Sunday, June 29, 2008

courtship in kyrgyzstan

So, like anybody else with insomnia would do, I'm spending needless waketime on the Internet, surfing the blogs of friends. One of them has a link to her friend's blog, and she in turn links to a Frontline story about Kyrgyzstan:

With his translator and friend Fatima Sartbaeva, a young Kyrgyz woman, as his guide, Lom sets out on a journey of discovery, driving deep into the countryside to a small village just outside the ancient city of Osh.

Petr and Fatima arrive as a wedding is about to begin. Women are busy making traditional Kyrgyz bread for the occasion, and men sit in chairs outside, talking and sipping tea. The groom confesses he has had some difficulty finding a bride, but he is hopeful that "this one will stay."

When the bride does arrive, she is dragged into the groom's house, struggling and crying. Her name is Norkuz, and it turns out she has been kidnapped from her home about a mile away.
Disturbing, isn't it? Still, I find myself thinking of parallels in history and literature. The Western custom of a groom carrying his bride over the threshold of their new home has its roots in a Roman custom, which in turn grew out of the legendary "Rape of the Sabine Women" in the eighth century B.C.E., when the men of Rome abducted women from the surrounding tribes so they could have wives and families. The Bible recounts a similar event undertaken by the surviving men of the tribe of Benjamin, at the tail end of the book of Judges.

The article notes that some women in Kyrgyzstan see the tradition of bride kidnapping as an important part of their culture, and doubtless it has enabled men to obtain "wives" without having to pay expensive brideprices.

I find the end of the article disturbing, because of the moral relativism it suggests. Abduct a woman from her family and village, harrangue her over several hours into accepting a marriage as her lot in life, and then make that her identity over the next several months, and sure, she'll accept it.

But that's not acceding to anything, is it? That's a survival instinct present in us all, one that leads us to identify with our captors and see their happiness as our own.

I find it disturbing, and I hope that the practice comes to an end, however ethnocentric, closed-minded and judgmental that may make me.

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