Manitoba Colony

A reclusive Mennonite community in Bolivia known for its traditional ways and a dark chapter of sexual assault crimes.

Manitoba Colony is an ultraconservative Mennonite community located in the Santa Cruz Department of Bolivia. Established in 1991, this community traces its roots back to conservative Old Colony Mennonites who migrated from Mexico and Canada starting in the 1960s. The colony, named after a larger Mennonite settlement in Mexico which originally hailed from Manitoba, Canada, is home to approximately 2,000 people who live by a strict set of religious and cultural norms, including speaking Plautdietsch, dressing plainly, and abstaining from the use of electricity and automobiles​​.

The Mennonites of Manitoba Colony live a life marked by hard work, religious devotion, and a strict adherence to traditional values. They avoid modern conveniences and educate their children in High German, math, and religion, with clear gender roles defined within their community. Women and girls, in particular, are taught to perform domestic chores and are discouraged from engaging in work outside the home or learning Spanish, which is contrasted with the men who may learn the language for trade purposes​​.

However, the colony’s insular existence was shattered by a series of horrifying sexual assaults that occurred between 2005 and 2009. In a shocking breach of the community’s safety and trust, a group of men from within the colony sedated and raped 151 women and girls, including small children, at night in their homes using an animal anesthetic. The crimes were initially dismissed by the community as the work of the devil or demons, due to the mysterious nature of the attacks which left victims with no memory of the assaults​​​​.

The case gained international attention and was a major scandal for the Manitoba Colony. It led to the arrest and conviction of several men from the community, who were found guilty of these crimes and subsequently sentenced to prison. The aftermath of the events has left a permanent mark on the colony, challenging its residents to reconcile their peaceful, religious values with the brutal reality of the crimes committed within their midst​​.

Life in Manitoba Colony continues, with the community striving to maintain its traditions while recovering from the trauma of the past. The Mennonites there remain dedicated to their faith and way of life, emphasizing hard work, community, and religious observance, despite the challenges they have faced​​​​.

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