Maya, Papaya, and Mennonite-Platt Dialect
Wiens, Peter. "Maya, Papaya, and Mennonite-Platt Dialect." Volk auf dem Weg, May, 2009, 37
This translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado
A Quite Recent Research Travel by the Platt-dietsche Friends Takes them to Mennonites in Belize
A Mayan Temple in Lamanai: here, very close to the Mennonite colony of Blue Creek, the Mayans in earlier times would offer sacrifices, including human ones, to their god. Natalie Wiens of California, part of a plautdietsche dialect travel troupe, is shown savoring the dangerous ascent and the beautiful view across the tropical rain forest.
As part of regular research travels, the Association for Friends of Plautdietsch (of Detmold) increasingly expand the extent of its international network, and members and others with interest, mostly German-Russian Mennonites, try to visit far-away countries where their mother tongue is spoken.
The rather exclusive dialect called Plautdietsch, a form of Lower German stemming from West Prussia, with an emigration story now 400 years old, that proceeded via South Russia to, among others, Canada and Mexico, is spoken even in the small Caribbean nation of Belize.
Smack in the middle of the rain forest and in direct proximity to the mystical Mayan ruins, the Mennonites established large agricultural ranges and meadowland acreage and by now are working this land with rice, milk production, meat industry, and other important food industries.
No wonder that these German-Russian Platt speakers keep looking for common lines of relationships, for their family names are the same here and elsewhere: Friesen, Wiebe, Klassen, Penner, Plett, Reimer, Wiens, Rempel, etc.
Being multi-lingual is second nature to friends of Plautdietsch. If their Plautdietsch language here and there contains Russian words or sentence fragments from Soviet Union times, correspondingly, English or Spanish vocabulary extensions will appear as well. In addition to their High German, which is still used in divine services, many Mennonites are also fluent in the Creole language of the indigenous people.
School for everyone -- while the Mennonite colonies conduct school mostly in the German language, in the "Missionary Schools for the Indigenous," established and supported by the Mennonites, English, the national language, is essential to the curriculum. Pictured here is a visitor from Germany (Maria Kolke) distributing sweets.
As desirable employers, the Mennonite (or plautdietsche) farmers increasingly find themselves in contact with their ethnically colorfully mixed neighborhood. The more progressive a Mennonite colony becomes, as in the example of the Blue Creek colony with its ca. 700 residents, the more the people assimilate themselves culturally and linguistically to their environment. The more conservative the lifestyle remains, as perhaps in the Shipyard colony with its 3,000 residents, the more everything strange and modern is excluded -- whereby the Plautdietsch language is preserved as a side effect.
"This time we were again able to conduct many interviews and make language recordings. Maria Lippert of the Bielefeld University assisted us in these endeavors," stated Peter Wiens, who had organized this research trip for Detmold area friends of Plautdietsch. "It is during this time, in February, that the weather in Belize is the most pleasant -- not so much rain and still not too hot," comments Wiens. For two weeks the 41-year-old and 40 other people traveled in Belize.
For more information and photos regarding this Plautdietsch research trip, visit the Internet at mienbelies.blogspot.com
Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.