Imilchil Wedding Festival
The festival (or “moussem” in Arabic) of marriage and engagement at Imilchil is one of the finest marriage events in Morocco. Imilchil is a small town of around 2,000 people, which is located at about 2,500 meters altitude on a plateau within the High Atlas mountain region of Morocco.
The moussem is celebrated each year in mid-September, with this year’s event scheduled for 24-26th September. It attracts people from all over the province of Errachidia, particularly those of the Ait Hdiddou tribe. This event is essentially an opportunity for the tribe’s people to mingle, connect, and share the cultural, mythical and artistic traditions of the Ait Yaazza tribe, who have remained faithful to the tradition of collective marriage for years. It is a tradition for young men and women to wed during the moussen, and in olden times the marriage was blessed by a holy man, guaranteeing their everlasting happiness.
It is claimed that the original event was inspired by two young lovers Isli (which means groom in Berber) and Tislite (which means bride). The two had decided to marry but as they were from enemy tribes could not obtain the consent of their parents, so they began to cry until death, also formed two lakes of tears Isli and Tislite not far from Imilchil (see map below). Tribes and parents, so moved by the event, decided to give their children the freedom to choose their own spouse.
Today the festival is considered a meeting place where links are forged, and young tribal people from Ait Haddidou have the opportunity to find a life long partner. Parents typically accompany young women and assist them in finding suitable partners; however older candidates (due to their strong position within the tribe) can choose their own husbands without the need to gain parental consent.
The engagement party at Imilchil is one of the largest attractions of festival, where the theme is love. Lots of focus and attention is dedicated to this event, as it has a lot of cultural significance and it delivers an opportunity to ensure the survival of the old traditional marriage story and share it with a worldwide audience.
The Engagement Ceremony is a critical element of the festival. Young people from neighboring tribes gather every year at the site of the tomb of the holy man, Marabout Sidi Ahmed Oulmaghni in Imilchil. Since the beginning of this tradition, young people wait for mousem before deciding on their other halves who will become their life long partner. Most couples only sign marriage contract and save the big ceremony until all family members and friends are gathered in a special Moroccan wedding day. After marriage contract is signed, newly weds head to their new house usually riding a mule or a horse only available option due to the remote location of surrounding tiny villages. Moussem is considered a good place for locals to find a perfect other half, and it solves the problem for guys who usually leave their villages to seek employments in urban areas, but still prefer to marry within their own tribes.
This gathering is both a religious occasion, since it pays tribute to the Marabout and a commercial opportunity as it is the largest business gathering of the year. The tribes take this opportunity to exchange livestock, and agricultural and handicraft products.
Economically, the moussem generates important commercial revenue for the region and is important for Moroccan tourism, as the festival attracts an influx of domestic and foreign tourists. The number of domestic and foreign visitors expected during the event will be in excess of 30,000.
To increase the appeal of the festival, the organizers have added a larger traditional folk aspect to this year’s schedule. This includes old traditional music and Berber dances that include the famous Ait Hdidou, Talsint and waltzes of the pretty dancing bee (Nahla) to Kelaat Mgouna.