In Ribnovo, Bulgaria, the traditional winter weddings of Slavic Muslims—aka Pomaks


A short documentary about weddings in Ribnevo /7:58min/

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.

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The village of Ribnovo is located in the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria, some 190 km south of the country’s capital Sofia. There live about 3,000 people, all being Bulgarian Muslims 

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With her eyes tightly shut and her face covered with paint, sequins and paper flowers, Bulgarian bride followed centuries of tradition in her village when she married her groom. People in Ribnovo identify themselves more by their religion, as Muslims, than by their ethnicity or nationality, and the wedding ceremony is an expression of their piety. The village has 10 clerics and two mosques for 3,500 inhabitants.

A bride’s family will laboriously pile up her dowry since she was born  – mostly handmade knit-work, quilts, coverlets, sheets, aprons, socks, carpets and rugs. On the morning of the wedding they hang the items on a wooden scaffolding, 50 metres long and three meters high, erected specially for the occasion.

Nearly everyone in the village comes to inspect the offerings: the tiny homeyards in the village are like a showroom for the furniture and household appliances the bride has to provide for her new household.

The girl and her husband-to-be will then lead a traditional horo dance on the central square, joined by most of the village’s youth. But the highlight of the ceremony, the painting of the bride’s face, comes at the end of the second day.

In a private rite open only to female in-laws, her face is covered in thick, chalky white paint and decorated with colourful sequins. A long, red veil covers her hair, her head is framed with tinsel, her painted face veiled with silvery filaments.

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