zigzagging movement resembles that of lightening. Man is closer in kin with the serpent than with the gods. Thus, observing common similarities all throughout nature, the Zuni strictly believe that man is related to all living things.
Though these two cultures are both geographically and historically differing, they do have a few similarities, or correlation’s between their cultures. The Hutterites are an agricultural society, and the Zuni maintained a horticultural lifestyle; at least until they were forced into sheep herding by the United States government. However, I will focus upon their similarities before this tragic cultural genocide.
Both of these cultures have historically as well as contemporarily held a stoical view to their surroundings, holding a somewhat deterministic mindset to their meaning. The Zuni’s view that the world is part of an integrated and complex system differs from that of the Hutterites, however these separate views both hold that man is in the service, gratitude, and separation (through the fall of grace) from God. They both see that the fundamental human condition is one of suffering. Yet, these similar views of mankind differ in their origination. The Hutterites use tradition through the bible for their support of worldview, and the Zuni support theirs through observations of their environment (a very harsh climate at sometimes).
Another likeness of the two cultures is their Apollonian approach to everyday life. Extreme ornamentation is all but extinct in the Hutterites and the Zuni hold a very modest outset in life and keep that which is for worship and special occasion for show. Their modest dress and manner both come from their relatively hard life conditions. The Zuni of course do not use heavy equipment which to some degree would hold their lifestyle a higher degree of difficulty, but they are a horticultural peoples, so this type of comparison is not accurate and culturally egotistical.
Among their other similarities is how they both view and practice their religion. Those of any religious stature are given a high measure of respect and a high level of influence. Neither the Hutterites nor the Zuni give any direct power to these individuals; it is accepted that their positions hold a sense of worth and a certain degree of importance, thus giving them an influential role in decision making. This is important in both cultures for social cohesion and control. Along with this similar view of religious figures, their worship has an uncanny resemblance to one another. The Hutterites sing in prayer with the preacher leading the ceremony. Though dancing is not a part of church service, this is like that of the Zuni. The Zuni use dance, but more importantly they hold the celebration of worship as of equal level of importance and festivity. Unlike some western services, both the Zuni and Hutterites keep service uplifting; despite their obvious visually detectable differences their religion holds an integral and important part of their lives.
Though most differences are obvious between these two cultures to the naked eye, there are some deeper differences that are culturally relative to social life. The differences I will focus upon are neither their dress nor their fundamental views of nature. The differences I should like to point out are their social and interpersonal relations; these are what make cultures so different and wide ranged.
The major difference between these two cultures is in their heredity of belongings and view of women and men in their society. The Zuni are matriarchal, where in all possessions personal and communal are held by the women, save that of the medicine men. The women can at any moment force a man to leave her so that she may find another husband. The Hutterites are diametrically opposed to such a notion. They are very traditionally patriarchal. Where in the man holds rights and control to heredity, personal and communal property. The Hutterites hold women as inferior and the sole reason for our departure from God’s grace. The Zuni believe that women are the makers of life and their position is that of integration with men rather than subservience. This keeps a balance between the sexes and a sort of informal control of the society.
Benedict, Ruth. Patterns of Culture. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, Ma. 1934.
Cushing, Frank. Zuni, Selected Writings. University of Nebraska Press. Lincoln,
Hostetler, John. The Hutterites in North America. Holt, Rinehart and Wilson, Inc. U.S.
Library of Congress. 1967.
Tedlock, Barbara. The Beautiful and the Dangerous. Viking Penguin. New York, New