Roma Bride Markets in Bulgaria
By Elena Lalova
When a Roma from a southern Bulgarian clan is looking for a bride, he goes to the traditional gathering, which is at his folk stage in Stara Zagora each year in late winter or early spring - though as of recently some brides want to dance more than to marry.
Gypsy families from the clan have for centuries presented their daughters for marriage at the so-called bride market in Mogila, a village 220 kilometres south-east of Sofia, on the first Saturday after Easter fasting begins.
Some 2,000 from far and near - from Bulgaria's second-largest city Plovidiv, from Yambol and Sliven - made the pilgrimage again last Saturday to eye would-be-brides in seductive dresses and plastic flowers in their hair.
'I came with my daughter, my friends with their son. They are to meet and fall in love,' Kalina, arriving from Kapitan Andreevo on the Turkish border, says without any beating around the bush.
A pretty bride does not come cheap - a family of a good-looking young woman would not give her away for marriage without compensation running into the 'thousands of euros,' a woman getting off a train at the nearby station says knowingly.
The festival, on a field in Mogila next to the cattle-and-poultry market, starts with an explosion of Oriental music streaming from speakers mounted on a centrally-parked car.
A 17-year-old girl in a bright-green dress and a 21-year-old trader from Haskovo jump on the roof of their Lada and start dancing, celebrating and announcing that they married 10 days before. As on cue, others send their daughters to dance on cars.
Soon many 17- and 18-year old girls are showing off their belly- dancing skills as entire families, many with small children in tow, mill about.
But not all dancers - as two sisters from Plovdiv, dressed in dark green and maroon gowns and with heavy golden necklaces - are in Mogila to find a husband. One of them, 18-year-old Darinka, says she is 'still too young.'
'Times have changed,' Kalina laments. Around 50, with a face deeply furrowed by hard life, she wears a long braid and a colourful headscarf - the traditional signs of a married woman.
When she was introduced to her husband at the same place many years ago, she was neither asked nor offered a chance to give an opinion about her own maturity for marriage.
The Roma who gathered in Mogila belong to one of the largest Christian-Orthodox clans, traditionally working as pewter craftsmen throughout southern Bulgaria.
'Before, the girls in our clan were wed at 15. Our young would meet here, because they were not going out to cafes and clubs,' says Mariyka, 76.
'We want to keep the tradition, despite all this novelty,' she says, cursing and pointing to a flashy mobile phone hanging around the neck of a young man and rows of gleaming, expensive cars lining the field.