Frozen in Time: The Amish

Vijaya Pratap gives a glimpse into life of Amish, a community that continues to lead an isolated life, in Pennsylvania

Published: 04th September 2015 05:16 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th September 2015 05:16 AM   |  A+A-

Living in isolation from the civilised world, even in the 21 st century, they shun machines and gadgets and still use horse carriages for transportation. They are the Amish – a Christian religious group known for their simple living, plain clothing, and rural lifestyle. You will find them riding a horse and buggy, right next to a swanky car.

F.jpgThe history of the Amish church began with a schism in Switzerland within a group of Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists in 1693 led by Jakob Ammann. Those who followed Ammann became known as Amish. They immigrated to North America in the early 1700s, first settling in Pennsylvania. There are now over 2,50,000 Amish living in the US.

I was always fascinated about the community. So I went to Pennsylvania with a friend. As we neared their area we could see Amish men driving their horse drawn buggies, dressed in their black coats and long hats. I found it romantic to be transported thus to a bygone era. I wanted to take a ride, but they are not a friendly lot. Theirs is a closed society and they keep to themselves. 

All aspects of Amish life are dictated by a list of written or oral rules, known as “Ordnung”. It stresses the virtues of humility, obedience, and simplicity. They are strongly opposed to violence. Those who do not follow the rules are shunned or excommunicated.

We went around the town with our guide who was a former Amish, and left the community after the age of 18 and joined the mainstream.

As we went close to a field, two Amish men were harvesting maize with the help of horse drawn tractors. The Amish do not have their picture taken because they believe that photographs are “graven images”. My guide asked me to be very cautious and I clicked some pictures surreptitiously, which gave me a thrill!

Amish tradition believes that women should grow their hair long and men should not shave their beards after marriage. Young men are clean shaven prior to marriage. Mustaches are forbidden.

Amish women typically wear solid-color dresses with long sleeves and a full skirt, covered with a cape and an apron. They never cut their hair, and wear it in a braid or bun on the back of the head concealed with a small white cap or black bonnet. Clothing is fastened with straight pins or snaps, stockings are black cotton and shoes are also black.

Women are not permitted to wear patterned clothing or jewellery. The Ordnung of the specific Amish order may dictate matters of dress as explicit as the length of a skirt or the width of a seam. The Amish, like all Anabaptists, believe in adult baptism. When children turn 16, they are encouraged to experiment and explore. For this limited time period, called “Rumspringa”, they are allowed to break the tenets of the Amish community like going to the local movie theatre or driving lessons. After this stage they have the choice to either come back to the community or go out of it.

Their children don’t go to regular schools. They operate one-room parochial schools were teachers with an eighth-grade education teach. Although Amish families stop sending their children to school after eighth grade, the society itself acts as a vocational school. Children learn how to be farmers, homemakers, carpenters, and tradesmen.

We went to one of their shops, tasted their ginger ale and bought some souvenirs.  Later we clicked pictures in an Amish pumpkin farm amidst hundreds of pumpkins harvested and ready to be transported.

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