Despite decades of Communist persecution and poor living conditions, Muslims of Bulgaria's snowy mountainous village of Ribnovo are honoring a decades-old traditional winter wedding ceremony that has never died down.
"Maybe we are at the end of the world. Or people in Ribnovo are very religious and proud of their traditions," Ali Mustafa Bushnak told Reuters on Thursday, February 7.
In winters, young men return from abroad to the crisp mountain snows in the southwest village to get married.
Fikrie Sabrieva, 17, is preparing to marry the traditional way.
Her family has been laboriously piling up her dowry since she was born -- mostly handmade knit-work, quilts, coverlets, sheets, aprons, socks, carpets and rugs. On a sunny Saturday winter morning, they hang the items on a wooden scaffolding, 50 meters long and three meters high, erected specially for the occasion on the steep, muddy road of scruffy two-storey houses that leads to her home. Nearly everyone in the village of 3,500 inhabitants comes to inspect the offerings.
The girl and her husband-to-be, Moussa, 20, then lead a traditional horo dance on the central square, joined by most of the village's youth.
A special feature of the traditional wedding is painting the bride's face, which comes at the end of the second day.
In a private rite open only to female in-laws, Fikrie's face is covered in thick, chalky white paint and decorated with colorful sequins. A long red veil covers her hair, her head is framed with tinsel and her painted face veiled. Clad in baggy pants and bodice shimmering in all the colors of the rainbow, the bride is presented by her future husband, her mother and her grandmother to the waiting crowd. Fikrie is not permitted to open her eyes wide until the imam declares them husband and wife.
The communist regime, which collapsed in 1989, had banned Muslims from practicing their religious rites and forced them to adopt Slavonic names. However, the traditional wedding never died down with the Pomaks – Slavs who reverted to Islam under Ottoman rule – reviving the wedding ritual with vigor.
"It's their way to express who they are," said Margarita Karamihova, an associate professor at the Ethnography Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Science.
Bulgaria is the only EU state where Muslims are not recent immigrants but a centuries-old local community.
Mostly ethnic Turkish descendants of the Ottoman Empire's reach into Europe, Muslims now make up 12 percent of the country's 7.8 million population. They have lived with Christians in a culture known as "komshuluk", or neighborly relations.
Ribnovo villagers identify themselves more by their religion than by their ethnicity or nationality. The village has 10 scholars and two mosques and its inhabitants feel proud of their traditional wedding rites.
"My brother wants to travel, see the world," said Fikrie Inuzova. "I want to stay here and marry."
Source: Islam Online (English)