The Bartered Bride
Bulgaria 2014-2015

When an orthodox Roma is ready to marry, he can buy a bride to his liking just as he might buy the wedding cake or the flower bouquet. On the edge of legality - the practice is tolerated rather than permitted - Bulgaria’s Christian Roma minority has preserved an old tradition. Bridal markets are held several times a year where parents offer their young daughters for sale. Love is part of it, but money, and a whole lot of it, is paramount. When two young people want to marry, the groom’s parents have to put up thousands of Euros. The money is not a dowry given to the bride and groom: it is kept by the woman’s family as a sort of price paid. In the Western perspective, this tradition is tantamount to human trafficking, but the Roma see the payment as proof of the suitor’s pure intentions and a token of the good life they hope to secure for their daughter.

The last bridal markets were held on a litter-strewn parking lot next to a major railway station. Backdrops with cityscapes ranging from the picturesque to the downright odd served to conceal the piles of trash. The young women were dolled up like synth-pop divas—tight clothes, high platform pumps, glamour, gold, and glitter - to satisfy the primitive need to impress the men and fetch a better price. The parents, in traditional dress, waited in the wings, trying hard to seem relaxed while keeping a jealous watch over their daughters’ fate.