"Pulling Wife" - The strange customs of Mong people in Sapa

Nga Do
As spring arrives in the northwestern region, it is the time when young H’Mong men ask their friends to help them to “steal or pull a wife”, an established local custom. It works like this: during the day, the young couple arranges to have a date in the forest, on the road or in a marketplace. In late afternoon, the young man asks some of their friends to go to the dating place where they will help him to drag his girlfriends to his house.

Although they love each other and promise to live with each other their whole lives, no girl will willingly step into her boyfriend’s house. That’s why the man has to organize “a stealing event” so she will come to live in his house. The more friends that participate in such an event and the more determinedly they pull the girl, the happier the couple will be, the longer they will live, the more children they will have and the richer they will be. Like young couples everywhere, when a H’Mong couple fall in love, they will tell their families. If everything goes well, the man’s family will send a matchmaker to the girl’s family to talk about the affair. Then they will carry out engagement rituals and the wedding. The wedding is normally held in spring when the weather is mild and things reproduce.

However, many couples cannot get married because the girl’s parents do not agree with the wedding.

Catching Wife

The “wife stealing or pulling” custom is an effective solution. On the designated day, the man meets his girlfriend in a particular place. Before that, he secretly asks his friends and relatives to go there and pull the girl to his house. Even though the girl is aware of the custom, she must still act surprised and cry out for help.

The girl believed to be bad if she does not cry out when being pulled. The two families and her neighbours will definitely look down on her. When her family runs to her rescue with sticks in their hands, the man’s friends will stand in between and receive all the beatings so the man can take the girl to his house. As a matter of custom, the man’s people are not allowed to fight back.

The stealing or pulling must be carried out skillfully so the girl’s legs do not touch the ground and she does not fight back or bite the man and most importantly, she does not get hurt. When they are near the man’s house, one of the man’s friends will run to his house first and tell waiting people there, such as the man’s parent, uncles or aunts, to prepare two chickens, one young male and one young female, to stand in the main door. When the girl arrives, they will carry out rituals involving the chicken. Only after that can be girl be brought inside the house.

The H’Mong people believe that once the girl has entered the man’s house after the chicken rituals, she will not be accepted back to her parents’ house. She is now a member the man’s family. When she dies, her spirit will also belong to that family.

Before treating those friends who have helped with the theft to food, the man’s family will send someone to go to the girl’s family and tell them that the man’s family has stolen their daughter and that she is now married. The girl’s family will agree even if the theft has happened without their consent.

Catching Wife 2

When the girl has entered the man’s house, she will sleep with the man’s sisters for the first three nights. The next morning, the man’s family will make rice cakes and take the girl back to her parent’s house. When arriving at the girl’s house, her husband and his parents and relatives will kneel down in front of the girl’s family as a token of their friendship.

The girl’s family will cook a meal and invite the man’s family to stay and eat. At the meal, a representative of her family will ask her if she can spend the rest of her life with the man’s family. If the answer is positive, they will pack her personal belongings so she can take them to her husband’s house. Preparations for a wedding now begin. When returning to her parents’ house, if the girl cries and tells them that she does not want to return to the man’s house, then the marriage is cancelled.

That the girl lives in the man’s house for three days allows her to get used to the set-up in his family. During that period, if she likes it there, then the couple will officially become husband and wife.

Nowadays, this you can still have a chance to watching this unique custom by making a tour in Sapa, or many tribal village in northwestern Vietnam. Though being a backward, but this tradition always remain the symbolic cultural beauty of not only Hmong people but also regional ethnic minorities.

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