By Chaymaa Rhou
By Chaymaa Rhou
Rabat – Imilchil is located in the region of the High Atlas of Morocco, where the myriad array of tribal cultures have mixed for centuries.
This land is known for many myths, one of which is the annual Imilchil Festival which celebrates the marriage of couples who they have only just met on the day of this ceremony. The festival has become a tourist attraction where men from all over the world are welcome to attend and find a spouse in the crowd.
This ritual celebration is marked by its traditional tribal heritage. Each woman participant in this ceremony is asked to dress in the customary wardrobe to show men that she’s either divorced, never married, or widowed.
To the tribes of Ait Hdidou, the story of Romeo and Juliet is not only considered a mythical tragedy, but also a story of history of two actual lovers from the region’s past. Indeed, it is said that the Tisly and Isli rivers are filled by the tears of the ancient tribal lovers.
These star-crossed lovers were victims of the unfair decision made by their families to reject their proposed marriage. It is in this combination of myth and history that the annual ceremony in Imilchil began to take shape as a symbol of love, giving all the right to choose one’s life partner in order to avoid the pain caused by hopeless love and rapture.
I was curious for a while, and decided to investigate deeper to uncover the hidden story of the women of the village and to discover if this festival gave men more choice in the arrangement than the women being selected. I was surprised by the local population stating that men do not have the power I presupposed, but must only make a first step using a sign that I will discuss later.
Many books and articles have been written on the women of North Africa without ethical considerations, which is very important. One book that discusses this topic is Amazigh Arts: Women Shaping Berber Identity by Cynthia Becker (2006). She addresses the topic of the strong Berber women of Ait Khabbash in Morocco. These women are known for their skill in weaving carpets and working in wool and illustrates the ability of these women to produce and work hard as active participants in Amazigh culture, while also producing a snapshot of the other tasks they perform to survive the trying conditions of the local weather.
Becker’s descriptions of the wool, the textile trade, and the steps needed for the local women to attain high quality creations from natural materiel relies on her visual methaphors drawn from within the Ait Kharbash culture, a culture with many similarities to other Berber tribes in concepts of gender identity.
Another book that discusses a similar topic is The Magical Life of Berber Women in Kabylia by Makilam. Adding to Becker’s discussion on the process of wool shearing and spinning preparations by women of this region, it also contains a very important discussion of body language, an entirely oral tradition that has never been written down, as most women of the region are illiterate.
This is partly related to the topic of this article, because the affirmation to a man’s proposal made by the admired woman in the celebration is based on her body signs and language.
During my inquiry into the topic of women in Imilchil and how they are representative of gender, power, and marriage in the region as evidenced in the annual festival organized in the village, I’ve attempted to consider other factors that encourage local women to participate in this marriage ceremony.
One of many factors I’ve included in my observations has been the “spinster phenomenon,” which is common in Morocco.
This phenomenon represents an issue and cultural context within Morocco. Across the entire Kingdom, women who remain single in our society are believed to bring shame to their families.
Also, the isolated location of the village and its lack of schools and possibility to meet potential mates represents a role in organizing the Imilchil Festival.
Imilchil is such a complex place with such a rich and diverse people that conclusions about power and gender in the region may yield fascinating results.
It is for this reason that we need many efforts to shed light on similar topics that consider other isolated tribes in Morocco who have a rich historical background and a differing cultural traditions in which future ethnographic research and sociological analyses may be conducted.
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed without permission.