Portrait | Nominee

Pepa Hristova

Hamburg/Germany www.pepahristova.com

The Bartered Bride


Not far from western society, in a country at the edge of Europe, time-honoured traditions from long ago have survived until today. The bride markets are an example. where young women are sold to prospective husbands by their parents. The project titled ‚The bartered bride‘ documents this surviving ritual in Bulgaria, a country that, although a member of the European Union, still upholds some values quite different from those of western Europe.

If an orthodox Roma wishes to marry, he can buy his bride on the market in the same way as a wedding cake or a bridal bouquet. At the edge of legality, more tolerated than permitted, the Christian Roma in Bulgaria preserve this ancient tradition.

Several times a year, parents offer their young daughters for sale at bride markets. It is also about love, but above all about very large sums of money. When two young people wish to marry, the parents of the bridegroom must be prepared to pay thousands of euros. The money is by no means a dowry for bride and groom, it is a kind of purchasing price that remains in the bride’s family. From a western point of view, this tradition is considered to be human trafficking, for the Roma, however, it embodies a proof of good intentions and the desire to know that they have ensured that their daughter will have a good life.

The most recent bride market was held on a rubbish-filled car park near a main railway station. The rubbish was hidden with views of the city ranging from the picturesque to the bizarre. The young women were dressed and made-up like electro-pop singers - tight dresses, high-heels with plateau soles, all shining with gold and glitter - all with a view to impressing the men and getting a better price to satisfy their primitive needs. Seemingly relaxed, the parents in traditional costume remain in the background and keep a very sharp eye on the fate of their daughters.