Bride kidnapping in Sa Pa: A bizarre custom of marriage
Bride kidnapping in Sa Pa: A bizarre custom of marriage
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Bride kidnapping of H’Mong and Thai ethnic groups has been practicing for quite a long time. They believe that this custom expresses the freedom of marriage and symbolizes an escape from poverty for people that can’t afford to get married. For centuries, Northern ethnic groups in Sa Pa have been practicing bride kidnapping as a part of their cultural identity.
About Bride Kidnapping
Researchers believe that there are 3 different types of this custom: Bride pulling (keo vo), bride kidnapping (bat vo) and bride stealing (cuop vo). For bride pulling, the man and woman have feelings for each other. But they will put on a kidnapping scene at a festival to officially announce their marriage.
On the other hand, bride kidnapping is for a man who wants to kidnap the woman he loves but doesn't have her heart. This man normally has to accept the challenging and valuable offerings required by the woman’s family to get married. Finally, bride stealing is an evil custom in which the man stole another man’s wife. This custom is not widely practiced and is considered fogy.
Bride pulling: Put on a kidnapping scene
When H’mong couples are ready to get married, they will discuss with both of their families about the upcoming wedding. If things go smoothly according to plan, the groom and his family will go meet the bride’s family as a part of the proposal ceremony, then an engagement ceremony will be held. And finally, a wedding will be organized.
However, in reality there are many lovers whose marriage is disapproved of by the bride’s family. Then the idea of bride kidnapping is the ultimate solution so that they can be together. It can happen on a nice day when they are dating. The man will ask for help from their friends and relatives beforehand, and then all of them will kidnap and drag the woman to the man’s house.
Although the woman might have known this plan in advance, she will need to scream, cry and call out her family for help - acting like she is trying to fight against these people. If the woman does not cry and scream out loud, she will be considered spoiled and get looked down on by the villagers.
On the other hand, the woman’s family will come rescue her with wooden sticks to hit the man and his friends. As a part of bride kidnapping custom, the groom’s family and friends are not allowed to fight back. They need to take all the hits from the bride’s family in resilience as a price.
When kidnapping and dragging the woman to home, the groom and his friends have to make sure that her feet are not touching the ground. Also, they are not allowed to hurt the woman.
Engagement, proposal and wedding
A person in the kidnappers’ group will be sent home in advance and notify the groom’s parents and relatives to catch a pair of chickens (an unmatured rooster and a hen). They need to be ready at the front door to “do the magic” when the woman arrives. After that, the woman is allowed to get in the house. The groom’s family will then inform the bridge’s one that their daughter has been successfully kidnapped to their house. No matter how angry the bride’s family is, there is nothing they can do.
The woman will be arranged to sleep with the man’s sisters for 3 nights. This is the chance for the woman to learn about her lover’s family and get acquainted with the housework and family culture. It is quite similar to the Western experience of living together before marriage. On the third day, the groom, his parents and relatives will escort the woman back to her house with some food offerings. The groom will be required to bow to each and every member of the bride’s family as greetings.
In return, the bride’s family will invite the groom and his family for a meal. During this feast, her family will ask the woman if she truly wants to live with this man for the rest of her life. If the answer is “yes”, her family will gladly help her to pack all her belongings and move to her soon-to-be-husband’s house. A wedding will be planned in happiness and blessings from everyone.
Bride kidnapping: Desperate kidnap of one-sided love
Sometimes, a man is interested in a woman and he starts to develop his one-sided love. He will kidnap the woman without her consent. In that scenario, the girl often tries her best to escape while being captured at the man’s house. The man might also let her do so.
In case the woman failed to run away, she can express her disapproval of the marriage when coming back to her house after 3 days. To discourage the man’s family, her family will require valuable offerings and difficult challenges that they know are impossible for the man. As the man can’t satisfy the requirements, he and his family will have to serve meals for all villagers in 7 consecutive days as a punishment.
This custom is rooted in the ancient culture of H’mong people. Back in the old days, they often challenged the man by requiring valuable offerings. It took much money, gold, silver and wine to get married. The elderly shared that: “You need to have at least 7 silver coins, 30 cans of wine, 30 kilograms of meat, big silver rings and lots of clothes…” And the list goes on.
For a Northern ethinic group, there are not many rich people around. It is impossible for those poor men to get their proposal accepted by their lovers’ families. That is when the custom of bride kidnapping came in and saved the lovebirds. It is the voice of freedom to be with the one you love regardless of your background and property.
Yet, this custom has dark sides. Most of the time, the marriage failed because the 2 haven’t known much about each other. The endless tragedy of young families might end with the death of the wife caused either by her violent husband or her desperate attempt to escape reality. Also, this custom results in child marriage. Sometimes, a kidnapped wife is barely 15 and her “matured” husband is at the age of… 16.