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Hutterite Divers Help When Tragedy Strikes


When 17-year old Travis Bauman disappeared in turbulent waters below a diversion dam in southern Manitoba two weeks ago, it took a team of divers from a Hutterite colony to find his body. The tragedy occurred on July13th and for two days afterwards, divers from the Canadian national police force, the RCMP, searched for the boy. When they gave up on Friday the 15th, the Bauman family contacted a team of divers from a Manitoba Hutterite colony. In a couple hours, they succeeded.

Welcome sign, city of Winkler, Manitoba

Welcome sign, city of Winkler, Manitoba (Photo by Community News Commons on their website, Creative Commons license)

The tragedy occurred just outside the small city of Winkler, about 60 miles southwest of Winnipeg. The successful team of experienced divers came from the Oak Bluff Hutterite Colony, which is about 40 miles south of the provincial capital. The CBC featured the story of the unusual group of Hutterites on Tuesday last week.

The group was founded by Manuel Maendel, a life-long member of the Oak Bluff colony. He said he grew up dreaming of becoming a scuba diver. Then in 1998, when he was 20, he watched a team of divers search the water of a gravel pit on the colony after a cousin of his disappeared. The members of the colony had already searched everywhere else. Some years after that, he translated his dream into a real activity.

He got training as a diver, earned an advanced diving certificate, and started promoting his hobby to others in the colony. He recruited Paul Maendel, his brother, and five others; the seven men formed a group called the Hutterian Emergency Aquatic Response Team, or HEART. In addition to the seven trained divers, the group from Oak Bluff includes three other people who provide assistance from the shore.

A Hutterite colony in Manitoba

A Hutterite colony in Manitoba (Photo by Stefan Kuhn on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

In July 2012 they were involved in the search for a missing girl from Poplar Point, another Hutterite colony in Manitoba. A different search team found her body in the Assiniboine River. The HEART team only participates in searches for people who are presumed to have drowned if requested by their families. They were involved in their third search near Winkler two weeks ago when, for the first time, they happened to find the body of the missing person.

Paul Maendel was one of the two team members who recovered the body. “When somebody has been in the water for a couple of days, you know there’s not going to be a happy ending. But there is a peaceful ending,” he told the CBC. But he felt that finding the boy’s body helped the family close the tragedy. “It brings a resolution,” he said. “It is a lot better than knowing that somebody is missing.” He too felt helpless at the tragedy at their own colony 18 years ago when their cousin drowned.

The Hutterite diving team is quite careful to not exceed their capabilities, and they always try to stay safe. They emphasized to the reporter that they do not want to be seen as heroes. They explained that they are infused with a sense of the importance of helping others with the skills that they have acquired. The Oak Bluff colony does provide some financial support for equipment and training for the diving team.

A choir of Schmiedeleut Hutterites singing

A choir of Schmiedeleut Hutterites singing (Photo by Stefan Kuhn on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

And the team views their efforts from the perspective of their faith, a salient characteristic of Hutterites in general. “I believe that we were able to recover that person because of the prayers of the family and the colony that was there,” Paul Maendel told the CBC reporter. “They were singing on shore. It really inspired us to keep going.”

A report about the Oak Bluff team published by a local news service in southern Manitoba on Wednesday last week added further details to the story. When the team was asked to participate in the search on Friday, they quickly agreed to try and help. By the time they arrived at the scene near Winkler Friday evening, they were not even aware that the RCMP had ceased searching for the boy. They just offered their assistance.

Sign for the Oak Bluff Colony

Sign for the Oak Bluff Colony (Photo by Stefan Kuhn on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

They got into their scuba diving suits and for 90 minutes they worked up toward the dam, following a prescribed search pattern. They didn’t find anything and decided, as they got nearer, that the water conditions were too dangerous to proceed any closer. So they turned around and started searching back down the canal, using a formation like a comb. They had no visibility, but one of the team members found the body. It was a relief to everyone—the search was over.

The devotion of the people living in the Oak Bluff colony is comparable to that of other Hutterites. Manuel Maendel explained his feelings in terms similar to the ones his brother had used. He noted how the community was there on shore supporting them with their prayers. He said that the team appreciated those prayers. “We feel that God led us to be successful in locating Travis,” he said.

He also said that the team was praying as they were searching. They feel close to God when they are in the water. He added that he is amazed at the sense of peace that overwhelms the team when they are under water trying to help in a search.

Scuba diving lesson in Monterey Bay, California

Scuba diving lesson in Monterey Bay, California (Photo by Intothewoods29 in Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

But he clearly recognizes that the team could use support beyond the resources of the Oak Bluff colony. HEART has a practical streak. The group has set up a GoFundMe crowdfunding page for those who might like to assist them in purchasing additional, newer equipment and in getting more training. Paul Maendel explains on the GoFundMe page the specific kinds of better equipment that would be helpful, the training they need, and how it will help their work.


Medicinal Plants of the Yanadi [journal article review]


Recent research on medicinal plant preparations and their uses by a Yanadi community in southeastern India provides insights into their traditions and the efforts to preserve them.

Yanadi healer pointing out medicinal plants in Andhra Pradesh

Yanadi healer pointing out medicinal plants in Andhra Pradesh (photo by the International Institute for Environment and Development in Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Nataru Savithramma and four colleagues published an article a few months ago that describes the medicinal plants used by Yanadi healers in Chandragiri and Gopolapuram, villages in the Chandragiri Forest of southeastern India. The two villages are in the Chandragiri Mandal, Chittoor District, of Andhra Pradesh.

