Kidnapping Women: Discourses of Emotion and Social Change in the Kyrgyz Republic

By Borbieva, Noor O'Neill | Anthropological Quarterly, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Kidnapping Women: Discourses of Emotion and Social Change in the Kyrgyz Republic


Borbieva, Noor O'Neill, Anthropological Quarterly


ABSTRACT

In 1974, Anthropological Quarterly published a special issue on bride theft. Since then, considerable work has been published on the practice. Drawing on my fieldwork in the Kyrgyz Republic, I assess current understandings of the practice. I argue that although functionalist and symbolic approaches to kidnapping are still relevant, it is necessary to consider kidnapping in the context of intensifying discursive competition over marriage, gender roles, and authority. In my account, kidnapping is a practice that both supports and undermines existing systems of oppression. As such, it has become a powerful engine of social change. [Keywords: Marriage, love, power, gender, family, former soviet Union, Kyrgyz republic]

An institution-say, a marriage system-is at once a system of social relations, economic arrangements, political processes, cultural categories, norms, values, ideals, emotional patterns, and so on and on. (Ortner 1984:148)

Although prohibited by law, the traditional practice of kidnapping women and girls for forced marriage continued in rural areas [of Kyrgyzstan]. cultural traditions discouraged victims from going to the authorities. (Us Department of state 2010)

In a segment of Bride Kidnapping in the Kyrgyz Republic, a 2004 documentary produced by political scientist Petr Lom, a young woman is carried, struggling, into a rustic dwelling. she stands in the corner of a dimly-lit room, surrounded by elder women in bright dresses and sweater-vests. Wielding a white scarf, they tell her she must marry the young man who has brought her there, against her will. At times she resists, crying and arguing with the women. At times she sits passively, even laughing at their jokes. she finally puts on the scarf, and the last time we see her, she and her new husband stand next to each other, smiling and proclaiming their happiness.

Conventional wisdom among the Kyrgyz asserts that bride kidnapping (alyp kachuu1) is a unique Kyrgyz practice.2 Actually, bride kidnapping, which is also known as bride "theft," "capture," or "abduction," has been documented all over the world and throughout recorded history (e.g., Århem 1981, Ayres 1974, barnes 1999, bates et al. 1974, Evans-Grubb 1989, McLaren 2001). In most societies where it has been observed, bride kidnapping is a rule-governed practice, an alternative to more acceptable forms of marriage, such as arrangement (bates et al. 1974). barbara Ayres (1974:238) defines bride kidnapping as "the forceable abduction of a woman for the purpose of marriage, without her foreknowledge or consent and without the knowledge or consent of her parents or guardians" then qualifies that kidnapping can be "genuine" (forced abduction) or "mock" (elopement). the extent to which a young woman is involved in the planning of the abduction can vary in different societies and contexts (Kudat 1974, Werner 2004), but many societies (including the Kyrgyz) do not formally distinguish between kidnappings that are forced and those that are elopements.

Bride kidnapping is particularly well-documented in the former soviet Union where early soviet ethnographers detailed its popularity among a number of ethnic groups (Kleinbach and salimjanova 2007). Fannina Halle, a European ethnographer who traveled through central Asia and the caucasus in the 1930s, described soviet efforts to outlaw the practice as part of a project to raise the status of the Union's southern women (Halle 1938:129, see also Keinbach and salimjanova 2007:226). soviet reformers viewed kidnapping as an index of the wildness of outlying lands and the need for socialism's civilizing mission, says bruce Grant (2005:49), and considered it "the ur-example of gender inequality in caucasian societies." Kidnapping was illegal under socialism, as it is today, but laws against it have always been difficult to enforce (Kleinbach and salimjanova 2007).

Since the dissolution of the Ussr, a number of scholars have noted that the practice seems to be on the rise in central Asia (Amsler and Kleinbach 1999, bauer et al.

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