Friesland Colony (San Pedro Department, Paraguay)
Friesland Colony was founded in 1937 by dissatisfied settlers from the Fernheim Colony in the Paraguayan Chaco, when 144 families with 748 men, women, and children left the Chaco, thinking to improve their economic lot, a hope which was not realized.
Friesland is located on the east bank of the Paraguay River, approximately 70 miles (115 km) northeast of Asunción, from where it was reached by river boat and horse- or ox-drawn carriages or by use of small planes, since they maintained a good though small air strip. In 1955 it contained 19,250 acres of land, of which 38 per cent consisted of dense forests, 7 per cent of "high-camp" fit for cultivation, 38 per cent of "low-camp" good for grazing, and 7 per cent swampland on which some rice was grown. The average annual rainfall was 60 inches, compared to 28-30 inches in the Chaco. Cleared forest land was preferred for farming and yielded as a rule two crops annually.
Having the same privileges granted by the Paraguayan government to the Chaco colonies, Friesland enjoyed complete freedom from military service, had its own schools, and virtually governed itself by a system of one delegate representing every ten citizens of each village under a village mayor, who in turn was responsible to the colony mayor (Oberschulze). In 1953 there were nine villages with 202 families, or 1,046 souls.
The dwellings were made of adobe, the Zentralschule and the two churches of burned brick, all three buildings having been built with funds coming from friends in North America. The building housing the Cooperativa Agricola, which took care of the colony's trade, imports, and exports, is of wood construction.
The first group of immigrants coming from Europe after World War II were temporarily housed in Friesland in 1947 because the revolution in Paraguay made transportation to the Chaco impossible. Mennonite Central Committee began to take an interest in Friesland and assisted the colony in a number of ways, such as building and developing a lumber industry, and building roads and the hospital. The latter, built in 1949, had by September 1953 admitted 2,560 patients, 1,037 of whom required surgery; the rest were for the most part maternity cases. An additional 3,300 patients had been cared for with ailments ranging from smaller infections to snake bites and the very prevalent discomforts caused by various types of tropical worms. Only about 20 per cent of the patients came from the colony itself; the other 80 per cent were native Paraguayans. In 1938 two schools were built. In 1955 there were five schools with a Zentralschule in the central village for those who successfully complete the six-year course offered by the five village schools.
Denominationally Friesland's people were divided between the Mennonite Brethren with 224 members and the General Conference Mennonites with 220 members in 1953. Problems common to both groups were referred to the KfK (Commission for Church Matters).
Friesland was largely an agricultural colony in the 1950s. Seven acres of forest land and five of "high-camp" made up a farmstead (Wirtschaft). The average yield on cleared forest land was as follows: maize and kafir corn 7-10 tons per acre, manioc, if harvested the first year after planting, 50 tons, and cotton 3 1/2-5 tons per acre. The livestock industry, as in the rest of Paraguay, was probably the most profitable, but for lack of grazing land could expand in Friesland. There were in 1953 about 4,600 head of cattle, 600 horses, 480 hogs, and about 6,000 fowl. Fruit growing was also successful. The 1953 census showed 5,000 citrus fruit trees (oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, and tangerines), 4,000 mango, papayo, and peach trees, 4,000 banana plants, and 1,150 grapevines.
The development of Friesland, like that of the other Mennonite colonies in Paraguay, was made possible only through the generous assistance from North America. In spite of this the standard of living, as in the rest of Paraguay, was extremely low. Educational and cultural facilities were hardly offered in Paraguay in the 1950s. For those reasons there was a constant emigration to Brazil, the Argentine, and if at all possible to Canada. The men responsible for the welfare of the colony were of the opinion that if the colony was to succeed friends in North America must assist it in stabilizing its economy. This could perhaps be done by building and developing sugar mills to utilize the best-yielding product of the colony, and then to assist the colony in marketing as well as in imports.
Friesland Colony was the first Mennonite settlement in east Paraguay, established in 1937 by 144 families with a church membership of 748. The settlers had left the Fernheim Colony in the Chaco because they saw no economic future in the Chaco, the climate was too inhospitable for them (particularly the intense summer heat and severe sandstorms), the original villages had been located too closely together and more land was needed, and because of their opposition to the monopoly exercised by the producer-consumer cooperative which regulated all commerce and prevented private enterprise.
In June 1937, 6,911 hectares (17,000 acres) were purchased from Wilhelm and Arthur Strauch in Montevideo at 10 Argentinian pesos per hectare, payable in seven years. This land is located ca. 50 km. (31 mi.) east of Puerto Rosario and 100 km. (62 mi.) by air northeast of Asunción. By September 1937 nine villages had been established with a total of 146 farms. The colony was named Friesland in memory of the 16th-century Frisian heritage of the settlers.
The pioneer years were very difficult, particularly because no cash products and market could be developed. Consequently, many settlers emigrated to Brazil, Canada, and Germany during the 1950s. In 1987 the inhabitants of the colony numbered 725. One of the early villages, Grünau number 4, has been completely eliminated, and another one, Grünau number 10 had only one family remaining. The colony has been able to acquire additional land: 755 hectares (1,864 acres) in 1946, 133 hectares (328 acres) in 1952, and 10,175 hectares (25,132 acres) in 1961 (the former Hutterite colony Primavera). Additional lands were acquired in 1984 and 1985, leading to a total acreage of 24,000 hectares (59,280 acres) in 1987.
Schools have been centralized with education possible through the ninth grade. A relatively well-equipped 24-bed hospital is in operation. Two congregations are active, the Mennonite Church (Kirchen-Gemeinden) and the Mennonite Brethren Church. In 1987 generators provided electricity in all the villages, but it was anticipated that the national electrification program would reach the colony in the near future.
Friesland Colony has the reputation of having introduced wheat to Paraguay. The process began with 30 hectares (74 acres) planted in 1959. These efforts soon received governmental support, with the colony being named the national center for wheat production, including providing seed grains to others. Since 1987 Paraguay no longer found it necessary to import wheat flour and credited Friesland Colony with having made a significant contribution to this achievement. Two crops were harvested annually, wheat in winter and soybeans in summer. Considerable emphasis was placed on ranching and livestock, with ca. 28,000 head in the colony in 1987.
On 27 November 1987, the colony celebrated its 50th anniversary, at which time the Paraguayan minister of agriculture, Hernando Bertoni, duly acknowledged the significant contribution of the colony. -- Gerhard Ratzlaff
Fretz, J. Winfield. Pilgrims in Paraguay. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1953.
Penner, Beate. Gemeinsam Unterwegs: 75 Jahre Kolonie Friesland 1937-2012. San Pedro, Paraguay: Verwaltung der Kolonie Friesland, 2012.
Ratzlaff, Gerhard, ed. Auf den Spuren der Väter. Filadelfia, Paraguay, 1987.
Ratzlaff, Gerhard. Deutsches Jahrbuch für Paraguay. 1988.
Colony Website: Friesland Colony
Friesland Colony Oberschulzen
|Abram P. Fast
|Alfred Fast, Sr.
|Hans Theodor Regier
|Alfred Fast, Jr.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 410-411; vol. 5, p. 313. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Fast, Alfred and Gerhard Ratzlaff. "Friesland Colony (San Pedro Department, Paraguay) ." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. December 2012. Web. 23 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/F757.html.
APA style: Fast, Alfred and Gerhard Ratzlaff. (December 2012). Friesland Colony (San Pedro Department, Paraguay) . Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 23 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/F757.html.