Reply to myself again, just to make sure this thread can be of use to anyone searching archives at any point in the future.

Stéphane Witzmann suggested that the kernel configuration be altered to specify a default keyboard.

So, after checking NOTES and the name of the keyboard map I want (us.dvorak), I changed my custom kernel configuration file (BOBKERN) so that it now contains a section exactly like this:

# atkbdc0 controls both the keyboard and the PS/2 mouse
device          atkbdc          # AT keyboard controller

device          atkbd           # AT keyboard
options         ATKBD_DFLT_KEYMAP
makeoptions     ATKBD_DFLT_KEYMAP=us.dvorak     # use Dvorak key layout

Once this was built and installed (see the handbook for advice on custom kernel building), I booted into single user mode and, hallelujah, it is now in Dvorak layout by default.

Thanks to Stéphane.

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