IN KYRGYZSTAN, tradition is arguably valued more than both religion and government. Which is perhaps why, in the rural parts of the country, almost half of all marriages are the result of a kidnapping. In this video, VICE’s Thomas Morton “follows/aids and abets a young groom named Kubanti as he surprises his teenage girlfriend Nazgul with the gift of marriage/kidnapping.”
The video is disturbing, but not exactly in the way I thought it would be. A young girl at a watering hole is grabbed by three or four boys and dragged kicking and screaming into a car — obviously that’s fucked up to watch. But the boys were more nervous than I imagined they’d be, particularly the groom-to-be. And female members of the groom’s family also converge on the sobbing bride, murmuring in soothing voices as they pin her down and force her into bridal attire.
The moment perhaps most seared into my brain is at 11:20, when the groomsmen ask Nazgul’s friend for help with the abduction. The boys don’t appear or sound threatening — they smile, as if plotting a prank with her.
“When you are close to the watering hole, we’ll come in this car and grab both of you, okay?”
“You can beat us, even cry,” one boy jokes with a teasing smile. The girl tries to smile back, stares at the ground submissively, and the brief flicker of emotion that passes on her face as she internally accepts that she’s about to betray her friend will likely haunt me for a long time.
Is this mess legal? Nope. But, as several family members of both the bride and groom point out, most brides eventually acquiesce.
“They seldom turn to the police,” said Bubusara Ryskulova, director of a local women’s shelter. “There are maybe only two or three cases a year when women who were kidnapped by force turn to us. Unfortunately, 95 percent of women stay, even if they don’t know him.”
Which was another surprise for me — in this case, Nazgul not only knew her ‘suitor,’ she’d discussed marrying him already, and actually planned on it. According to the friend who assisted with the kidnapping, Nazgul wanted to finish school before getting married. Her dream was to become a lawyer.
Kubanti knew Nazgul wanted to marry him eventually, so why humiliate and objectify her this way? Family members on both sides have the answer: Tradition. Ancient custom. Ritual.
They do it because they can get away with it. And that, as Morton says, is the oldest and shittiest reason in the world.