KyrgyzstanKyrgyzstan: bride kidnapping tradition

Kyrgyzstan: bride kidnapping tradition

What do you know about Kyrgyz traditions? These people with ancient nomad culture and unique lifestyle still conserve a lot of traditions that have been preserved since the times when Kyrgyz nomads lived in tribes. Some nomadic traditions can be very ambiguous and even shocking for the western mentality.

For example, there is an ancient tradition of bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan that is still alive today. It is called “ala kachuu” which means “grab and run”.

The history of bride kidnapping tradition

The history of the bride kidnapping tradition can be traced back to the times when the nomadic people lived in small and separate communities or tribes. The communities could feud among themselves, and in general, the attitude towards people from outside their community was suspicious and hostile. As a result, in order to marry a girl from another community the guy had to literally kidnap her.

In those distant times the tradition of bride kidnapping contributed to strengthening and improving the community and also to the diversity of the gene pool. Besides, to steal a bride from a hostile community, one had to have courage and bravery. The price for a failed kidnapping was the life of the young man.

Nowadays this tradition is not so romantic as there are no such risks, no hostile tribes and, what is more important, there is no need to kidnap the bride. Nevertheless, the tradition is not forgotten. More than 15 000 young girls are kidnapped each year in Kyrgyzstan and forced to marry the kidnapper. It is estimated that at least one third of the kidnapped brides got married against their will.

How the bride is kidnapped? 

The tradition of bride kidnapping is very ambiguous. Normally it does not suppose the bride´s consent, nevertheless nowadays exist 2 types of bride kidnapping – classic bride kidnapping and kidnapping by mutual agreement.

Classic bride kidnapping

The classic bride kidnapping (without her consent) implies that the guy is deceiving or forcibly abducting a girl, often with the help of his friends and/or male-relatives.

Afterwards, the abducted girl is brought to the would-be-groom’s house, where she is held against her will until she agrees to marry the kidnapper. It is considered that she gave her consent to marry the guy if he or his family members were able to put a white kerchief on her head. The white kerchief means that she became a wife and a mistress of his house.

However, if the girl does not agree to wear the white kerchief, different types of “persuasion” can be used. For example, if persuasion doesn’t work, they thread to curse the girl and all her kind. May be it sounds even funny for you, but Kyrgyzstan is relatively superstitious country and such words really scare young girls.

If the curse doesn’t help and the girl decides to leave, an old woman (kidnapper’s relative) may lie on the doorstep. It is almost insurmountable obstacle for a young Kyrgyz girl, because stepping over an old person is not only disrespectful, but can also bring a curse. Besides, often the relatives of the abducted girl fearing the public opinion also try to persuade her to put on the white headscarf and stay.

Worse still, it often happens that to keep the girl in the house the would-be-groom rapes her. In this case the girl will surely stay, because it is considered shameful to leave the “groom’s” house not being a virgin. And even if she wasn’t raped but held in the kidnapper’s house during the night, often she can’t return to her family because they probably won’t accept her back.

Thus, the kidnapped girls experience very strong social and moral pressure and very small percentage of abducted girls dare to leave.

In contrast, there are practically no consequences for the kidnapper. As a rule, even if the girl leaves, she will not call the police, and if she does, there are very few chances to bring the kidnapper to the courts. In the history of independent Kyrgyzstan only 1 man was convicted for bride kidnapping and was condemned for 6 years in prison. The kidnapper was 35 years old; he abducted 17-year-old girl, who committed a suicide later.

Thus, nowadays this tradition entirely lost its romantic aura.

Consensual bride kidnapping

Sometimes the bride kidnapping occurs by mutual agreement. It may happen when a young couple can’t get formally married in spite their mutual love and desire to formalize their relations, because her parents are opposed to it.

For example, if the girl’s elder sister is not married, her parents may not allow her to get married. In this case the young couple may agree the bride kidnapping. Then the girl goes at the appointed time to the appointed place from where her boyfriend takes her to his house. Of course, in this case the girl doesn’t resist wearing the kerchief. When she puts it on, the guy’s parents inform the girl’s parents, that their daughter is married and discuss the date of the wedding and, possibly, the dowry (bride price).

In other cases, the parents of the future bride and groom decide to marry their children. Even if it seems controversial to you, this type of forced marriage is also considered of mutual agreement. As it is not accepted to go against the parents’ will, the girl normally accepts their decision as the wise one. As a rule, girls in such cases know in advance when and to whom they will be given in marriage. Besides, the parents allow the future spouses to meet before the wedding, but only during the day and under the supervision of the girl’s relatives. This way they can get to know each other, but still they are not allowed even to hold hands until the wedding.

On the contrary, there are cases when the girl’s parents have already chosen her a fiance, but she does not want to marry him. Then, the girl agrees with her boyfriend and he kidnaps her. This way, the girl’s honor is kept intact and she doesn’t have to go against the will of her parents openly.

Life after kidnapping – Ainura’s story 

Ainura is 34 years old, but she looks much older.  “Living in a village doesn’t make you look young and fresh”, – says Ainura – “besides, time flies”.

She is living with her spouse and his parents in a village and bringing up her 4 children. Ainura told us how her life was after his husband kidnapped her.

“When I was young, I was very attractive. I had a boyfriend, but my parents did not allow me to marry him. They were planning to give me in marriage to a richer man and get a good dowry.  But it turned out differently.

One day, when I was returning from a store a car stopped near me. There were 4 guys in the car and they asked me how to get somewhere. When I started to explain, they asked me to accompany them and show the way. Of course, I refused. Then one of the guys got out of the car and asked me to repeat the explanation. When I started to talk, he grabbed me and dragged me into the car.

I screamed, cried, asked them to let me go, but it was useless. They took me very far from my home. The whole way I begged them not to kidnap me, because I understood why they where abducting me. But they did not listen and brought me to some village.

There they took me to the house where a table was set. Everyone started to persuade me to sit down and eat. I refused; I cried and asked them to let me go home. Afterwards, an old woman came up to me with a kerchief in her hands. She said that I was Kyrgyz, that getting married, having children and pleasing my husband was my duty and that I was born for that. The old woman said that all of them got married this way and that this was the real happiness and that I just couldn’t understand it yet. Afterwards, the woman told me that if I didn’t put on the kerchief, she would curse me so I would never get married and my life would be miserable. I refused, but they still didn’t let me go.

Then they took me to a room and told me to sit there and think. I sat down on the bed, cried and asked Allah to help me. A guy came into the room, he told me that he was my future husband, that he understood how scared I was, that he would be my friend if I became his wife. I asked him to help me to get out of the house. Then he got angry, hit me and raped me.

The next day they’ve put me the kerchief and sent matchmakers to my parents. My parents agreed to the wedding after receiving a small dowry for me. That’s how my family life began.

During the first year I gave birth to a child, a son. The first few years it was very hard… I had a feeling that my heart and soul were dead, that never again I would enjoy my life. Later I got more used to my new life. I gave birth to 4 children, but actually I will never be the same again…merry, joyful and happy.

I won’t tell you anything more about my family life, because it’s shame to complain about one’s husband, but for my three daughters I want a different fate. I want them to graduate and be able to marry the person they love.

Now I am satisfied with my life, and I am grateful to my husband for our children. But if I could get back in time, I would run away with the guy I loved. I would not be scared and would not listen to my parents”.


If you want to know more about Central Asian countries, read our blog! If you are planning to visit Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan or Tajikistan, browse our database of local tourist service providers and find [verified] guides, drivers, accommodation, activities and tours organized by local professionals! Discover Central Asia with us!


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