More on bride-kidnapping

I realized my last post was woefully lacking in context (i.e. “what is this whole bride kidnapping thing?”). So for some background:

1) How common is this? Honestly, I have no idea. Of my 6 close 20-something female Kyrgyz friends, 4 told me they’ve been bride-kidnapped. It’s a pretty shameful thing to be kidnapped – and infinitely shameful if the woman leaves – so people don’t openly talk about it. One “sat” [after fighting with the man’s family all night, jumping out of the 2nd-story window of his apt. only to be dragged back inside, and being raped … she divorced him a year later]. One left immediately. One tried to leave but her family wouldn’t take her back (remember the “shameful” bit); she’s still with the guy and I don’t ask questions about their marriage. Another stayed and seems pretty happy. 4 of 6 feels like a lot to me, but it’s too small a sample size to give any real insight into how common the practice is.

2) Where does this come from? I’ve been told it originated back when Kyrgyz society was based on tribal affiliation (pre-1917), and some couples wanted to break complicated bans on cross-tribe / intra-tribe marriages (to be honest I’m not clear on which way these bans went or who couldn’t marry whom). In such cases, they would arrange to steal the woman from her family (risky business, since it could set off wars). I guess you could call this “consensual bride kidnapping.”

Then the Soviets squashed the tribal affiliations. But the idea that you could steal a bride somehow lingered … post-independence, young men started simply snatching women without their consent (tribes no longer play much of a role in Kyrgyz society – though this is a point of deep dispute among foreign researchers . Even so, everyone still knows which one they’re from). Here it’s considered shameful for a woman to sleep with someone pre-marriage. And even if the girl doesn’t sleep with the man during the kidnapping, everyone suspects that she did and considers her dishonorable if she walks away. So her parents usually go along with the whole thing. Thus there are almost no negative incentives or push back to stop men from doing this.

On the other hand, there is still such thing as consensual bride kidnapping. In KG, men have to pay for the wedding as well as a very hefty bride price (presents to her parents … often cattle, appliances, etc.). If he’s poor, sometimes the woman will agree to a bride kidnapping to get around her parents’ refusal and unreasonable bride-price requests. So I guess there’s both a good and a bad type of bride-kidnapping … really, there’s a bad and a good side to everything.

A few people asked if we’d found the kidnapped Merim. If the woman consents to marriage (as she did), post-kidnapping there’s no “finding” her or bringing her back. She lives with her husband’s family and, for the first several months at least, is mostly in-house cooking, cleaning, etc. Which is to say … “no.” She’s in Emgekchil for life.

So … that’s enough about that. There’s a saying in Kyrgyz that if you think too much about a thing, it comes true. So I’m done with thinking about bride-kidnapping. But if you’re not and want to learn more, here are a few resources (note that they’re all from the Western perspective):

Newsweek photo journal of kidnappings:

A Frontline documentary on the practice:

A EurasiaNet article making the often-overlooked point that bride-kidnapping isn’t just a rural phenomenon:

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