Pomak wedding celebration in Ribnovo

The brides in Ribnovo don't fit the pearls-and-lace stereotype. They don't wear white dresses, but rather colourful shalvari, or Turkish-style baggy trousers. Their veils are red. And you'd never know if they're blushing, as their faces are covered with a thick layer of white cream and dotted with sequins to create brilliant figures. This unusual make-up almost disguises the fact that the bride's eyes are closed – she'll only open them when the hodzha, or imam, blesses the marriage.

Ribnovo is in the western Rhodope about 30 km, or 19 miles, from Gotse Delchev. Like much of the region's population, the village's nearly 3,000 inhabitants are pomaks, or Slavs who converted to Islam during the Ottoman rule. However, only in Ribnovo traditional weddings are done in almost the same way as that used by their grandparents. In most other places, the old rites have disappeared, suppressed by the Communist rule, which banned religious weddings.

In Ribnovo the tradition is very much alive and not just a dusty old museum piece trotted out for tourists. Girls are married off by the age of 22, and men and women are carefully segregated – you'll rarely spot a woman alone on the street or without a headscarf.

There are no summer weddings in Ribnovo. Then the village is empty, except for a handful of elderly people, children and women in shalvari and headscarves. The men are na gurbet, or working abroad. Like the wedding ritual, the centuries-old tradition of men going off in search of seasonal labour is still alive here – but with a modern twist. In the olden days Ribnovo residents might have worked as farmhands or shepherds in distant towns and villages. Now they work on construction sites throughout Bulgaria and across Europe – from Portugal to Germany.

In winter, however, all the workers come home to enjoy the three-day-long wedding celebrations. Families spend years saving money and preparing dowries. Surprisingly as it may seem, in Ribnovo a bride's trousseau is still an important thing, and on the first day of the wedding it is displayed for the whole community to see. Locals gather on the village square and dance a horo, led by an orchestra and a member of the wedding party carrying a blue banner – a symbol of hospitality.

While the guests are dancing, female relatives of the gelina, or bride in Ribnovo dialect, proudly display her entire dowry outside on huge wooden racks stretching down the length of the street in front of her home. From carpets to runners, blankets to nightgowns, and tablecloths to aprons, everything the bride will take to her future husband's family is on display. Inside the girl's home are exhibited furniture and household appliances.

Weddings in Ribnovo are unique also in the practice for the newlyweds' families to celebrate separately. While the bride's family lays out her dowry and henna her fingernails, the groom treats his friends and relatives. On the second day, the roles are reversed: The young man's relatives take to the streets leading a specially dyed ram with apples impaled on its horns, and form an orderly procession complete with three-metre, or 10-foot, long bayratsi, or banners. Hanging from these T-shaped objects are all the gifts the groom will present to his future wife and her family.

On the third day of the wedding, women at the bride's home cover the girl's face with a thick layer of facial cream. Then they stick sequins into the cream and cover the bride with a red veil. Holding a mirror in her hands, the girl closes her eyes and steps across the threshold of her father's house to take the hand of her future husband.

Various theories try to explain the meaning of this exotic ritual. Some believe that the mirror protects the bride from "evil eye," while others claim that it connects her to her dead ancestors. Anthropologists believe it is yet another variation on an initiation rite in which a girl becomes a woman and her social status is changed forever. As far as the bride's white face is concerned, Ribnovo locals have their own legend: In earlier times boys would go with their fathers into the mountains to herd sheep, only returning to the village when they were ready to get married. Since this rough lifestyle afforded them only minimal experience with women, they somehow had to learn to be gentle. Thus, the groom's first task after the wedding – then as now – is to carefully wash his wife's face with milk.
 

For her part, the bride must be a virgin. "Here it can't be any other way," explains the imam Mustafa Likov. "But if she isn't… things get complicated. The marriage can be voided immediately after it is consummated. If before the wedding the girl admits to her husband that she has been with another man, sometimes they're able to hush things up. But if she lies to him until the last minute, how can he trust her later on in life? It's a very painful situation."

To get a divorce in Ribnovo, you don't need a judge or a clergyman. It's enough for one of the spouses to say to the other "I don't want you!" three times.

"The rites around the wedding itself don't follow religious rules," the imam says. "We do everything our own way. I used to travel quite a bit and noticed that in Ribnovo we think differently. I'm not sure why. We have a particular Ribnovo-style stubbornness. The Communists tried to force us to give up our traditions, so we clung to them more fiercely. Now, with democracy, we're starting to lose them. But if anyone tries to pressure us, we'll grab hold of them again with both hands."

The local version of a honeymoon is the one tradition that newlyweds in Ribnovo show no signs of abandoning. In the first three days after the wedding the couple is not allowed to leave their home; only close friends and relatives can visit them. Perhaps Ribnovo residents introduced this tradition to give even the most clueless young husband plenty of time to figure out a thing or two about romance.

Vagabond-bg

Comments

Pomak? wedding celebration

I saw a film on the German TV about the wedding ceremony in Ribnovo. There were quite a lot of elements reminding me about the old wedding ceremonies in the Bulgarian christian villages in the same (Nevrokop) area. There were also quite a lot of differences, but I beleive the differences can be explained without claiming that pomaks are not Bulgarians. However the music and the dances (hora) , they were 100% the same as in the Bulgarian Nevrokop christian villages ! I just felt like being at home, although I am not pomak, but christian.

TREND

The old original Bulgarian tradition is the bride to has a RED VEIL ( 19th century and before). Refer to Jordan Jovkov, the story "Chumavi" and many other sources. Yes, the Pomaks are Bulgarians who have the Islam as their religion. The Islam is a good religion, every religion is good, but the bad people can make it really bad. Bad is Turkey because today with whole their money, with Ahmed Dogan and his party they continue to attack the Bulgarian ethnicity of the Pomaks. Turkey is our deadly enemy. For some reasons they pretend to play the game as being our friends...

pomak esküvő

En mar jartam ezen a videken. Szofiaban ismerkedtem meg egy idevalo sraccal. A szuleinel szalltunk meg. Videki rokonainak is bemutatott. Velem elt. A vegen kiderult, hogy van egy menyasszonya, a szulei jegyeztek el meg gyermek korban. Az sem tetszett nekem, hogy leveleimet az apja is elolvasta. En nem ismertem a szokasokat, gondoltam, hogy minden volt szocialista orszagban egyforman elnek a fiatalok. Az itteni ferfiaknak meg van engedve, hogy szorakozhassanak europai nokkel, a helyi lanyoknak szuzen kell maradniuk. Nincsenek kozos programjaik a fiataloknak. Az idegen nokkel nem engedelyezik a hazassagot, de van ra pelda, hogy egy srac orosz not hozott haza. Volt olyan krumovgradi ferfi, akinek szinten magyar felesege van. Nem volt szep tole, mert en komolyan gondoltam ezt a dolgot. Az ilyen szokasok mar idejet multak, a menyasszony kidekoralasat is barbarnak talalom.