Pomaks are a group of Bulgarians with Muslim religion. They are considered a minority in the country and most of them live in the mountainous villages of Bulgaria, contemporary Turkey and Northern Greece. They are officially recognized by the Bulgarian government as Bulgarian Muslims. The word “Pomak” originates from the Slavic word “Po-iunak”, meaning “More than a heron”. Other interpretations of the name suggest an origin from “pomachen”, meaning tortured, tormented.
Whatever the origin, these people definitely live a very difficult life mostly in areas where labor is much needed to survive especially the harsh meteorological conditions in winter and lack of fertile land. Pomaks have their very special wedding rituals which are the main subject of this material.
Pomak wedding in Bulgaria
I just returned from a visit to one such wedding in a mountainous village in South-Western Bulgaria. Just as needed for photography purposes, there was a fantastic snowfall the previous night and everything looked as authentic as possible. I started from home before 5 am to arrive well on time and witness the preparation of the bride for the wedding. The landscape along the road was absolutely beautiful with snow all along.
It took me some time to locate the house of the bride but once I was there I started taking pictures. It is a part of the tradition for the groom to present the bride with many presents which are showcased right at the entrance of her house. If you see toasters, coffee makers, washing machines, refrigerators, and frying pans, all packed and nicely arranged right at the entrance of house, there is a good chance that there is a wedding there. On the fence of the house, you will see all sorts of clothing, carpets, and bed linen.
The tradition is as follows: the wedding continues for at least 5 days but that includes the preparation. As a part of the preparation, the newlyweds are given gold and silver. The parents of the groom give gold to the bride and the parents of the bride give silver ring to the groom. The essence of the wedding is the party and the actual celebration with guests is in the following two days usually on a weekend. After that, the newly married couple stays indoors in the house of the groom for another 3 days without seeing any people, and the “evil”, should not see them.
On the first day of the wedding, the groom invites all his relatives to the event. Imagine this is usually 500+ people as everybody in the village is a friend. At the beginning of the day, before the couple starts welcoming guests, they are praised with strings of banknotes. First, the father of the groom ties a string around the groom’s neck and then his mother does the same around the neck of the bride. The brother/sister of the groom does the same and attaches another string of banknotes on both from the couple. Every visitor to the wedding gives money to the couple and at the end of the day they have quite a substantial amount on their necks.
The welcoming of guests can continue for several hours. Image 500 people coming in and out of the restaurant. The main meal on the tables is sweets and soft drinks. After this mass eating of sweets, there is a planned rest for a couple of hours and then everybody reunites again on the square of the village for dancing. It is absolutely mind-blowing to see hundreds of people dancing in the same rhythm. Towards the end of the day the mother of the groom prepares a pot of henna and all women and girls who want can get their hands hennaed including the bride’s. This marks the end of the day.
The second day is as joyful as the first one but has some more special rituals. On this day, the bride invites her friends and relatives to the wedding and the groom should present all his gifts to the bride. There is a sort of procession of 10+ people that walk along the streets of the village with clothes and other gifts hand on improvised hangers. During all this time there is a lot of dancing and singing.
The evening of the second day is the most special one when the face of the bride is covered with a special “mask” made of cream and various small shining objects. This mask stays for the night. After this ceremony, the bride leaves her house and heads to the house of the groom. When leaving, she is given a small mirror and is not allowed to look back at her house but only at the mirror. When the house is out of sight in the mirror, her eyes are covered and she is led to the house of the groom where both newlyweds stay for 3 days without doing anything. They are served meals for all this time and not allowed to go out so that the “evil” forces do not see them.
Well, this is a truly fascinating event and i would recommend everybody to try and experience the atmosphere and the attitude of these people. They are extremely friendly and very happy to be photographed. There are numerous opportunities for photography from ranging people, small details, and very specific traditions all rich in colour.
If interested in joining me in photographing such an event, feel free to contact me for more details.
Images from Pomak wedding
Here are some images from the wedding: