Daughter of the Spirit Wrestlers — A Story About Doukhobor Settlers©by Faye Reineberg Holt
This photo inspired the story Daughter of the Spirit Wrestlers.
In 1903, Saskatchewan Doubhobor women pull the plough.
Saskatchewan Archive Board S-B 4260.
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Daughter of the Spirit Wrestlers — A Story About Doukhobor Settlers© (an excerpt) by Faye Reineberg Holt
"I will not do animal work," Dunia said.
Marya's eyes widened in surprise. Her sister, Dunia, had never before
spoken in anger to their mother.
"Listen to the voice inside you," Mother whispered. "Then
you will do what is right."
"I work hard, Mother. I scrub clothes and help with meals.
Didn't I cut and fit sod for our house? But I will not pull the
plough!" Dunia spoke in the Russian of their mother tongue.
She untied her kerchief and then tied it more tightly under her
chin. Her round face glowed in the early morning candle light. Her
ankle length black dress and brown apron were spotless and unwrinkled
compared to the dresses of their mother and aunts.
Dunia was fifteen, already an age to marry, and six years older
Still, Marya could hardly believe her ears.
Her aunts listened silently, busying themselves washing the morning's
porridge bowls and wiping crumbs from the newly made wooden table.
Last night, Grandfather had pounded the last leg to the table. His
gnarled hands made small circular motions with the precious sanding
paper across the table top and down the legs. Everyone had felt
so proud as he stood back from his work, his eyes bright and smiling.
He set the loaf of bread, cellar of salt and jug of water at the
table's centre and then he began the songs, as if setting food and
water on the table had guaranteed a tomorrow for the colony.
The songs had made Marya feel warm and secure and she had snuggled
close to Dunia who stood rocking their baby brother in her arms.
After the long ocean trip, and the train rumblings, and the days
in the huge waiting halls, and walking along the corduroy trails
that were the prairie roads, their lives as Doukhobors in the new
land had really begun.
This morning the room was filled with tension instead of joy, and
Marya wished there was not the terrible calm from her mother and
the angry strength in her sister. As she waited for their words
and the changing moods to be mirrored from their eyes and faces,
Marya stretched her arms across the clay oven that had been built
as a mound against the sod wall of their home.
Under the skimpy blankets, she had felt chilled in the night, and
a little quiver ran down her spine as her body began to soak in
"We work or we die," Mother said coldly to Dunia. "
But you should do it gladly. Work is not only a duty. It is an honour."
"I'll work, Mother, at some other job." Tears were in
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