February 23, 2005: Headlines: COS - Kyrgyzstan: Blogs - Kyrgyzstan: Blog: Rhonda Ferns (K12) in Kyrgyzstan

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Rhonda Ferns (K12) in Kyrgyzstan

Rhonda Ferns (K12) in Kyrgyzstan

Rhonda Ferns (K12) in Kyrgyzstan

Tales of Bride Kidnapping
I think I told many of you before I left for Kyrgyzstan that I had read that sometimes Kyrgyz men kidnap their wives. To me, this has become a mind boggling topic that often comes up in conversations. During training, we [trainees] were told by our LCFs (language and culture facilitators) that bride kidnapping was uncommon and it was usually a way for young lovers to “elope” when the bride’s parents either disapproved of the groom or the groom couldn’t afford to pay the “bride price” to marry the girl of his choice. Then we had some foreign specialist from a university come and give us a presentation on the topic, and we learned from his research that bride kidnapping where the bride was coerced into marrying her kidnapper wasn’t totally uncommon. You know, it’s really interesting to hear and read about bride kidnapping, but it doesn’t really hit you until you hear the real stories behind the tradition. For example, across the street from where I live is a family that has three sons between the ages of 16 and 23. The oldest kidnapped his wife less than a year ago. Now, I always see the boys, but I rarely see Sayura, who is only 20 years old. The only times I have had the opportunity to talk to her is on the rare occasion that Elvira and I go over to request something or on holidays when all the neighbors open their gates to guests. When I talked to Sayura, she told me that she had been kidnapped. When I asked her if she knew her husband when she was kidnapped she said “no”, when I asked if she wasn’t afraid when it happened she said, “of course I was afraid!” Then I asked how he had picked her out and she explained that he used to be a DJ at a disco-tech and he had seen her a few times and decided she was the one for him. Huhhhh?!! It’s like tales from the crypt!

But the really weird thing is, everyone will quickly agree that bride kidnapping is bad, but then they turn around and talk about their own sons or relatives needing to kidnap a wife. When I was in Oruktu last weekend this was one of the most surrealistic conversations I had with Mahabat’s mother. First she talked about her son needing to kidnap a wife, but when I asked if he wasn’t a bit young yet to get married (he’s only 17), she said she was tired of working all by herself, she worked from morning until night with little or no rest (I wanted to ask, “well, what does your husband and sons do?”) and she needed help, her son needed a wife so she could work for the family (so next time your workplace is a little short handed, just suggest someone kidnap a wife to help out). When I asked how she could support such a tradition, she just shrugged her shoulders and said, “I was kidnapped and look, here I am, I’m ok.” Then I turned to Mahabat (who is of kidnapping age – 20) and asked what she would do if she was kidnapped, and she looked hopefully to her brothers and said, “my brothers promised to come and get me!”

Even during training my host father in Koshoi was in conspiracy to help his brother kidnap a wife. When he disappeared for a few days my host family told me in hushed voices that he had helped his brother kidnap a wife and now they where celebrating the wedding in Naryn for three days. But when I had asked them if it was ok for their daughter to get kidnapped, they quickly shook their heads and said she should be able to choose her husband…..apparently, it’s ok to kidnap a girl and force her into a marriage, unless it’s your own daughter – of course.

But that’s not the end of the tales, occasionally when I’m sitting with my host sisters they will tell me about their friends who where kidnapped and forced into marriage – today I heard that one friend was kidnapped by guys driving by in a car, they took the girl and drove off to Bishkek. How are parents going to retrieve their daughters when they’ve been stolen off to some distant city and by tradition they only have until sun down to go and retrieve her, because once she’s stayed the night at her kidnapper’s house it becomes a great shame to both the daughter and the family to leave, because it’s assumed that she’s “used goods”? What a terrible custom!!

So what happens after a girl is kidnapped? They take her home and put her in a room full of older female relatives that quickly corner her and try to force her to wear the “wedding scarf” and tell her over and over if she refuses she’ll be cursed for all eternity, will be unhappily married in the future, will have a cruel mother-in-law, and will be either barren or will have drunk and lazy children. They all say that they were also kidnapped, and are happy, at it’s her destiny to marry whoever the intending groom is. How do you respond to this? Especially when there are proverbs such as, “A bride stays where her stone is thrown,” or “a woman’s love is for nothing, but a man’s is for marriage.” How can a girl respond when she is raised to respect elders, and then is told by older women that she will be forever cursed if she leaves, not to mention the shame she will bring to herself and her family?

In Kyrgyzstan, bride kidnapping is illegal, but everyone says “it’s our tradition.” For me, it seems so much worse that just walking into a store and stealing something, because you aren’t just stealing “something” you are stealing “someone” and all their hopes and dreams of deciding their own destiny. It makes me think that Kyrgyz men are incapable of having any social skills, in fact, they don’t need to. They don’t need to know how to treat a woman nicely, how to treat her well, or how to even talk to women, so what will happen when he is married and had coerced his wife to marry him? Will her respect her? Will he even try to make her happy, or is it all about his own happiness? Then I look to my neighbor, Sayura, whom I never see. When I ask my sisters why we don’t invite her over for some girly fun (geesh, she’s only 20!), they said they have tried but her husband won’t permit her, that he says it’s her job to sit at home and do housework. What a shame! I can only wonder when the men and women who participate in kidnapping women and forcing them to marry, will open their eyes, will have confidence in themselves to do what is right and not just what is easy.

When this story was posted in March 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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