Magazine article Russian Life

Kidnapping the Bride

Magazine article Russian Life

Kidnapping the Bride

Article excerpt

We had been chatting on Skype for about half an hour when my older sister announced, as though in passing, "By the way, tomorrow Tm getting married." 3n response to my dismay--"Married!? Why didn't you tell me? What do you mean, tomorrow?"--she answered, just as calmly, "Tomorrow they're coming to steal me. Wanted to do it today, but I asked for a one-day extension. I've got to do a manicure, and a pedicure, and get some important things taken care of."

Good or Bad?

Bride kidnapping comes as no surprise in the Caucasus. In fact, in my family it was a matter of course: grandpa stole grandma, dad stole mom, my brother stole my sister-in-law. Many of my female friends faced the same thing, and they were quite happy with the situation. After all, being married in Kabardino-Balkaria, like elsewhere in the Caucasus, is a privileged position, and gives you a certain status in society.

Because I grew up knowing bride kidnapping as a normal aspect of life, I have been surprised by the consistent pattern of thought among foreigners who find the tradition "barbaric and criminal." As I scan various articles on the subject, watch YouTube videos, and interact with people of other nationalities, I cannot help being amazed at the widespread opinion that the majority, if not everyone, holds: stealing brides is bad, the grooms are criminals, the brides are unfortunate girls whose relatives could not protect them.

Of course, there have been isolated cases of criminal grooms and unfortunate brides. And no one misses an opportunity to write about them. But I wanted to offer a look at the other side of the coin.

It is rare to see accounts of cases where the bride knows about the upcoming "theft" and impatiently counts down the days until it finally happens. In the end, feel-good stories and happy endings simply do not interest readers as much as tragic finales. If it bleeds, it leads, etc. Often enough, if the bride does not know about the impending theft, she may suspect it. Does she resist, when the time comes? Sure --those are the rules of the game. Are her relatives opposed, and do they threaten to punish the groom? Again, rules of the game!

The Traditions Origins

Modern-day bride kidnapping in the Caucasus is a fashionable trend, passed down from our ancestors and now resurging, having acquired a few modern flourishes along the way.

How did the Adyghe people do things in the past? (Adyghe is a term--roughly synonymous with Circassian--encompassing a number of peoples of the northwest Caucasus, including the Kabardins) Back then, the umyk (theft) of the bride came in three forms: an abduction by force, against the will of the woman and her family; an abduction with the bride's consent, but against the will of her parents; and a staged abduction by mutual agreement of all interested parties.

This form of marriage was motivated by both economic and moral or psychological factors. The prospective groom aimed to force the woman and her family to acquiesce to the marriage--because even if she were to be taken by force from the unfortunate groom, she would be considered "dishonored" and would not have another chance to get married.

At the same time, the abductor hoped to achieve a significant reduction in the uase (bride price) when the two sides made up, and in a staged umyk, he could avoid pre-marriage expenses. In addition, in Adyghe society, young people considered a bride kidnapping that involved an element of physical danger for the groom to be a demonstration of his courage.

In fact, in ancient times, the Adyghe, who thought of the umyk as an antisocial custom, were constantly trying to quash the practice, classifying it among the most severe crimes, punishable, under locally-accepted law, by an honor killing. However, due to objective social factors, they could not entirely get rid of umyk. Even during Soviet times, when the prescribed punishment was up to two years in prison, Caucasian grooms continued to abduct brides. …

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