Sabine Women & Bride-napping

The custom of kidnapping women for marriage, memorialized in Livy’s account of the Sabine Women’s abduction, is not confined to antiquity.  A former student of mine, Gambrill, was in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan, wrote the following to me about a decade ago:

so, bride-napping. yes, it does happen here. from the best i can tell, there are two versions: the romantic, adorable kind and the violent actual kind.

the adorable kind is really more of an elopement than any form of actual kidnapping. Many of the teachers and staff i have worked under have sheepishly admitted they were ‘stolen’ if asked about the nature of their marriage. generally though, what that means is the marriage has already been agreed to or assumed and the young couple cannot or does not want to wait. In that case, the young man comes and steals his bride and everyone goes along with it.

the nasty kind, on the other hand isn’t romantic in the least. it does happen, although i don’t know with what frequency. there was an actual bride-napping in one of our training villages that took place in october. i didnt witness it, but my site mate did. this is the link to the blog he posted about it:

On a funnier note, before I left for site, I was told several times that I was sure to be stolen. It was meant as a compliment, but none-the-less never ceased to crack me up.

Lest the blogpost she references disappear, I am quoting it in extenso here:

I’m going to start with the bridenapping, although it happened more recent. I’ll start with the basics. Bridenapping is common in Kazakhstan (for Kazakhs, not Russians). It is the practice of kidnapping a woman and pressuring her through various means to consent to be a man’s wife. There are two types of bridenapping: the bad kind and the good kind. I know that sounds funny, but its true. Weddings can be expensive here and often families don’t have the resources to fund a large wedding, so bridenappings are “arranged” and the family puts together a shotgun wedding- it is like eloping with the families consent.

The bad kind is more terrifying. A man will have a particular girl in mind and with the help of his family or friends, he will kidnap the girl (16-18 years old usually). He will take her back to his home and the entire family will pressure her to stay and be his wife. Theoretically she has the power to say no and return to her family, but there are many societal pressures to consent. It may sound odd, but the parents of the boy will often call the parents of the girl and inform them that the bridenapping has occurred. The girls parents often agree to support the marriage, often due to societal pressure as well (especially if it was a physical relationship, consensual or not). In the Kazakh Muslim culture, a girl who has had a physical relationship and is not married is considered tainted goods and won’t be wanted by anyone else. You can see how men would and do abuse this and do bad things to insure a girl stays.

We watched a moving video on this a week or so ago and there have been two bridenappings in a town outside Esik while we were here. To be honest, we all knew it went on and that we would hear about it through out service, but didn’t expect to encounter it face to face. I did yesterday.

4 men came into the school where we study and dragged a girl, by her feet, out of her classroom. The ran down the hallway with her. Teachers and students screamed and ran after then, trying to prevent this. The principle of the school caught them at the door. There was a scuffle, where one of the bridenappers pulled a knife and cut the principle in the arm, then barred the door shut, while the other three men picked up the girl and ran away. Eventually the 4th man let go of the door and fled. By the time everyone got outside she was gone.

I was in the bathroom right down the hall when this happened. I heard all the screaming and running. By the time I got to the door, the 4thman had just barred the door with his shoulder. Everyone was screaming and crying. Then he let go and left. I funneled outside with everyone else; saw the director holding his arm and everyone looking stunned. There were two other volunteer friends outside who saw it all from the outside.

One of our language teachers walked by and we told her. She was shocked and suspected that it was ransom related, as the use of a knife in a bridenapping is very unusual. But eventually it was determined that it was in fact a bridenapping. The police were called. The school knew who the men were and where they lived. Even though it is traumatic for those involved, and the friends of the girl, the 3 men who did the bridenapping were determined to have done nothing wrong, as it is part of Kazakh culture. The man who pulled the knife though will be punished by the law. By lunch time we heard that the families were in negotiations about the marriage. I never heard if she married the man or not.

I told my host mom of this last night and she acted like it was no big deal. I told her I knew that it happened, but was shocked that they would go into the school and do it. She said it was common and it was one of the few times when girls are away from their parents and homes.She said it still happens a lot, but not as much as it used to.




About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
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