Kidnapping a bride — one way to start marriage

PhotoA bride in Kabardino-Balkaria, days after she was kidnapped

Story by Marina Marshenkulova, NewsNetNebraska

In most of the world, men and women stick to a typical scenario when it comes to marriage. They meet, fall in love, get engaged and then head down the aisle. Sometimes, the man stoops to one knee to plead for his sought-after bride’s hand before the nuptials. But in great swaths of Central Asia and areas near Russia, such as the North Caucasus, such practices seem odd. Men in these places are used to getting their way. Want to start a family? Like a girl? No problem. Go out and steal her!

It is an ancient tradition – kidnapping a future bride. In decades past, it was common for a girl to be stolen even against her wishes. She’d be held in the house of the man for a night, after which she would be disgraced if she returned home. So it often happened that a girl married only because she was afraid to embarrass her family. Many families in these regions owe their bloodlines to the practice. Beg for a bride on bended knee? How unmanly.

Today, the tradition is making a big comeback. Suppressed in Soviet times in places such as Kazakhstan, it has taken on a romantic cast for many young girls and their studly beaus. In Kabardino-Balkaria, part of the North Caucasus, the tradition has become a set-piece way for men to show their affection. With a wink and smile, a girl may signal her willingness to go along with a plan, expecting it of her suitor. Often, the kidnapping is even arranged by the couple.

PhotoThe groom, in gray, awaits his prize

Usually, friends and relatives help the man carry out the theft. After the girl is brought to his relative’s house, she has a choice: come out of the car or, if she doesn’t want to get married, she can ask her kidnappers to take her home. Female members of the man’s family work to persuade her, as she plays hard to get, sometimes making a strong show of resistance. Sometimes, the would-be groom’s aides wait for her relatives to come before the girl decides anything. But – nowadays and in most places — the girl has the choice to stay or leave.

Aslan Ivanov, a 25-year-old firefighter from Nalchik, the capitol of Kabardino-Balkaria, says such a kidnapping is the only way he is going to bring his future wife into his house. He’s in love with his cousin’s friend Inna, 26, but she sees him as only a friend. Ivanov has been planning the kidnapping for a while now.

“If I steal her, I know I can make her want to stay and become my wife,” he says, “even though I understand, she has a right to say ‘no.’”

Muaminat Zhilyaeva, 55, a teacher of Kabardian literature and language at the high school in Nalchik, was kidnapped by her future husband Boris more than 30 years ago. Even though they agreed to meet at a certain place and certain time to make it all happen, the ritual stealing took place. The memory of that day still brings a smile to her face.

Even though there are some opponents to this tradition who argue it remains against the civil law, Zhilyaeva doesn’t think it is criminal in any way.

“Unfortunately, due to globalization, some of the ancient Kabardian traditions have slowly faded out blending into the modern world,” she says. “But stealing of the bride is something that is going to be preserved, in my opinion, for a much longer period of time. Especially now, when it’s not violent, and a woman has a say in all of it. After all, this is what makes the following wedding more romantic and fairy tale-like.”

PhotoThe couple facing a new life together

Author Marshenkulova, a Fulbright scholar in journalism at the University of Nebraska, expects her future husband to sweep her off her feet, if not to whisk her off in a theft.

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