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Vice Blog

THE A TO Z OF SEXUAL HISTORY: KIDNAPPED BRIDES

by CAMERON KING
Feb 11 2010, 9:58pm

"Since ancient times, our ancestors have stolen girls. We will also steal girls," a young man from Kyrgyzstan explains in Anthony Butts' documentary, Kidnapped Brides. "A girl is like a foal. She's seen nothing in her life. Of course when she gets married she'll cry and fight and resist. But when she's broken and harnessed, she'll become obedient like a good horse and then she'll be happy," he says, before adding as an afterthought, "Wait, that sounds a bit bad." As he sets off to find a bride to kidnap, his mother chides, "Be skillful in your kidnapping. Don't make me suffer and get stressed. We want the scandal and screaming kept to a minimum."

Bride kidnapping is an ancient tradition of physically abducting your future wife. She may be a girl you have spotted and like the look of, though usually she is a complete stranger. While it may prove more convenient than dating in the long run, usually the girls put up quite a fight.

In Petr Lom's documentary on bride kidnapping, you can watch a 25-year-old Norkuz be brought to her new home against her will, crying. The groom's female relatives hold her down, and try to force a wedding headscarf onto her head. If they succeed, then she is committed to stay otherwise she will bring shame on herself and her family. This is a common practice. Despite being very much illegal, an estimated 50-percent of marriages in some areas of the country are the result of kidnapping and around two-thirds of these are non-consensual. Before the Russian Revolution, a bride could cost as much as five horses, so it was far more economical for a lusty young romantic to pick the girl of his choice and literally swing her onto his saddle. The custom thrived through the Soviet era and still exists today.

Bride kidnapping also exists in the oldest mythologies. According to the Bible's Book of Judges, the tribe of Benjamin slaughtered all the men and non-virgins from the neighboring town so they could kidnap and wed the virgins. They were instructed, "Go and hide in the vineyards. When the women of Shiloh come out for their dances, rush out from the vineyards, and each of you can take one of them home to be your wife!"

The founders of Rome were also into a bit of kidnapping. Roman historian Livy (59 BC) wrote about the rape of the Sabine women. In short, Romulus, the founder of Rome, being short of women with which to populate his new 'hood, kidnapped the daughters of the neighboring Sabine people after luring them over with the promise of a big party. He then promised there would be no wanton rape, and they would make honest women of them all. Unsurprisingly, the Sabine declared war.

Throughout Europe, there are different remnants of kidnapping incorporated into the marriage traditions. In parts of Eastern Europe, during the wedding ceremony, the guests will repeatedly faux-kidnap the bride and take her to another pub, where the groom has to find her and be responsible for paying for everyone's drinks. In the some parts of Spain, unmarried men used to capture the bride on the eve of the wedding and the groom would have to pay for her release.

Before the 1753 Marriage Act in England, kidnapping was quite common. In medieval England, a man would kidnap women and hold her on his left arm, so that his sword arm was free to fight off other suitors. This is cited as a reason why the groom normally stands on the right of the bride during the wedding ceremony. The honeymoon has been argued to be a relic of the amount of time a man would go into hiding with his kidnapee/fiancée to get her pregnant, so her parents would consent to a wedding.

The only place where kidnapping does women any favors is on the island of Lombok near Bali. The wedding practice originated 300 years ago as a loophole to parents' arranged marriages of their daughters as children. The only way for the girl to avoid marrying the man of her parents' choice was to arrange a consensual kidnapping by the man of her choice. These days the custom lives on as a tradition, and an elder of the village says that 99 percent of couples in the area organize a prenuptial consensual kidnapping.

While non-consensual kidnapping is not so sexy, if you're getting abducted, thrown in the boot of a car, and subjected to hours of sexual torture, then I'm sure there are many websites that offer the service for a small price.

CAMERON KING