Wife-Pulling: Marriage Customs of the Hmong People

In the past few days, video clips depicting the mass kidnapping of girls surfaced on social media platforms and local news outlets in Vietnam. These disturbing acts are unthinkable to most, though to this particular ethnic minority, it is all part of the life cycle.

As the girls squirmed and screamed to resist the men of their village, constantly begging for help from people around, no one helped. This is the story of "Wife-pulling".

What is wife-pulling?

"Wife-pulling" is a custom of a small community of H’mong people that live in several districts of Ha Giang's northern province.

The wife-pulling custom usually happens during the marriage negotiation process. If a man wants to marry a woman he loves, he has to catch her and bring her to his house. This is usually done during a ceremony where the girl will try to pretend to resist her lover's grip.

The custom also aids couples whose parents oppose their marriage, as the girl may no longer be rejected by his family once she has been "kidnapped" and brought to his home.

Many wife-pulling ceremonies are held in spring every year. The wife-pulling custom is also a part of Hmong's marriage culture as it reflects the strong social and emotional ties between men and women.

A wife-pulling ceremony symbolises that a man has passed his trials to prove he is able to marry a girl, and it is also a way to show that he loves her.

Problem

However, several young men in northern Vietnam have abused the seemingly harmless tradition, arguing that the ritual grants them the right to make any girl their wife as long as they can successfully bring her home.

When unpleasant circumstances arise, the police will respond if the wife-pulling becomes assault. Those so-called ‘wife-nappers’ could be charged with illegal arrest, custody or detention of people and face up to two years in prison, or up to ten years if the crime is deemed of serious nature, according to lawyer Truong Xuan Tam.

The authorities have been told to encourage the local ethnic community to give up their outdated and illegal ‘pulling wife’ custom, according to the district’s deputy chairman Vo Sy Son.

Change is not expected to come any time soon, as the custom has been deeply rooted in the life and culture of locals, legal experts admitted.

Source: viettravelmagazine and tuoitrenews

Vietnam is a bustling country with over 54 different ethnic groups and thousands of friendly commuities bursting with traditions and customs. Living in Vietnam or planning a trip? Learn more about Vietnamese culture.