No laughing matter

She has no choice.

Let’s get serious here for a moment, folks. Though it may seem like a plot line from a 1940s era musical, the kidnapping of potential brides is no joke. Bridenapping is alive and well in the Kyrgyz Republic, a former Soviet territory adjacent to China. According to a study by Philadelphia University sociology professor Russ L, Kleinbach, Ph.D, more than a third of ethnic Kyrgyz weddings are the result of bridenapping (known as ala kachuu) .

Typically a bride kidnapping involves a young man and his friends taking a young woman by force or deception to the home of his parents or a near relative. She is held in a room and his female relatives convince her to put on the marriage scarf. If necessary she is kept over night and is thus threatened by the shame of no longer being a pure woman. When she agrees, all relatives are notified and a marriage celebration takes place in the following few days.

These women, according to a recent Frontline documentary (which you can watch here), are held against their will until they agree to go through with the proposed (and I use that term loosely) marriage. Kept in what amounts to forced captivity, they are coerced and manipulated by the kidnappers family. Many of the marriages work out to some extent, but I believe that is a testament to the inner strength of the many Kyrgyz women whose freedom of choice was taken away in an instant.

So when your wedding has got you down or you’re feeling blue about being single, remember how lucky you are that you have a choice.

The image above is a still from Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan, a documentary by Petr Lom released by First Run Icarus Films.

14 Responses to “No laughing matter”

  1. Twistie says:

    Yikes! It appalls me that things like this continue to happen in this day and age.

  2. Never teh Bride says:

    Same here. It also kind of burns me when people justify this sort of thing by saying, “Well, it’s a part of their culture.” The literal ownership of women was once a part of western culture. Should we bring that back? Didn’t think so.

  3. Oh my god, thats so awful. We’re so blessed to live in such forward liberal countries that respect women!!!

  4. Ninjarina says:

    Although this is a serious problem, I have a feeling that some more liberal Kyrgyz families may have just held over this antiquated tradition and not given it much thought:

    “Approximately 25% of current kidnappings are consensual, although the two-thirds of the respondents who were female said 14% were consensual, whereas the one-third male respondents said 44% were consensual.”

    “North-south differences do not seem to be significant, although kidnapping may be a little more frequent in the south where it also may be somewhat more consensual. In the northern part of the country, however, there does seem to be significantly more kidnapping among other ethnic groups, notably the Uzbeks, Dungan and Kazaks. These issues deserve more study and require the collection of systematic data in the future.”
    (From 2001 study link)

    I’m willing to interpret that the not all of the 14% of those women were brainwashed into believing it was consensual and that it actually was. I know that there is a similar practise and is pretty common in China as a pre-wedding ceremony ritual. Typically a man and his friends try to cajole the bride out of her parents’ house and he has to pay [literally] for her. The “kidnapping” portion of it is that the groom and groomsmen show up unannounced and the bride and her entourage scurry around quickly to hide her. Sums of money are done “by” 8s since it’s an auspicious number i.e. $888, $8888, $88888, etc. The more the better and eventually, the female relatives will let her out of the room and let the groom have her. It’s really nothing more than a silly exercise and the bride and groom are pretty much just doing this as part of the traditional marriage ceremony. There is a certain amount of honor involved as the male is expected to pay and will most likely lose face [and never hear about the end of it from his in-laws] if he doesn’t do it but by no means will they neither get married nor will he try to really steal her if he cannot pay the bride price. It’s really a very lighthearted thing that many families don’t take too seriously and both families will look really good if a high price is fetched.

    Also, it is well known that the Central Asian Republics are NOT ethnically homogenous and the Soviets (as well as Russian government before them) made a practise of displacing large numbers of ethnic groups (including sending ethnic Russians) as a means of controlling them. Ergo, this may or may not be a common practise for say, the Kyrgyz people living in neighboring republics or more liberal Kyrgyz/other ethnic groups that live in relatively cosmopolitan areas.

    I am not trying to imply that this is not a serious problem but since the study is representative, I just wanted to bring up that a small number of liberal families may only include this kidnapping ritual as part of their wedding and has no real bearing on a woman’s decision to marry someone.

    Sorry for the long rant.

  5. Never teh Bride says:

    I agree with you, Ninjarina. In the documentary (or was it one of the articles I looked at?), they discussed how for many people, particularly more educated people, the bridal kidnapping is a fun part of the wedding ritual and entirely consensual. I should have made it more clear in my post that it’s roughly one third of kidnappings that are non-consensual. The other two thirds of them are just part of the fun, I assume.

  6. La BellaDonna says:

    I have seen the documentary, though, and you know what? If one of those marriages is not consensual, it’s still not right. There was nothing silly, or funny, or traditional, about the woman who was lamenting about the loss of the man she loved, and who loved her, because someone else kidnapped her before she could marry her true love.

    “Common practice and usage” is no excuse for depriving anyone of liberty.

  7. Chaeriste says:

    I’m always appalled when I read something like this. With every advancing moment, we continue to fall backwards in time. I’m glad, once again, that I live in a country that allows me so many choices.

  8. Riona says:

    NTB, thank for you saying: “It also kind of burns me when people justify this sort of thing by saying, Well, its a part of their culture. These types of moral relativism seemed cool when I was, oh, twelve.

    There was a piece on NPR on bride kidnapping in Georgia a few days ago. Here’s the link.

  9. Never teh Bride says:

    If you watch the Frontline piece, there is this attitude among the already married women of “It happened to me and I’m fine, so calm down and suck it up.” It’s almost as if they are pleased. “If I had to have this happen to me, I can ease some of my anger by making it happen to someone else.”

  10. Never teh Bride says:

    And I heartily agree, La BellaDonna! Tradition and culture do not make a practise right. Just because some people think X is okay doesn’t mean X is actually okay.

  11. Anonymous says:

    NTB – There is a lot of that sort of reasoning regarding other things too. I read a story not too long ago about a man in South Africa (I think) raping his stepdaughter and the mother was charged w/ accessory b/c she helped hold her own daughter down while it happened, telling her that it had happened to her when she was a child too.

    It’s the same logic that prompts elder women in extremist Muslim/Hindu areas that permit, encourage, and/or rationalise retaliatory action against “uppity” women. That feeling of schadefreude I think is misdirected hostility b/c women in these situations are powerless against their oppressors (i.e. men, their society, the state, etc.). It’s by no means ok but I wouldn’t be so quick to beat up on them. There is no other avenue for them to channel this type of rage and it’s nothing but sad b/c I don’t believe any loving mother truly believes that this should happen to her daughter or anyone elses.

  12. Mollie says:

    That broke my heart, especially the little girl (younger sister?) at the house where the girl was kidnapped and hung herself. Do you think her parents will have learned from what happened to her older sister, or do you think they will encourage a kidnapping when the time comes?

    Thank you Never teh Bride, I enjoy this site so much, whether it’s funny or sad.

  13. Ninjarina says:

    Dang, that last anon comment was mine – I’m not logged in on the work comp 🙁

  14. AlwaysABride says:

    This is so awful, and it is maddening that it is not only overlooked by almost condoned by the governements in the countries where this type of violation is allowed to occur.