Bolivian Mennonites

Modern ghosts of a horse-drawn scandal, Part 4

If Manitoba Colony members are accused of a crime, they are brought before the congregation at church and judged. For serious offenses like incest, they may be excommunicated, but if they ask for forgiveness, they can return a week later. (Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky (noahfr.com))

Mennonite families watch the rape trial in May 2011. After discovering the rapes, Manitoba Colony leaders considered locking the accused in shipping containers for years but eventually called in the Bolivian police. (Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky (noahfr.com))

Eight men went to prison, the media gaze moved on, and colony life resumed. But the saga of mass rape in the Bolivian corner of our family of faith is far from over.

Online extras: Modern ghosts of a horse-drawn scandal, Part 4

Mennonite families watch the rape trial in May 2011. After discovering the rapes, Manitoba Colony leaders considered locking the accused in shipping containers for years but eventually called in the Bolivia police. (Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky noahfr.com)

Eight men went to prison, the media gaze moved on, and colony life resumed. But the saga of mass rape in the Bolivian corner of the Mennonite family of faith is far from over. 

Modern ghosts of a horse-drawn scandal, Part 3

Mennonite children learn patriarchy from a young age. Gender roles are strictly defined: men work the fields and women take care of the home. (Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky noahfr.com)

Wilmar Harder of Mennonite Central Committee speaks with Johan N. Peter of the California Colony in Bolivia. (Photo by Kennert Giesbrecht)

Eight men went to prison, the media gaze moved on, and colony life resumed. But the saga of mass rape in the Bolivian corner of our family of faith is far from over.

Modern ghosts of a horse-drawn scandal, Part 2

Abram Wall Enns, left, was the civic leader of the Manitoba Colony when rape stories first emerged. He wishes the leaders would have acted sooner. (Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky noahfr.com)

Kennert Giesbrecht is pictured with his new book, Strangers and Pilgrims. (Photo courtesy of Kennert Giesbrecht)

The Manitoba Colony in eastern Bolivia. (Photo by Kennert Giesbrecht)

Eight men went to prison, the media gaze moved on, and colony life resumed. But the saga of mass rape in the Bolivian corner of our family of faith is far from over.

Modern ghosts of a horse-drawn scandal, Part 1

The Manitoba Colony is one of more than 80 Mennonite colonies in Bolivia. On one of the photographer’s last days in Manitoba, he and his sister were told by multiple women that, after the ‘ghost rapes’ of 2009, the nighttime rapes still happen, although less frequently. (Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky)

The eight Bolivian Mennonites convicted in the ‘ghost rape’ case, pictured at the infamous Palmasola prison. (Photo by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky)

Eight men went to prison, the media gaze moved on and colony life resumed. But the saga of mass rape in the Bolivian corner of our family of faith is far from over.

The crime could not have been more salacious, nor the scandal more sensational. And the truth of it all could not trace a more complicated path right back to our own enlightened hearts.

Greetings from Bolivia

Lizette, co-director of MCC, was an excellent translator.  (Photo by Linda Shelly)

MCC volunteers and staff took part in a quarterly, two-day fellowship and planning retreat. They are a spirited group! (Photo by Cesar Flores)

We met repeatedly in groups of three to process and apply what we were learning. (Photo by Linda Shelly)

Bolivia, named after its first president, Bolivar, is about 4,500 miles south and one time zone east of Kitchener. It is a beautiful country with lots of tropical foliage, including 1,200 species of fern and 1,400 species of birds. This land-locked country is south of the equator, which means that we need to look north to see the sun. In the distance are 6,000 meter (21,000 feet) mountains that settle down into the Amazon Basin. Weather is warm, with a tropical downpour every day or two.

The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia

All photos by Noah Friedman-Rudovsky. Noah Friedman-Rudovsky also contributed reporting to this article.

For a while, the residents of Manitoba Colony thought demons were raping the town’s women. There was no other explanation. No way of explaining how a woman could wake up with blood and semen stains smeared across her sheets and no memory of the previous night. No way of explaining how another went to sleep clothed, only to wake up naked and covered by dirty fingerprints all over her body.

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