Habans originated in Switzerland, but under the threat of persecution moved from their home country and in 1526 settled in the area of Mikulov in todays’ Czech Republic. Their leader was a doctor of theology and a former pastor at Waldshut in Bavaria, Balthasar Hubmaier. From there, as being persecuted later, they moved further south, to Slovakia. It was the year 1588. Their courts are today found in Velke Leváre, about 45 km north of Bratislava. The village was then called Neuhof (New Court).
Apparently, recent research shows that the word Habans (Slovak habáni, Hungarian habánerek, habánusok, Russian Chabani, English Habans and also French les Habans) is derived from the Hebrew ha – Banim, which indicates the true children of God.
They appeared for the first time in 1524 in Switzerland as a distinctive religious and also social movement – as a branch of Protestantism. Their founders expressed their dissatisfaction by claiming that the Reformation, resulted in a loosening in the matters of faith and the church, but no social liberation from material oppression of feudalism.
Their “court” it is not a term for a house, but rather a designation for a small settlement, which themselves have built and lived in it as one community politically and economically independent of the local population. They addressed each other as brothers and sisters and their settlements were called fraternal courts.
Habans were trying to live according to the principles of primitive Christianity. Their communities had common ownership (no private property), so the functioning of the entire community involved all, each according to their capabilities. They were following the written principles collected in their “Ordnung.”
Family as a part of community
Young man married as soon as the village leadership would announce they are ready. The leadership would choose for a young man three single girls and then they would have to choose a bride. After the wedding, a family did not operate as a separate entity, but as a part of a larger community. All would continue to work and carry out with what they were doing. Men most often did trade or farm work in which they were skilled while some were in administration of Justice. Women were in charge of cooking, teaching, manufacturing clothes, and even some would be working outside of the community as wet-nurses and mid-wives.
Hutterite courts were spacious and large, built to suit a shared community life. On the ground floor are common areas: workshops, classrooms, prayer rooms. Food was prepared in a communal kitchen and shared in a common dining room four times a day. Under the roof in the attic there were little rooms, designed especially for married couples, while other rooms, on a middle floor were reserved as a bedroom for child, youth or journeymen. In 1595 they had 16 courts in addition to fields, gardens, plants and vineyards. The record says that they had 700 sheep, 100 goats, 60 milk cows and 100 oxen. In their workshops they manufactured knives, ceramics, they also had a brewery and a large bathroom. Soon enough, in 1601, the village was recognized as a center for manufacturing knives and drinking jars, so they were asked to pay higher fees to the landlords.
The children stayed with their mothers only as long as they were nursed until about two years. They would then be included in the Community. The children were cared by educators in a “small school,” and as 5-6 years old they would enter the “big school,” where they learned to write, read and count. In schools the kids studied not only the doctrine, but the teachers took care of the health and hygiene of children. If a child would be found ill with a disease it would be isolated from other kids. All children were in a need of comfortable shoes and clean clothes.
Children did not go to school only during the day but spent with educators their free time and slept in common small dormitories. At the end of education each child would have a trade in hands and go on working in a field that they liked. The Habans’ educational system was quite unconventional and modern, even to some of today’s criteria.
During the times of re-Catholization of Slovakia in the 18th century (especially during the reign of the Empress Maria Theresa who ruled from 1740-1780) they were forced to give up their religion. Those who remained in Slovakia, 170 of them, converted to Catholicism. Over the centuries assimilation occurred so the German speaking and Slovak speaking village joined together as a one community in 1880. By the beginning of XX century most of the distinctive was lost.
Those who did not want to convert had to leave to Russia and some also to Transylvania and further to America. Quite a story on these special Anabaptists from Switzerland who lived in Slovakia peacefully for more than two centuries.
- Michaela Vargova: Habani, rodina a vychova deti from (www.rodinka.sk);
- Milan Hromnik: Habani a habanski dvor (www.velkelevare.sk);
- Ondrej Poss: Die Habaner in der Slowakei (Karpatenblatt, 11 Nov 2000);