Indonesia - How to Kidnap a Bride

June 2003 – 16 min 45 sec

REPORTER: David O’Shea

UNCLE (Translation): Don't be nervous. This is really it.

After weeks of planning, tonight is the night that Cholis, will kidnap his girlfriend.

CHOLIS (Translation) She’ll be there, past the dead end. We'll come from behind. That's why I'm afraid.

An hour before dark, going over the details one last time with his uncle and friends, the nerves are beginning to show.

CHOLIS (Translation): I've been sick with fear since yesterday.

Men here, prove their love and demonstrate their bravery by stealing their beloved from her parents’ home. The girl is usually aware of the plan, but even so, for the Sasak people of Lombok, this is a very serious tradition.

CHOLIS (Translation): There's a lot to consider, like whether she can get away. It depends on the situation at her house.

If we're found out tonight, the people in her village are culturally bound to draw their machetes and fight us to get her back. When I met Cholis's girlfriend, Ingar, a few days earlier, she gave an inkling of the danger if we're discovered.

INGAR (Translation): It could be war, I’d be taken back.

REPORTER: How?

INGAR (Translation): By force. I'd be dragged back home.

Because she is a willing participant, technically it's not a kidnap. But the tactics are reminiscent of a Special Forces operation.

INGAR (Translation): As far as I know, at 7 o’clock on Tuesday, I must be outside the house, ready to be taken away.

Do you think you parents will agree later?

INGAR (Translation): Like it or not, they must. They’ll have to agree if I’ve been taken away.

This practice has been around for centuries. Cholis's grandfather kidnapped grandma.

GRANDFATHER (Translation): This is theft. This is theft of a person. It’s just the method that’s unconventional. At night, without the owner’s knowledge. It is taking someone’s property. It is taking a person. Theft is usually taking things like TV sets. Breaking in to take people’s things.

Cholis and Ingar are from traditional, influential families. His father was a former mayor of central Lombok and hers was a former village chief. But this is very much traditional Lombok meeting modern Indonesia. If you are going to be kidnapped, you don't take your suitcase with you. So today they're out shopping for the essentials. Cholis will keep these items for her - she'll need them the night she's whisked away. Disregarding the modern department stores, planning for a kidnap is pretty much the same now as it was in Cholis's grandfather's time.
GRANDFATHER (Translation): I came form the north to get her. She was coming out. But her family found out. They blocked the road, holding up weapons. I was also carrying a sword. I wasn't afraid, because I wanted her. I was prepared to die. It’s about defending her to last drop of blood. I would defend my lover with my life. Then we were married.

He's not actually talking here about Cholis's grandmother - he's talking about the first of his four wives.

GRANDFATHER (Translation): The first time was the hardest, because it was a difficult location and I was using a large bus. There were no cars in those days. Only the governor had one at the time. Actually there wasn’t a governor of Lombok yet. He was the head of government. Only he and the regent had sedans. No one else had them. The bus was visible and aroused suspicion. Hom are you about to marry?” I came quickly and we left in haste. We were blocked by some Hondas. No, they weren’t Hondas, they were large bikes. There were Harley Davidsons.

From there, it was a series of successful kidnaps and failed marriages, until he met Cholis's grandmother.

GRANDFATHER (Translation): I've been married and divorced, then married and divorced again. Then I got married again and am still married. To my fourth wife. That’s how it is.

It's time to go. Ingar's village is in south Lombok, at least half-an-hour's drive away. Cholis's uncle brings his wife, and she sits in front. That way we won't look so suspicious. Not far out of town, each of us drinks a drop of Cholis's special oil. It's a magical potion his paternal grandfather gave him when he was on his deathbed. The ingredients remain a mystery to me, but I am assured that by tasting only a drop, machete-wielding villagers can do us no harm.

CHOLIS (Translation): I'm scared. Nervous.

Just outside Ingar's village we stop and wait for dark. At exactly 7:15, we set in motion Plan A. The idea is simple - drive by her house and casually pick her up. But there are too many people around and Ingar is nowhere to be seen. We stop a little way ahead and Cholis's uncle goes to take a look on foot and to work on Plan B.

