Image by Gular Abbasova. Used with permission under partnership agreement.
This article was first published on Chaikhana Media. An edited version has been republished here under a content partnership agreement.
Like in many eastern cultures, in Azerbaijan, parents provide their daughters with a dowry of household items, furniture, and clothing to support their future life.
The tradition of the dowry in Azerbaijan dates back centuries. In the 19th century, families would give newly married couples blankets, mattresses, pillows, hand-woven table covers, and other small household items. According to Mahabbat Pasayeva, author of Customs and Beliefs of Azerbaijanis (19th and 20th centuries):
First of all, it was important to prepare (gather items) a dowry chest for the bride in Azerbaijan. The most valuable part of the bride's dowry, wedding dress, silver jewelry, headdresses and other valuables were collected in the decorated wedding chest, which was an alternative to types of furniture. Previously, wealthier families would sometimes give their daughter land as dowry in addition to household items, blankets, and cattle.
During the Soviet era (specifically 1970s–1980s), families were interested in buying imported goods for the dowry that were not available for sale in ordinary shops but were accessible to those with money to spend, according to the sociologist Lala Mehrali:
Department stores had goods that were not for sale in warehouses. They were also bought by the rich and wealthy as dowry for their daughters. In the 1990s, after the [first] years of independence and the first Karabakh war, the general income of families lowered and although they tried to collect a dowry for their daughters it created a degree of financial hardship for the family.
The tradition continues today, although the size of the dowry depends on the family’s financial means. Some families begin creating a dowry when their daughters are very young and slowly add items through the years. The size and value of the dowry matter to some communities, where girls with small dowries may not be accepted by their in-laws. Some families even borrow money so they can give their daughters a dowry that will be respected by their husband’s relatives.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was rare for someone to get married without a wedding party. But due to the restrictions on large gatherings and people’s financial woes, new customs became commonplace. People started holding small parties instead of large weddings and newlyweds — especially those who are already economically independent from their parents — began shunning traditional dowries in favor of more practical wedding gifts.
This new trend created an impetus for new traditions: dowry practices appear to be fading due to increasing economic challenges amid an international inflation increase, sanctions on Russia, and a possible recession. This photo project explores how views on traditional dowries are changing.
Sara, 17. Village of Kurdakhani. Image by Gular Abbasova. Used with permission under partnership agreement.
Sara: My mother has been buying dowry items for me since I was a child. Dishes, spoons, pots, tablecloths, lamps … I have no plans to get married yet, I am thinking of my education. I am preparing for exams. But what can be done ?! Like all mothers, she is used to it. This is a custom for all our relatives and neighbors, in our village. It is common for parents to buy dowry items for their girls starting from a young age. My mother thinks that even if she builds the dowry slowly, it will be cheaper. But everything changes over time. Customs as well.
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