Jack Young

Daughters of Rebecca (2021)

After the 1843 Rebecca Riot in Pontarddulais, in which rural, cross-dressing labourers protested local toll booth taxes and ever-escalating rural poverty.

“And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them.” Genesis 24:60

We cross at the pont of the Dulais
coursing under stone bridge
stained black with the sediment of
industry, the sediment of progress.

We peasants march beneath our gibbous
moon, gibbering our deranged
ploy. Rebecca! Oh Rebecca! I feel her
within. Rebecca! Oh Rebecca! give me
thy strength. In flannel petticoats we
warp and weft our woollen
shawls around our necks as our
skirts go skittering across the heath. We
descend swift-as-the-wind,
we tricksters, we turpins,
down we descend,
down across the last edges of
open land.

We derange the hedgerows and the
lords and ladies, whose rapacious appetites
enclose all.
lords and ladies: rentiers,
rendered so, at the cost of our
common ground.

No bother, my daughters, for we are
becoming hare, becoming her. We
smeuse and smoot, we
cast our slippery spells,
oh sister, darting bewitched,
we approach the trees, catch
sight of enchanter’s nightshade, feel
their peppery sting upon our
lepus nostrils, nestled innocuously in the
bramble and thicket of
our oak-lush, babbling wood.

ah, my boys, you ain’t got me yet!

We cry to the distant lords as we swallow the
thick-breathing air, smelted between
iron, ash and tin.
We are between two worlds, we are
between, we are becoming
hare, becoming her.

Daughters, let us linger here, in the
seamy, roiling humus, as our
fruiting bodies slip and
smoulder in revolting rant and
rave. We dare to dream, becoming
her, becoming hare, we are
trespassing upon the tolls.

Through the alders, grass snakes
slither, mulched in the viscous
understory of our story. Our story!
Our Spell! We are
between two worlds, between the
smyths and tithes and
deeds of a stuttering,
vicious new world.

Nothing is decided, nothing is
finished. We need not their
corrupted church, their wanton
vicars, their gentry’s avarice.
We have our chapel, our covenant,
spoken through Morgan’s words.
Our tongues returned,
seething for freedom
beneath this gibbous moon.

We daughters, we stewards of
the world. We know this land, have
toiled its fields, its pastures, its
woods. We know its whispering
secrets, its green flourish,
its overwintering.
We know, too, its harvests, which
turn now to sodden mush,
drenched to pay for the
prisons of our poor.

The only toll we need is
clanging from our chapel bell.

We need our crops,
our lands, our
bodies and our tongues.
All are enclosed.

Yet here we are becoming
hare, becoming her, trespassing
upon the tolls.

Approaching the Y Bont Fawr,
we find the road
locked and bolted, gates and
guards and constables of
greed. But we are the
daughters of Rebecca, we are the
daughters of the riot,
we are crossing.

We bang our drums, blow our horns,
whilst on the parapet ahead,
looming in cloth and mask and pride,
Rebecca speaks:

My children, my children, something is in my way!

What is it mother Rebecca? Nothing should stand in your way!

This gate is not opening my daughters! It is but a wall of tyrannie!

We will break it down, mother. Nothing will stand in our way!

And so, we do, we break it down.
We, the dispossessed, possess the
gates, possess the road, turn the prison to a
pont and cross between. We trespass across
two worlds, we turn the world upside
down. We tear the stocks, smash the
booth with our teeth of
saws. We see a constable and
ask not permission, but axe through the
borders of our land.
Sledgehammers and sticks
erupt beside parasols and skirts, and
beneath the moonbathing sky, with
our hymning voices loud, we skit and
scatter across the line.

We, the daughters of Rebecca,
pound through the barriers, the tithes, the
rents, the gates, we course
like the black stream beside; surging
towards the freedom of Caerfyrddin Bae.

For thou art our sisters, and our
seeds of sedition hath deranged
the gates of those who hate us.

About this work

Daughters of Rebecca was inspired by the Rebecca Riots of Western Wales between 1839-43, whereby rural labourers protested against the imposition of toll taxes and more generally against escalating rural poverty in the aftermath of the Enclosures. As part of their subversion, the protesting workers performatively cross-dressed as Rebecca from the Old Testament. Taking on a contemporary pertinence due to the UK’s “anti-protest” Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, this work is conceived as an imagined or proposed addition to this performative element of the original protest and of future protests; a gender riot alongside a workers’ riot where the riot represents a space where other worlds and imaginaries become possible.

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