What is the foremost theory that comes to your mind when you hear the words- ‘Night Hunting’? Sure, this might thwart you but ‘night-hunting’ has nothing to do with hunting animals; whereas it is an old traditional courtship custom practiced in Bhutan. Let me first give you an overview of what night-hunting or Bomena(as the custom is called in Bhutan) means. Bomena is a custom whereby a boy stealthily enters a girl’s house in the night for courtship with or without prior consultation. It is an establishment through which young people find their partners and get married. Bomena is still observed in Eastern and Central parts of Rural Bhutan, however its frequency has reduced manifold. Subsequently, here this belief accustoms prowling for girls in the night
Going into the details, I will tell you how this practice is accomplished. Normally, boys or men (young or old) leave their houses in groups and disperse one by one towards the house of the girl that they want to pursue. The men use different strategies to reach the girl which include sneaking in through the door or climbing up the side of the house to enter the room through a window or even dropping in from the roof. At times, when the girl and boy have pre-determined this meeting, the girl helps out the boy to get in by opening the window or the door furtively. Moreover, in old days, the consistent structural design of the Bhutanese houses having a sliding window shutter with only wooden latches made the process easier for the men. Another important decree of this tradition states that the girl has the full right to accept or reject the boy. If the girl likes him and accepts him, they spend the night together and make sure that the boy exits the house in the morning before the girl’s parents get up. There are instances in which the parents catch the boy and give him a spanking or the family chases him away by pouring hot water on him. Hence, what Bomena literally means is- ‘going towards the girl’ and involves the whole politics of the boy leaving his house in the dark, entering the girl’s house, making advances, persuading and yielding up and the girl accepting or rejecting the boy’s plea.
There are families in which one woman has two husbands, usually as a result of Bomena, as told by Damcho Rinzin from the Tourism Council of Bhutan. In such families, one husband stays with the woman while the other goes away to the mountains to watch out the livestock. After a preset period of time, the husbands swap their roles. A book named: ‘Love, Courtship and Marriage in Rural Bhutan’ has been authored by Dorji Penjore based on the custom of Bomena.
In present days, the culture is fading away due to socio-economic changes. Also, the new metal latches and locks make it intricate for the boys to creep in. The propriety and connotation of the tradition is being misunderstood and misrepresented and several people, especially the urban populace considers it as a medium for sexual exploitation. Most of the times, intercourse is consensual; thus, the chances of rape are minimal but the major problem associated with Bomena now is that of illegitimacy and single motherhood. Based on quite a few surveys, it has been found that close to 770 children in the country have not been registered with the census and are deprived of education because they do not know their fathers. The custom has lost its glory because of those men who force themselves in the girls’ house even when the girl doesn’t consent. In 2008, there were 207 cases of fatherless children in the Zhemgang village of Bhutan. The number dropped to 54 in 2009. Besides, several health surveys have associated this practice with the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Bomena is therefore considered as an impending channel for transmitting AIDS as well.
Reports assert that the custom is no more followed extensively but in general the practice has not yet died out and results in the transformation of a young girl’s life to an entire lifetime of single motherhood. Many Non-Governmental Organizations have taken steps to persuade the government to encourage responsibility by spreading consciousness concerning the rights and laws. Bomena has been criticized and condemned on the internet as well. New regulations have been positioned to dampen this ritual. According to a recent decree the man is supposed to pay 20% of his monthly income every month for fathering the child until he/she is 18 years old.
Thus, Bomena is one of those unusual customs and age-old traditions followed in Bhutan. People in diverse parts of the world are ignorant of this rite; even I was, until I spotted an article on the same. The world is crammed with bizarre practices of the sort and I will unquestionably bring forth as much as I can to broaden your prospects of knowledge. For now, I leave you at this, to contemplate, recognize and marvel. Do not forget to enlighten me with your outlook on the custom. I would love to know what you think.
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References: Wikipedia, FountainInk, The Journalist, Hindu Business Line, Asia and African Area Studies, Bhutan Majestic Travel etc.