In a Hmong village in northern Laos, mature males stand opposite young unmarried girls. The girls look stunning in their traditional dress, and the males think so too. Each one of them lobs a tennis ball at the girl he is most attracted to. If the girl catches the tennis ball, it means she is interested in the male too. She lobs the ball back at him. They continue throwing the ball between themselves and eventually, with their attraction to each other fortified, proving their love will stand the test of time, the game ends. Later on, once the sun goes down, as it is not permitted to occur in daylight hours, the male will gather his friends and visit the house of the girl he likes, to kidnap her. If she was lobbing balls with him earlier in the day, she will probably go willingly with him. Shortly thereafter, she will end up inside his home. His family will go elsewhere for a period of three days and he will keep her contained in his home, and in this time convince her to have sex with him. After the three days have elapsed, the two will return to the world, and, as they lasted together for this period of time, they will soon be married. However, if, when the male and his friends go to kidnap the girl he likes, she does not feel the same way - perhaps she declined to catch the ball he lobbed at her earlier in the day - she will likely resist his advances as he attempts to kidnap her. As his friends will be with him, luckily, they will be able to assist in ensuring the kidnapping is a success. The girls’ parents may come to the rescue, to try to prevent their daughter from being taken away. And if this happens, the male’s friends cannot become involved. Some rules must be observed. The determined male, with his mind set on acquiring a wife, may offer the parents a large sum of money for their daughter, or, he may find the necessary strength to fend off the girl’s parents, and finally, take her back to his home. He will do all that he can to keep her in his home for the recognised three days, and if he is successful, when they leave his house, everyone in the village, including the girl’s parents, will accept that she must marry him. The male will more than likely play this game again next year, as he is allowed to collect a number of wives, as Hmong people traditionally practice polygyny although it is discouraged by the Lao government. One reason the government is trying to phase out this way of living is that males continue collecting wives, so as to add variety to their sex life, to assist in birthing more children, and to have more hands around the home to carry out household tasks; of which the “man of the house” does very few. To better understand the complex realities of life in Hmong villages, you may consider paying a visit to one of these intriguing places at some point in time. Even when only a fraction of knowledge is grasped, this experience proves enlightening.
Note: In my right hand I’m holding the ball I was throwing back and forth with the girl on my left. We did this for about ten minutes. Then I left. And she was probably wondering why I didn’t kidnap her later that night. Silly me, ignoring tradition.