Date: August – September, 2020
(exact date can be know approximately for month before the festival)
Imilchil is located high up in the lake plateau of the Middle Atlas Mountains in Morocco. In this quaint village you will find primarily Berber tribal clans who have a strong sense of culture and tradition that has been preserved for decades. The Imilchil Marriage Festival is the prime attraction of this village and takes place annually in September. Each September, the surrounding tribes, Ait Sokham and Ait Bouguemmaz celebrate the Imilchil Marriage Festival, held in Souk Aam and Agdoud N’Oulmghenni. This festival, also known as September Romance, features the Ait Yaazza culture of an annual collective marriage where women search and choose their husband.
The fiance part of the festival is staged on the site of the tomb of the Oldman, who is venerated in the High Atlas. Close to 30,000 people from the mountains assemble under tents for three days with their flocks, their horses and camels. It is an occasion when young girls to dress up and wear their finery, their sumptuous silver jewelry, and dance for hours under the stars.
Traditionally, a nod and a wink is the unspoken language between men and women at the festival to show interest. Men are usually assisted by a friend in choosing a bride and overcoming any shyness. Once they receive a gesture from a female, if they agree, they may hold hands to show intent. However, letting go of ones hand signals rejection.
If a bride says the magic phrase, “you have captured my liver or my liver pines for you”, it means that she has found her love. Liver not the heart is considered the location of true love because in Berber culture it is believed that a healthy liver aids digestion and promotes well-being.
If there is consent on both ends, the couple meets with their families in a tent whereby questions are prompted and discussion is carried on over warm mint tea. Later, the marriage will be arranged more seriously in the couple’s home village. If a marriage is an unhappy one, divorce is allowed. At the Imilchil Festival, divorced or widowed women are in the majority. They can be identified by a pointed headdress.
For the young men and girls of the area, it was a tradition to get married on the day of the Moussem in ancient times, a holy man used to bless the betrothed at Agdoul. Those knowledgeable about the festival will explain that there are actually no weddings performed at the event, rather it is a way to pay tribute to a bittersweet Moroccan legend today.
They say all great love stories are tragic. The legendary tale of the Imilchil Marriage Festival says there were two young people who fell in love from enemy tribes. Their family would not allow them to marry. Out of grief, they wept bitterly day and night. These tears created two individual lakes. One lake was “Isli”, meaning bridegroom and the other, “Tislit”, meaning bride. Their despair was so great; they committed suicide by drowning in those two lakes. The Imilchil Moussem has been created to pay homage to these two young lovers. Legend also has that with the mountain separating the two lakes; their souls remained apart even after their deaths.
The sadness prevailed among villagers therefore the tradition was changed and all of the families granted total freedom to their children to marry whomever they chose. Today, neighboring tribes gather together near these lakes, and the women choose their husbands.
As well as being the place to choose a potential spouse, the Moussem of Imilchil operates as a fair or a big market, with artisans and farmers offering their produce to a wider market than is available at the weekly Souk. If you have an opportunity to attend the Imilchil Marriage Festival, it is highly recommended that you go. The festival is celebrated with great food, music, dancing, and beautifully dressed Berbers in traditional and ceremonial costume. For a long time the festival was closed off to visitors but in recent years has opened to stimulate tourism.