Some sketches for ethno-tourists: the Gagauz woman (then and now)

Author: Svetlana Ghenova

ATU Gagauzia occupies a special place in the historical and cultural heritage of the Republic of Moldova. For a number of centuries, the people living here have contributed a unique flavour to our land.

I am certain that for tourists with an interest in ethnic tourism, Gagauzia will be an attraction due to a number of unique historical factors and unanswered questions. For starters, who are the Gagauz and where did they come from?  Historians have been researching this question for more than a century. The descendants of the Pechenegs and Oguz, Christians affected by Turkish culture…? The guesses give rise to many stereotypes: that the Gagauz would spend the night in the steppe, ride only horses and wander from place to place. But is it really true? Gagauz migrated to Moldavian regions in the 18th century, but where from? There are many theories out there, but what do we actually know?

My grandmother Anna (Anika Bulu, photo 1) said that according to the stories of her grandfather, when they arrived the Gagauz people simply fell in love with the Budzhak steppe so much that they refused to migrate further onto other lands.

Photo 1. Anna Ghenova, 1925 — Gagauz by nationality, a resident of Ceadir-Lunga, locally she was known as “Tololoy Anika Bulu”

In the museums of Gagauzia (for example, the one in Beshalma — photo 2), you will be told that the Gagauz girls wore beads of gold “лифт”. These beads you see in photo 1, of my grandmother.

Photo 2. Local history museum of Karachoban (Beshalma village)

Gagauz women were and still are fashionable women. Without beads, it wasn’t worth leaving the house! From this particular female fashion, it was even possible to find out a woman’s circumstances: whether she was married, and how many children had been raised. Simlarly, unmarried girls would attend local weddings in beautiful dresses. If a gentleman produced a flower, it would be considered an offer of marriage — but the last word always remained for the parents of the bride.

Photo 3. Gagauz women’s Beads

Green symbolized fertility, therefore brides would always wear dresses of that colour (see photo 4). This indicated that the future wife would look after and bring up her children well, and would also be an generous hostess. Through the traditional bright Gagauz outfits, the nature of the Budjak steppe was literally reflected: blue rivers, green groves. Fabrics were coloured through natural dyes.

Photo 4. Gagauz bride at the beginning of the 20th century

Today the Gagauz are one of the numerous peoples of Moldova, living in a separate autonomous region in the south of the country and continuing to follow their numerous traditions. Dozens of books are written on the history, culture, and ethnography of the Gagauz, with interest and attention in our people’s past growing especially over the last 2-3 decades.

Traditionally, Gagauz women are particularly skilled working a loom.

Photo 7. Museum exhibits showing the decoration of the Gagauz living room

Weaving products personified the colours of nature. And, in my house I have held onto and preserved a number of Grandma Anika’s own handmade rugs:

Photo 9. Gagauz women spinning sheep’s wool

Another favoured activity of Gagauz women is hand embroidery. From generation to generation, the Gagauz women passed on this skill, leaving a rich national collection of embroidered canvases and products.

           Photo 10. An exhibition at «Gagauz-Sofrasi» — an ethno-gagauz complex in Congaz

Gagauz women love comfort and cleanliness at home, both then and now. As a result, many traditional and modern homes are well-tended, orderly yet full of colour.

Gagauz women, both then and now, are also religious. As Orthodox Christians, they try to observe all religious holidays throughout the year. Every Sunday and on religious holidays, modern Gagauz women still light lamps (photo 12).

Photo 12. Orthodox corner at home of the modern Gagauz woman

Gagauz women are renowned for their cooking skills, especially delicious national dishes (eg. manjah, kaurma, geslemea, bulgur, turshu, etc.).

Photo 13. Traditional Gagauz dishes cooked with love by a Gagauz woman

Welcome to Gagauzia! By visiting us here you will learn much more about the lifestyle of a Gagauz woman (both then and now).

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