Marriage-by-capture in Various Societies

Like most other social institutions, marriage as we know it today has evolved over the centuries. As the joining of man and woman, it has increased in complexity as societies have become more sophisticated and civilized. Heavily steeped in custom and tradition, religion and civil law, many practices have died away as new ones replaced them.

The typical Ju marriage has many aspects of marriage-by-capture or bride kidnapping, an ancient and controversial form of marriage in which a groom steals a bride. Marriage-by-capture was a favorite subject of 19th century anthropologists, who traced its occurrence throughout Europe and the world. Though it is an old form of marriage, marriage-by-capture still occurs in countries spanning Central Asia, the Caucasus region, and parts of Africa, and among various ethnic groups. Anthropologists believe that after the marriage-by-capture period, marriage by purchase or contract probably emerged. The bride was first stolen, and later compensation was provided to her family or tribe to escape their vengeance.

Today, elements of this ancient custom appear in the marriage rituals of many societies. Some modern cultures maintain a symbolic kidnapping of the bride by the groom as part of the ritual and traditions surrounding a wedding, in a nod to the practice of bride kidnapping which may have figured in that culture's history. For instance, some say that the honeymoon is a relic of the days of marriage by capture. Frequently the tribe from which a warrior stole a bride would come looking for her, and it was necessary for the warrior and his new wife to go into hiding to avoid being discovered. The honeymoon of today, therefore, evolved as symbolic of the period of time that the bridegroom hid until bride’s kinsmen grew tired of looking for her- and him as well. According to an old French custom, as the moon went through all its phases the couple drank a wine made with honey called metheglin; hence the honeymoon. Many couples still keep their honeymoon plans a secret even if they are not afraid of being pursued by relatives. However, in the case of the Ju’/hoansi, the elements of marriage-by-capture present are not entirely ritual in nature. Rather, they express real conflict between husband and wife and between parents and children.

Human Rights Issue Regarding to Marriage-by-capture
Though the motivations behind bride kidnapping vary by region, the cultures with traditions of marriage by abduction are generally patriarchal with a strong social stigma on sex or pregnancy outside of marriage and illegitimate births. In most countries, bride kidnapping is considered a sex crime, rather than a valid form of marriage. Some versions of it may also be seen as falling along the continuum between forced marriage and arranged marriage.

In Ju society, women can make her needs known by vetoing the marriage though the marriage ceremony is acted out a ritual of marriage-by-capture. But in many societies, bride kidnapping has recently come under sharp criticism since it is considered more as crime rather than a harmless culture. For example in Kyrgyzstan, Bride kidnapping is officially a criminal offence where the criminal code stipulates a maximum three-year prison term. In reality, however, few cases reach the courtroom, and those who are tried usually walk away after paying a small fine.

References:
- Ayres, Barbara "Bride Theft and Raiding for Wives in Cross-Cultural Perspective", Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 3, Kidnapping and Elopement as Alternative Systems of Marriage (Special Issue) (July 1974), p. 245
- Najibullah, Farangis, "Bride Kidnapping: A Tradition or a Crime?", Radio Free Europe, May 21, 2011
- Yang, Jennifer Ann. "Marriage By Capture in the Hmong Culture: The Legal Issue of Cultural Rights Versus Women's Rights", Law and Society Review at UCSB, Vol. 3, pp. 38–49 (2004).
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