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Last Updated: Monday, 2 October 2006, 19:34 GMT 20:34 UK
Who are the Amish?
An Amish farmer and two young boy bring in dried hay at a farm in Ohio, US
Some 200,000 Amish people live in more than 20 US states
On the surface, many Amish look like they stepped out of the rural 19th Century.

The most conservative, Old Order groups of these reclusive, religious people drive horses and buggies rather than cars. Many have no telephones or electricity in their homes.

They send their children to private, one-room schoolhouses until the age of 13.

They eschew technology and preach isolation from the modern world. They do not join the military or accept assistance from the government.

The Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania was a model for the 1985 film Witness starring Harrison Ford, a thriller which contrasted the violent modern world with their peaceful existence.

The Amish experience many of the same problems as other communities, but keep them private.

Strict regulations

Some 200,000 Amish people live in more than 20 US states and in the Canadian province of Ontario.

FACTS ABOUT THE AMISH
Anabaptist Christian denomination
Communities in the US and Canada
Many communities reject links to outside world
Most Amish shun modern technology including electricity and cars
Plain clothing - no buttons allowed in some communities
Speak English and a German dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch

The oldest group of Old Order Amish, about 16,000-18,000 people, live in Lancaster County, a rural, farming area where Amish first settled in the 1720s - many fleeing religious persecution in Europe.

The Amish are divided into dozens of separate fellowships, broken down into districts or congregations. Each district is fully independent and lives by its own set of unwritten rules, or Ordnung.

The Old Order are the most conservative of these groups, and observe strict regulations on dress, behaviour, and the use of technology, which they believe encourages humility and separation from the world.

An Amish boy rides a pony in Ohio, USA
Men and boys wear straw broad-brimmed hats
Old Order Amish women wear modest dresses with long sleeves and a full skirt, a cape and an apron. They never cut their hair, but wear it in a bun on the back of the head.

Men and boys wear dark-coloured suits, straight-cut coats and black or straw broad-brimmed hats. They grow beards only after they marry.

Modern technology is not rejected out of hand. Some farms have telephones and local groups can allow electricity to be used in certain circumstances.

Most Amish are trilingual. They speak a dialect of German called Pennsylvania Dutch at home, use High German at their worship services, and they learn English at school.

In some ways, the Amish are feeling the pressures of the modern world. Commentators say child labour laws, for example, are threatening long-established ways of life.

While many Amish own firearms, used to hunt and kill wild animals, their communities have until now been largely free of violent gun crime.


SEE ALSO
Timeline: US school shootings
28 Sep 06 |  Americas
In pictures: Amish school shooting
02 Oct 06 |  In Pictures
Gunman hunt in Las Vegas schools
02 Oct 06 |  Americas



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