The thought alone of arranged marriages to me seems almost archaic, and that — at least — is done generally by the parents with the best interests of the bride or groom-to-be in mind.
Bride-napping is different.
Bride-napping involves a woman being taken sometimes at random — maybe when she least expects it. Imagine standing on the street corner, minding your business, maybe while waiting for a bus or taxi, when bam! A random car pulls up, 3 Kyrgyz men get out, grab you, pull you in against your will and drive off. You kick; you scream. They are too strong to get away. You are taken to the home of one of them and forced to stay overnight. You are forced to be married.
This article on CNN states that, “Nearly half of all marriages in rural Kyrgyzstan are a result of the practice.”
I can’t understand this practice. Not at all.
“But isn’t bride-napping illegal?” I ask my English speaking car mates in Osh.
The more eloquent speaker of the two shrugs slash nods at the same time. “Yes… but it is tradition.”
The whole topic was brought up because the driver told our English speaking mate that he saw a bride-napping in Osh the day before. Oh, snap, I think. Just the juice I’ve been wanting to hear about. Our ears quickly perked up like attentive little puppies in the backseat, and questions spewed forth almost uncontrollably.
“Don’t they try to get away?” Pat asks.
With a slight chuckle, “Oh yes, of course. They will usually put up a little fight.” He pauses. “But the men are strong.”
I am in awe. I’ve heard about bride-napping, but always from the mouth of a young female, and always from those in Bishkek — the north and a much less traditional place. To hear the candid tales of a man in the south… it was pure gold.
And he has no idea that I plan to recount every detail on my blog.
After I mouth the words, “Oh my God,” to Pat, he continues.
“So does it generally happen by car these days?”
“Yes, typically by car. Traditionally it was by horse.” The two men laugh. “It still happens by horse in some villages.”
Boys outside the window of the car can be seen riding donkeys, and I can’t help but wonder if they were ever used to carry their newly plucked brides home before.
“And does the woman usually know the man beforehand?”
“Usually they will meet or see each other — sometimes only once. Friends will often know the girl. They will help to recommend women.”
“This one time, I helped my friend take a woman for him. He only saw her once. We went to the house for the girl, but she wasn’t there. Her younger sister was.”
He stops to remember and laugh.
“We took her instead. We’d heard she was more beautiful than her older sister.”
I am in shock — so much so that I can only laugh at the awkward and horrible luck of that woman, and of the absurdity of the story in general!
“But now they are married and have little children,” he adds.
I wonder what the idea of marital happiness is in Kyrgyzstan. I wonder if the woman sees it all very differently.
It’s my turn to take over the questioning.
“At what age do women usually get bride-napped?”
“Usually around 20-23. If a woman is not married off by age 25, that is bad.”
You could tell by the tone that they firmly hold these values as well.
“She is seen as wrong. We think there must be something not right with her.”
At the ripe age of 29, I’m basically a lost cause in Kyrgyzstan. We tell our mate that things are very, very different in Australia, with many people waiting until their mid-30s to marry.
I continue. “When is the last chance for a man to be married?”
“Age 27 for a man; 25 for a woman. If a friend is almost this age and not married, his friends will start helping to find a girl. If the girl says something like, ‘No, I need to worry about school,’ or something like that…” (Something silly he made it seem.) “…that is when she will be taken.”
Time to get personal.
“So… are you guys married?”
“Yes, of course. I am 28, and he is 27.”
And the million dollar question: “Did you kidnap your wives?”
Laughter. Chuckles. Almost like they hadn’t seen it coming.
“No… But we have helped our friends many times.”
They laughed, much like the way men would laugh if they are thinking of an inside joke.
“It did happen to my sister.”
Ooooh, sister. We could sense a small feeling of unease in the way he said it, so we had to push the topic.
“Was she happy about it?”
“At first, no.”
Seriousness entered his voice. This was his sister — things got different.
“But then his parents came to meet my parents and they negotia…” (trailed off) “…talked, and it became OK.”
The car swerves to avoid hitting a herd of animals — cows mostly — on the road.
“Are they happy now?” I ask.
“Yes, I think so.”
“Are many couples happy like this? Does it work out?” Pat adds.
“There are some that are not, and they divorce, but most… most end up happy.”
They both confirm this with each other.
Happy. I can’t imagine.
To the entire conversation, I end it with a simple and concise, “Interesting.”
What do you think of the Kyrgyz tradition of bride-napping?
I highly suggest watching this 5 part video series by Vice on Kyrgyz Bride Kidnapping if interested in learning more.