In Bulgaria's Bridal Market
The clan does not appreciate dating and outside marriage is also frowned upon.
In Bulgaria's Stara Zagora, a controversial bride market is organised every spring where young girls, who are virgins, are paraded in front of suitors who bid on them. Known locally as the "Gypsy bride market", girls are seen in "long velvet skirts and brightly coloured headscarves" with gold jewellery shining on their necks, fingers, ears and teeth, as per a report in the New York Times.
The 18,000-strong Kalaidzhi Roma clan in Bulgaria, a subset of the Roma people who face constant prejudice and exclusion across Europe, gathers annually for their largest gathering at the market. The market is held on the first Saturday of Orthodox Christian Lent. They engage in intricate discussions over a bride price that usually results in marriage. Consequently, this is among the limited chances for youth to interact with other Kalaidzhi and possible life partners. The clan does not appreciate dating and outside marriage is also frowned upon.
An ethnographer of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Velcho Krustev claims that "the man is not buying a wife, but her virginity." According to him, the bride's new family will treat her properly because of the cash.
Hristos Georgiev, aged 18, negotiated with the father of 18-year-old Donka Dimitrova, and bargaining narrowed between $7,500 to $11,300. As per the NYT, this is "well more than a year's worth of the average Bulgarian's wages". The boy said that he saved the money while working in Cyprus. Explaining the process, he said, "If she's really beautiful, the price can go up" to $13,000 and "great beauty" might even fetch $21,000, as per the outlet.
In order to save their daughters from being "stolen" by suitors, Kalaidzhi families typically marry off their daughters between the ages of 16 and 20 and pull them out of school by the eighth grade. Kalaidzhi women have historically lit the flames for their husbands' crafts and woven dowries for their daughters. They work as assistant tinsmiths, mothers and wives. Education is not seen as a priority and one in five Bulgarian Roma women are illiterate. As per the estimates by the World Bank, only 10 per cent of women have secondary education.
Ms Dimitrova, who attained higher education than most girls in the clan, believes that one "shouldn't look at the money but at the person, his way of speaking, thinking, feeling and all the rest." Her cousin added that money "is no guarantee that the marriage will last forever. They can still find another better one 10 days later."
According to the documentary Young Brides for Sale by Milene Larsson and Alice Stein, the concept is more complex than it seems. "The bride market is an ancient tradition essential to the Kalaidzhi identity, which is why this custom has survived, but these days most girls have an element of choice - albeit shaped by family pressure - when it comes to whom they wed," the Swedish filmmaker said, as per News.com.au
"That doesn't by any means justify the disturbing idea that women are property that you can sell, bid on and buy, and how that shapes these girls' lives from day one. They are brought up not to discover who they are and their ambitions, but instead to obey and serve their future husbands," she added.
The documentary offers a close-up view of the financial struggles faced by a traditional coppersmithing family. A couple spent the equivalent of a week's wages to dress their young daughters for this crucial day. "If the girl is not a virgin when you sell her, they will call us whores, sluts and disgraceful women. Kalaidzhi women must be virgins when they first marry. It is very important because a lot of money is given for virginity," the women of the family stated.
In light of the prospect that parents may choose to give their daughter's hand to a wealthy man rather than a poor one, even if the girl is in love with the latter, the young girls acknowledge that the market is "scary." "There are some cases where a boy and a girl love each other but the girl has dark eyes and if the boy's parents are wealthy they won't want her as their daughter-in-law. They will want a more beautiful one," the daughter said.