REPORTER: So what now?

CHOLIS (Translation): They will come down this slope, but it might be dangerous.

REPORTER: I mean, are they looking for her or waiting?

CHOLIS (Translation): Waiting.

REPORTER: What if there’s someone waiting out the front?

CHOLIS (Translation): They’ll take her by the hand.

Plan B involves a friend of Cholis in the village going on his motorbike to see if he can catch her attention and bring her to us. But Ingar hadn't been briefed on Plan B, so although she saw him, she didn't know she should approach him and he comes back empty-handed. Two hours and several attempts later, the 'kidnapping gods' are smiling on us. Reverting to Plan A, Cholis's friends drive up for a look and Ingar is standing alone, outside the house. In a flash, she's with us in the car.

INGAR (Translation): What took you so long?

CHOLIS (Translation): We waited a long time.

INGAR: I came out four times.

CHOLIS: Go, go, go! Hurry up! Hurry up! We have to hurry out of the village. Hurry up!

After leaving the village, a motorbike sets off in hot pursuit. We’ve been sprung.

CHOLIS (Translation): That’s it. Keep going. Go, go, go! Hurry up, they’re coming after us. Hurry up. They’re coming after us. Hurry up. No, it’s okay, it’s a friend.

INGAR: Who is it?

CHOLIS: The Haji.

MAN ON MOTORBIKE: Where is she?

CHOLIS: She's with us. We've got her!

Luckily, it was not machete-wielding assailants, but Cholis's friend with the motorbike from Plan B. Once he realises that we have her, he speeds off. Before long, we're all back together in the car heading for the house where Ingar will be hidden.

WOMAN IN CAR: She's crying - let her cry.

All of this is news to Cholis's other uncle - the owner of this house. He had no prior warning of the plan and now, just as he's going to bed, he has an issue to deal with. Ingar and Cholis are moving in. While Cholis and his would-be bride are winding down at his uncle's house, at his own home, his mother and sister have had a sleepless night.

SISTER (Translation): She cried all night and couldn’t sleep because there was no news of her son. It was chaos here. It was all so confusing, Mum was crying. She can’t cry any more because there are no more tears left.

They have been terrorised by angry bikers, outraged that the most eligible girl in their village has been stolen from under their noses. Tradition allows them to search until dawn. After that, they must accept their loss. Now that deadline has passed, the next stage of the process can begin. A delegation from Cholis's extended family are on their way to Ingar's village to officially announce that she's been taken, with her agreement, and is now living with Cholis's family. They are received first by the chief’s wife and then by the chief. During this short formality, a date is set, three days from now, for the next stage - a much more delicate matter. Negotiating the dowry to be paid for Ingar.

GRANDFATHER (Translation): In the old days you needed two or three buffalos. Two was the minimum.

This is a significant occasion - the coming together of two influential families from different provinces. The ceremonial language they speak is an ancient dialect not even used anymore. The meeting ends when Ingar's side state their price. The visiting delegation will now go back and report the result to Cholis. But Cholis's extended family are celebrating. For them, since Ingar arrived, it's been one long party. But now in a quiet moment for the young couple, the stark reality is starting to sink in. News of the dowry demand is not good.

CHOLIS (Translation): After today's visit, it's clear that Ingar’s dowry is too high. As high as a mountain. So now I have a headache. Where will I find the money? But Ingar is a good girl, so the price should be high.
INGAR: It’s high, but it’s too high. It's over the top.

Almost two months after the kidnap, Cholis and Ingar are married. Half of Lombok turns up for a memorable wedding. It's the first time Ingar has seen her family or anyone else from her village, since the night we took her away. After much negotiation, the dowry was finally settled at 50 grams of gold. A happy ending at last to Lombok's unique snatch-and-grab approach to courtship.

REPORTER: DAVID O’SHEA EDITOR: MAI DEVAHASTIN
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