Review - A look under the Hutterite bonnet

18th January 2013 at 00:00

Teacher Jacob is supervising breakfast, eaten in near-silence after collective prayers. Boys, dressed in black trousers and braces, sit on one side of the room. Girls, in loose-fitting pinafores and bonnets, sit on the other. "I just think it's better that they don't sit together," Jacob says, during How to Get to Heaven with the Hutterites, a one-off BBC Two documentary.

The documentary-makers spent four months filming in a Hutterite colony on the Canadian plains. The Hutterites are an Anabaptist sect who shut themselves off from the outside world. Under enormous skies, they farm crops, pigs and chickens. Acting on Jesus' imperative to love thy neighbour as thyself, they share property, work and income. "We share, for the good of everybody," says minister Zach Waldner. It is a bit like a kibbutz, but with bonnets.

Children attend the colony school but from the age of 10 they couple this with farm work. Whelan, 15, collects eggs in the chicken barn. "I don't like animals," he says.

This, Waldner says, is part of any young Hutterite's education. "The needs of the community come before individual desires," he says. Maybe it is actually like Buddhism, but with bonnets.

Men work the farm; male elders take decisions on behalf of the colony. Women, meanwhile, care for children and spend a lot of time scrubbing floors.

Anyone who wants to leave the colony, even for a doctor's appointment, has to ask the elders' permission. "We're a community, and everybody should know what the other person does," Waldner says. Hutterite life is in fact like East Berlin, but with bonnets.

The point of all this is to earn Hutterites a place in heaven. Whelan, however, has more earthly goals. "I often wish for an iPad," he says, wistfully. Then he returns to his chickens.

How to Get to Heaven with the Hutterites will be aired on BBC Two later this month.

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