Rabat – Every year in Imilchil, a small town in the Atlas Mountains, up to 40 couples convene to tie the knot as part of a long-running tradition known as the Imchil Marriage Festival. The festival is currently in full swing, running from August 23 to September 8.
The festival is born from a Berber legend, the Amazigh equivalent of Romeo and Juliet. As with all folklore passed down verbally, the story is varied depending on who tells it – but the general legend is that two star crossed lovers from the Ait Hadiddou tribe in the region wanted to marry, but their family, sworn enemies, forbade them.
Torn between their families’ wishes and their love for each other, the grief was so much that the couple cried themselves to death, and filled the two rivers in the region, now known as Isli (his) and Tislit (hers), with their tears.
The tragedy does not end there – the tribes also believe that the couple was unable to be united in the afterlife because the mountain between the two rivers separates them in death as well as life. As a result, they are doomed to yearn for each other eternally.
According to the legend, the families, ridden by guilt, established a day on the anniversary of their deaths that young members of the tribes could marry each other, so as to prevent another tragedy befalling a young couple again.
From that, Imilchil Marriage Festival was born and still carries on to this day as a symbol of both love and tragedy.
The festival happens in Imilchil, which only has a population of about 2000, because Sidi Mohamed El Maghani, the patron saint of the Ait Haddidou, is buried there. It is believed that any marriage blessed by El Maghani will be long and prosperous.
What the Imilchil Marriage Festival is like today
Although today no actual weddings occur during the festival, young men and women from the various tribes still meet and get engaged. They otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity, living in a conservative society with strict social norms around courtship and marriage.
The couples participate in an engagement ceremony and then marry at a later date of their choosing in a private gathering.
Women who attend the festival looking for a potential life partner, chaperoned by their fathers, dress in traditional attire and don their finest jewelry and the men who are available dress in all white – making the festival quite a sight to behold. The sound of traditional music floods through the area and the atmosphere is joyous.
The festival is also an occasion for the local tribes to sell their wares and to stock up before the harsh winter months in the mountains. A temporary souk is set up, with tents sprawling across the small village.
For many years, the festival was a closed event between tribes, but as tourism in the area increased, the festival was opened to visitors – a great privilege to be handled with respect when visiting.
Imilchil is also a beautiful place to visit outside of the festival period, although it is not recommended during the harsh winters. The area is known for its great camping spots, such as the aforementioned Isli and Tislit rivers.
The easiest way to get to Imilchil is via a bus from Marrakech to Beni Mellal, and then a taxi to Imilchil. The journey takes approximately 5 hours.