Doukhobors - Orientation

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Identification. Canadian Doukhobors, an ethnic-confessional group, originated in seventeenth-century Russia. Their distinctive belief is in the moral primacy of the Voice of God within the self; hence they are pacifists, refusing to take human life and thus extinguish the divine Voice. They first named themselves "Bozhi Ludi" (People of God), but Orthodox clergy labeled them "Dukhoborfsy" (Spirit Wrestlers) about 1785. They are presently divided into four related subsects: Community Doukhobors, Independents, Reformed, and Freedomites. They identify themselves by specific styles of worship and musical performance; by the ritual and social use of a Russian dialect; by vegetarian diet including "traditional" foods; by pacifist ideals; by at least the endorsement of communal ideals; and by the motto Trud i Mirnaia zhizn' "Toil and Peaceful Life."

Location. Doukhobors first settled near Yorkton in east-central Saskatchewan, shortly moved to the West Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia, and later set up Villages in the Pincher Creek region of southwestern Alberta. They have since expanded into the lower Fraser valley region and the Vancouver area; some live elsewhere. In the West Kootenay region, many Doukhobors dwell near their original communal villages, but elsewhere they choose their homes where they want. The only community institution still found everywhere is the Molenie Dom, "prayer home" or "Community hall."

Demography. The 6,747 Doukhobors who arrived in Canada, mostly in 1899, increased to about 25,000. About 9,000 live primarily in the Yorkton area. At least 10,000 live in the West Kootenay region, and another 4,000 or so in the lower Fraser valley and the Vancouver area. Perhaps 1,000 more live in other parts of Canada, particularly in the Pincher Creek region of southwestern Alberta, the prairie capitals, and Toronto. A few families also live in rural parts of Washington and Oregon in the United States, and a few have settled in San Francisco and Los Angeles since the 1910s, but maintain some contact with their British Columbia congeners. A few individuals and families have emigrated from Russia between the turn of the century and the 1950s. While the topic of a return to Russia has been discussed by Community Doukhobors since World War I, none has returned Permanently.

Linguistic Affiliation. Most Canadian Doukhobors are bilingual, speaking a moderately accented English as the business language and a fairly strong Russian dialect (including a number of Ukrainian and other loan words) in the Community. Doukhobor Psalms are in a more archaic dialect nearer in structure to Old Church Slavonic. Most people in their forties or younger are fluent in English and some young People speak little Russian. Although loan words occur Occasionally, their lexicon is too fluid to suggest permanency. Macaronic speech is not unusual in community contexts. The community expresses concern over the loss of Russian among their youth and supports local Russian-language programs in the school system. There is an ongoing debate regarding the religious importance of Russian, as most elders hold that the religion cannot be expressed in any other language.

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