Savithramma et al. worked with four traditional healers in the Chandragiri Forest, which is in the Seshachalam hill region of the Eastern Ghats, from July 2014 through February 2015. The oldest healer, named Muniah, was 60, and the youngest, Rajendra, was 40. The authors interviewed and discussed their herbal cures in the local Yanadi dialect and they used detailed questionnaires to elicit information. The two villages have 70 families with 190 people, including 55 men, 69 women  and 66 children.

Yanadi huts in Andhra Padesh

Yanadi huts in Andhra Padesh (photo by the International Institute for Environment and Development in Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The 70 families live in thatched huts, thatched houses, and roofed houses. They subsist on wage labor earned in surrounding villages plus agricultural work. They depend on the skills of their healers to help cure their ailments.

The authors found that the healers in the two villages use 48 different medicinal plants belonging to 26 plant families to treat 53 types of human ailments. The herbalists prepare their medicines as juices and pastes, or store them as capsules, seeds, powders, bulbs, or decoctions. The largest plant family represented in their results was the Asclepiadaceae family with five species used, followed by the Euphorbiaceae with four species.

The herbalists use parts from shrubs, climbers, trees, herbs, and from one liana. Many medicines are prepared from leaves of the plants, though some are also prepared from roots, tubers, flowers, bark, and fruit. The majority of medicines, 58 percent, are used orally, and most of the rest, 40 percent, are applied topically with only 2 percent inhaled.

The fruit of the Decalepis hamiltonii; the root of the plant is used for medicinal purposes

The fruit of the Decalepis hamiltonii; the root of the plant is used for medicinal purposes (photo by Flora of the Nilgiris and uploaded by Vinayaraj in Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

Table 1 in the article lists, for each of the 48 plant species, the scientific and the vernacular names, the family, the plant grouping (e.g., climber, shrub, herb, tree), and the part of the plant used by the healers. It describes the mode of preparation for the medicine and the ways the medication is administered. Most interesting of all, it provides full details on the uses of the medication.

For instance, looking at the five species listed in the Asclepiadaceae family (Asclepius was the Greek god of medicine), now usually called the Apocynaceae family, several of the individual species could be mentioned. The roots and tubers from the Decalepis hamiltonii, a liana, are ground into a powder and consumed orally. One or two spoons of the powder are taken three times per day for up to seven days. This medicine improves muscle contractions, delays aging, and is used for scorpion stings and snake bites.

The roots and tubers from Hemidesmus indicus, another plant from the Asclepiadaceae, are taken orally in powder form. The detailed instructions are for one to two spoons daily, taken with a glass of water for up to one to two months. It acts as a cooling agent, helps control sweating, and it acts to stimulate energy.

The Wattakaka volubilis is a climber, from which the leaves are used as a medicinal paste

The Wattakaka volubilis is a climber, from which the leaves are used as a medicinal paste (photo by Vinayaraj in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

A third example from the Asclepiadaceae is the Wattakaka volubilis. This is a climber from which the leaves are used in paste form as a topical medicine. The medicine is prepared from 100 grams of leaves that are mixed with 10 g. of camphor, and 5 g. of turmeric. The ingredients are ground into a paste, which is rubbed three times per day on the body for up to one week in order to reduce pains from rheumatism.

The authors point out that the Yanadi use plants from the Asclepiadaceae family in large part because they are widely available in the region—and their medicinal uses are known. A study of the medicinal plant uses by the Yanadi in another district also showed that plants from that family were widely used.

The authors found that the Yanadi healers used hot water a lot for administering their remedies because it is easy to take orally and it is an effective way to help prevent contamination. Milk is also used for the oral intake of medicines, in part because it is easily available and because it helps strengthen the patient. The healers prescribe sweeteners to go along with the medications in order to dilute their bitterness and to induce patients to take them.

Some spices, such as turmeric powder, enhance the effectiveness of some of the drugs as well as act as antimicrobial agents. Some of the healers prescribe lubricants, such as castor oil and honey, to help their patients take the oral medications.

Skilled healers can combine Curcuma aromatica (left) and Piper longum (right) to make effective medicines

Skilled healers can combine Curcuma aromatica (left) and Piper longum (right) to make effective medicines (photo on left by goldentakin in Wikipedia, CC license,; photo on right unattributed in Wikipedia with a CC license,

The authors point out that some Yanadi healers used to prepare not only the products of individual plants but also admixtures of several plants as medicines. They give as an example the combination of Curcuma aromatic with Piper longum, which was recorded for a related society, the Chenchu, in another district of southeastern India. Those two plants were not recorded in this study of the Chandragiri Forest, and the advanced skill of combining different plants for more sophisticated medicines appeared to be quite rare in the study area.

This kind of advanced appreciation for admixtures is probably dying out as the knowledge of herbal medicines, transmitted from generation to generation, is being lost. Healers used to pass along their knowledge to their eldest sons but the younger people are no longer interested in learning about traditional healing. Young people are too impatient with the healing arts and want immediate relief from their illnesses. The authors predict that the healing knowledge of this group of Yanadi will soon fade away.

Nonetheless, the authors note hopefully that there is a lot of value for the Yanadi in the Chandragiri Forest in using the traditional medicines made from local plants and they are still reasonably knowledgeable about the subject.

Savithramma, Nataru, Pulicherla Yugandhar, Koya Siva Prasad, Sade Ankanna, Kummara Madhava Chetty. 2016. “Ethnomedicinal Studies on Plants Used by Yanadi Tribe of Chandragiri Reserve Forest Area, Chittoor District, Andhra Pradesh, India.” Journal of Intercultural Ethnopharmacology 5(1): 49-56


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