Every year, the small Amazigh town of Imilchil comes alive with music, folklore, and a bustling marketplace as young men and women gather to seek out potential life partners.
Rabat – The Imilchil Wedding Festival is one of Morocco’s most widely-known Amazigh (Berber) traditions. The 500-year-old festival takes place every September near Imilchil, a small town in the Ait Haddidou region of the Atlas Mountains.
The expansive festival site is situated near the tomb of Sidi Mohammed El Maghani, the Ait Haddidou people’s patron saint. The Ait Haddidou tribes believe that any marriage blessed by Maghani will be long and prosperous.
The site blossoms each festival season with traders from neighboring towns. As many as 30,000 people gather to sell their wares or scope out potential brides and grooms.
A tent city quickly forms, playing temporary host to cafes, restaurants, smiths, and sellers of silks, dresses, carpets, dried fruits, and livestock. Music and folklore are also on full display. The site even houses the makeshift offices of marriage contract writers for the lucky couples who meet their ideal match.
Most importantly, traditional Amazigh engagement ceremonies take place in a large square. However, because foreign tourists have now taken an interest in the Imilchil Wedding Festival, official marriages are kept private.
Women who attend the festival looking for a potential life partner dress in traditional attire with their finest silver jewelry. The men who are available for marriage dress in all white, often with turbans.
It remains to be seen if the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will prompt local authorities to prohibit this year’s festival.
The origins of the Imilchil Wedding Festival
The legend of the Imilchil Wedding Festival centers around the tale of two lovers from the Ait Hadiddou tribe. The lovers’ families were sworn enemies and forbade the pair from marrying.
Some accounts of the story say the man and woman, wrought with grief, cried themselves to death. Their tears filled the two rivers in the region, now known as Isli (his) and Tislit (hers).
Another version says the pair cried enough to form two lakes on opposite sides of a mountain and drowned themselves.
In both versions of the story, the mountain symbolizes yet another tragedy: The separation of the lovers’ souls, even in death.
The families’ guilt, the legend continues, inspired them to establish a day of marriage on the anniversary of the couple’s death. On this day, young members of the Ait Haddidou tribes are permitted to marry whomever they please, and so was born the Imilchil Wedding Festival.