A Turkmenistan Wedding: The Traditional Bridal Gown and Veil

We were very lucky to catch a wedding when had had lunch today. For the first time, we witnessed the traditional subjection of women that, as far as we could observe, was no longer practiced. (I’ll discuss the role of women in the Stans in a future blog)

For weddings, families often return to the traditional customs and garb. Prior to a wedding and afterwards, the bride and groom are driven around to various picturesque milieus in their towns for picture taking. They are accompanied by friends, the photographers, and musicians.

Our place for lunch had been selected by this family. The limousines, followed by a cavalcade of cars, arrived at our restaurant which was in the middle of a lovely park. The bride and groom alighted and walked to the picturesque front entrance where a table with a wedding cake had been set for them. Racing in front of them were the photographers, shooting photos as they entered the site, while the musicians followed closely, playing energetically on their instruments. Following was the well dressed wedding party. Everyone gathered around the entrance patio, the musicians moved to one side, leaving room for the couple’s young friends to begin circling in a traditional dance. The music gained momentum, one couple took the center.

We stood behind the crowd that had gathered, watching, trying not to intrude but delighted by our luck and enjoying the festivities. Then unexpectedly the mother of the bride motioned us to come to the front and take pictures.  Surprised, we did as we were bid, elated with the opportunity. (Eventually we recognized that picture taking by anyone and everyone wherever the couple went was an expected part of the fun. Although we were never sure how much fun it was for the demure brides.) In fact, we couldn’t imagine the bride was having any fun at all.

The traditional bride’s dress in Turkmenistan is a very heavily brocaded and jeweled gown, over which the bride often wears heavy jewelry on her wrists and around her neck.  On her head she wears a heavy veil with a white tassle-like covering for her face. It is almost impossible for her to see through the veil so she is always led by her husband and her best friend. In this case, we were enthralled to watch her husband, a handsome young man wearing a suit, tenderly lead his new wife from the car to the table, stopping periodically to help her adjust the veil or gather the skirt of her gown. But it was impossible for us to see her face. However, when we moved closer to the table to take our photographs, her friend helped her pull her veil back as her new husband, following a modern custom, fed her a piece of cake.


Shortly afterward, the bride and groom, the wedding party following, left the restaurant, climbed back into their cars and moved off to the next photo op. And just in time. Another cavalcade arrived. This time a double wedding; two brothers had married two sisters we were informed by one of the guests.  The women too were dressed in traditional wedding garb. But this time so were the men, wearing large white fur hats, bright red jackets with golden embroidered braids from the shoulders to the belt line, and  tight black pants with knee high black boots. It was a stunning sight.

We did not stay to see if the grooms fed their brides cake. Our lunch was over and it was time for us to leave. I'll try to put up the photos in the next few days.

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    Carolyn Boiarsky

    " I am an American," but not "Chicago born" like Augie March. Only Chicago aged. I'd like to think that if Henry Louis Gates were to investigate my geneology, he would discover in my past three women who traveled around the globe, chronicling their adventures. Sarah Kemble Knight traveled 112 miles by carriage from Boston to New York in 1704, a journey most women did not embark on alone (and men did so only with some trepidation). In fact, women were only just beginning to exercise their independence in the 1920's when Emily Kimbrough took off with her friend, Cornelia Otis Skinner, to explore Europe. But it is Auntie Mame, transforming herself from a New Yorker to the wife of an Austrian Baron and climbing the Matterhorn, whose mantra I have adopted. "LIFE IS A BANQUET...LIVE!" I began travelling in the 1960's when I traveled around western Europe between graduating from the Univiersity of Pennsylvania and my first job as a statehouse correspondent for UPI (United Press International) in Charleston, West Virginia, which was about as foreign a place as Europe was to someone who grew up in the environs of Philadelphia. Since then, I've also travelled to Kaunas, Lithuania, to teach at Vytautus Magnus University and to Sheffield, England, to present a paper at an engineering conference. I've been to the Alps and seen Auntie Mame's Matterhorn while climbing, by a series of cable cars rather than by foot, toward the peak of Mont Blanc. For the past 10 years my husband and I have been traveling to unique places: a sheep farm during lambing season in England's Lake Country, a hotel on one of the Barromeo Islands in the middle of Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy, and a cottage in Dun Quin on the Dingle Peninsula which the Irish claim is the last parish before Boston. Between excursions, I'm a professor in the Department of English at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, Indiana,. My husband passed away recently and, Auntie Mame-style, I am in the process of transforming myself. Last year I joined a tour to Central Asia. This year I'm going to China to work with the pandas. A new adventure. Another banquet.

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