Tuesday 27 September 2011

Imilchil Wedding Festival, Myth And Truth

Young woman wearing the typical
handira of the Ait  Haddidou tribe
It is said that the history of the Imilchil wedding festival begins with the tragic love story between a young man from the Ait Ibrahim tribe and a young girl from the Ait Azza tribe. The two rivalling tribes did not allow the young couple to be married and they cried endlessly until their bitter tears turned into two lakes, ‘Isli’ (bridegroom) and ‘Tislit’ (bride). In their despair they drowned themselves into the two lakes.

Some believe that the Imilchil wedding moussem was established to commemorate the unfortunate lovers by allowing young men and women to marry the partner of their choice.

I really love a romantic story but the version of several local people just sounds a little more likely!

A long time ago (nobody seems to know when), a village chief realised that many families could hardly afford the cost of a wedding ceremony for their sons and daughters. He decided that a communal ceremony would reduce the costs substantially and that the annual moussem would be the ideal time for the festivities.

The annual moussem is held after the harvests when people have earned their profits from the harvest sales. It is the time of year to celebrate and to purchase new tools, new animal stock and sufficient supplies for the long and harsh winter. It is the occasion for young women to dress up in their beautiful handiras and exchange glances with potential suitors.

Young woman showing the stunning embroidery on her handira

The festival or more correctly the year market lasts three days. It is held at an open space twenty three kilometres down the road from the village of Imilchil. People from the surrounding villages near and far come to this market. Trucks stuffed with people, supplies and animal stock drive to and from the market. It is a lively event, hectic, noisy and incredibly colourful.

People returning home with new stock

The collective wedding ceremony takes place on the first day of the market. It has become a widespread myth that the woman of the surrounding Berber clans come to the wedding ceremony in search of and to choose a husband. Perhaps the bittersweet legend of the two young lovers and the mythical (unthinkable) female liberty to choose a husband has encouraged the international fame and allure of the Imilchil wedding festival from which this desolate region greatly benefits. Nevertheless, the marriages are pre arranged by the families according to tradition.

Once you understand the remoteness of these villages and the limited access to this area due to the extreme poor condition of the roads (it is not a journey for the faint hearted!), the social importance of the annual moussem of Imilchil becomes obvious.

Lake Islit, the largest of the two lakes

Desolate landscape inhabited by semi nomadic Berbers and their flocks of sheep

Lake Tislit and lake Isli are separated by this deserted landscape

Semi nomadic Berber woman

Plenty of sheep wool in this region, home of the handiras


  1. I enjoyed this post immensely, and it definitely sounds like an amazing wedding festival.

    Differences in culture and learning something new fascinates me :)