Bride kidnapping, also known as marriage by abduction or marriage by capture, is a form of marriage practiced in a few traditional cultures, in countries spanning Central Asia, the Caucasus region, parts of Africa, and among the Hmong in southeast Asia. In most countries, bride kidnapping is considered a sex crime, rather than a valid form of marriage. However, some versions of it may also be seen as falling along the continuum between forced marriage and arranged marriage.
In agricultural and patriarchal societies, where bride kidnapping is most common, children work for their family. A woman leaves her birth family, geographically and economically, when she marries, becoming instead a member of the groom's family. (See patrilocality for an anthropological explanation.) Due to this loss of labor, the women's families do not want their daughters to marry young, and demand economic compensation known as a bride price when they do leave them. This conflicts with the interests of men, who want to marry early, as marriage means an increase in social status, and the interests of the groom's family, who will gain another pair of hands for the family farm or business. Paradoxically, being "kidnapped" might also be in the interests of the woman in such societies, as her role in the society would preclude her from choosing a husband for herself, at the risk of being disowned or even killed. It may also be the only socially acceptable way for her to become a mother, a desirable and highly prized status for many women. Depending on the legal system under which they live, the consent of the woman may not be a factor in judging the validity of the marriage.
The mechanism of bride kidnappings varies depending on where it is taking place.
In Ethiopia and Rwanda it is quite brutal, where the man kidnaps the woman and rapes her. The family of the woman either then feels obliged to consent to the union, or is forced to when the kidnapper impregnates her, as no one else would marry a pregnant woman.
In Central Asia the practice is different. Bride kidnapping exists in Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Karakalpakstan. The young man decides he wishes to marry and asks his parents to pick him out a suitable bride, or is told by his parents that it is time he settled down and that they have found someone of the right background and attributes. (In this sense, it is similar to an arranged marriage, although the arranging is all on one side.) The prospective groom and his male relatives or friends or both abduct the girl (in the old nomadic days, on horseback; now often by car) and take her to the family home, where the older women of the family try to get her to accept the marriage. They may do this by pointing out the advantages of the union, such as the wealth of their smallholding, to show her what she would gain by joining their family. Some families will keep the girl hostage for several days to break her will. Others will let her go if she remains defiant; she may, for example, refuse to sit down or to eat, as a sign that she is refusing the proffered hospitality. During this period, the groom typically does not see the bride until she has agreed to marry or at least has agreed to stay. The kidnapped woman's family may also become involved in the process, either urging the woman to stay (particularly if the marriage is believed socially acceptable or advantageous for the prospective bride and her family), or opposing the marriage on various grounds and helping to liberate the woman.
While less violent than that practiced elsewhere, the essence of the process, in the model above, is still the same and in some cases does result in sexual violence. Such social stigma is attached to a refusal that the kidnapped woman usually feels that she has no choice but to agree, and some of those who refuse even commit suicide after the kidnapping . The matter is somewhat confused by the local use of the term bride kidnap to reflect practices along a continuum, from forcible abduction and rape (and then, almost unavoidably, marriage), to something akin to an elopement arranged between the two young people, to which both sets of parents have to consent after the fact. Although the practice is illegal in Kyrgyzstan, bride kidnappers are rarely prosecuted, because many villages are de facto ruled by councils of elders following traditional cultural practices, away from the eyes of the state legal system. It was the Russian and later USSR colonizing powers that made the ancient practice of the nomads illegal, and so with the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent liberation of the Central Asian nations, many have harked back to old customs as a way of asserting cultural identity.
Despite its illegality, in many, primarily rural, areas bride kidnapping is still the accepted way of taking a wife. This act of ala kachuu (to take and flee) prevails to this day, despite modern social and moral standards. Women play an integral role in the process: the success of the kidnapping is dependent on her conduct while she is held hostage. If she truly does not wish to stay, she will not accept the family's advances. She may tell them that she has a boyfriend, or impart to them that she is not a virgin, which still carries a major social stigma. Many of these women have boyfriends and participate in dating, which can make the experience all the more traumatic. A couple may court for many months, but another suitor could still kidnap the young woman, as she is unmarried. The question, "What would you do if you were kidnapped?" is asked of many Kyrgyz women in their late teens and early twenties. While this may not be their preferred method of becoming engaged, a majority of them, consensual or nonconsensual, do end up married in this way. Ala kachuu is a tradition that has endured to the present day in Central Asia and is integral to their society and culture.
The families of both the bride and the groom play large roles in these arranged marriages. The groom's family, primarily the menfolk, decide who they want to kidnap and take as the bride. Often, rather than selecting a particular young woman to kidnap, they select a house; that way they can still kidnap one of the sisters if the woman they desire is not home . Once at the home of the bride, they grab the woman and bring her back to the groom's house. The girl's family is usually also there, as they know about the kidnapping and encourage their loved one to accept the man as her husband and to stay with him. The woman can still leave the house, but her family usually does everything in their power to convince the girl to stay. The reason for this is that as women get older, the culture sees them as less desirable. Therefore, the family has no idea if she will still be able to find a husband if she does not accept this man. Since young women are obedient to their parents in Central Asia, they will stay with the husband.
In Catholic canon law, the impediment of raptus specifically prohibits marriage between a woman abducted with intent to force her to marry, and her abductor, as long as the woman remains in the abductor's power.
Marriage by capture was practiced in ancient cultures throughout the Mediterranean area. It is represented in mythology and history by the tribe of Benjamin in the Bible; by the Greek hero Paris stealing the beautiful Helen of Troy from her husband Menelaus, thus triggering the Trojan War; and by The Rape of the Sabine Women by Romulus, the founder of Rome (parodied by English short-story writer Saki in The Schartz-Metterklume Method).
According to some sources, the honeymoon is a relic of marriage by capture, based on the practice of the husband going into hiding with his wife to avoid reprisals from her relatives, with the intention that the woman would be pregnant by the end of the month.
Bride capture has been displayed somewhat humorously in Pedro Almodovar's 1990 film ˇÁtame! (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!), starring Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril. It is the underlying theme behind the Korean movie The Bow, as well as the Soviet comedy Kidnapping, Caucasian Style . It featured in the Hollywood musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Bride capture also offers a honorable solution in the Italian comedy Seduced and Abandoned.
In the 2006 comedy '''', the eponymous fictional reporter Borat, played by British comedian/satirist Sacha Baron Cohen, attempts to kidnap actress Pamela Anderson in order to take her as his wife. He brings a "wedding sack" which he has made for the occasion, suggesting that such kidnappings are a tradition in his parody of Kazakhstan.
In 2005, a documentary titled Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan made by Petr Lom was presented at the UNAFF 2005 festival, and subsequently on PBS in the United States. The film met controversy in Kyrgyzstan because of ethical concerns about the filming of real kidnappings.
In the BBC radio and television comedy series The League of Gentlemen, the character Papa Lazarou comes to the fictional town of Royston Vasey under the guise of a peg-seller to kidnap women by entering their homes, talking gibberish to them (Gippog) and persuading them to hand over their wedding rings. He 'names' them all 'Dave', and, after obtaining their rings, proclaims; "you're my wife now".
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