Imilchil Wedding Festival

This title is misleading – when trying to go to the wedding festival (mohsim n xotoba, which actually translates to engagement festival), taxis and transits will invariably drop you off half an hour before Imilchil at the Agdud (or Aidud, or Agidud, depending on the region), which is a very, very large souq (market). It lasts for 3+ days, with the governor of Errachidia province kicking things off on Thursday (before I arrived).

Here’s a brief history of the wedding festival from

Once a year the people of the various mountain tribes in the Atlas Mountains converge at a special meeting place for the Imilchil Moussem. This special meeting, which takes place in September, is primarily a massive souk where 30 000 or more Berbers gather to sell and trade their possessions. However, the gathering is not merely an exercise in financial expertise – it is also the place of the largest wedding fair in the country. The tradition was started when officials during the colonial area insisted that Berbers assemble once a year to register births, deaths and marriages. After Morocco claimed independence the tourist office encouraged the continuation of the festival. Contrary to popular belief, very few of the marriages here are prearranged. The woman arrive in ceremonial garb and they spend time flirting and getting to know the available men during the festivities and dances. Many of them already know each other. Then, near the end of the celebration, the marriage ceremonies begin and several new marriages are made simultaneously. This ceremony has, in more recent times, received a lot of tourist attention that has detracted from the ceremonies authenticity. However, the joyous occasion continues down to this day and the exact date of the festival can be obtained from the tourist board should you wish to be a part of it.

Here are some of my pictures:

In the last entry I attempted to use the gallery function in wordpress my pictures ended up out of order, so I have no idea which picture you’re seeing first.  I’ll have faith that you can correspond my narrative with the pictures anyway.

Most of the PCVs at the festival actually came under the guise of work – they all wandered around the souq a little bit, but they did a very good job manning their health tent. The highlights of that tent were a blood pressure check, some general health info on posters, some art supplies and paper – oh, and a whole lot of Americans who spoke either a dialect of Tamazight or Darija. A few environment volunteers in the immediate region were also helping the Department of Water and Forests man a booth about the Eastern High Atlas National Park. I had no plans to man any tent, this was my first vacation in Morocco! Luckily, I quickly ran into a fellow volunteer also at the festival for the sole purpose of relaxing, and we explored the nooks and crannies of the souq (including looking for and finding the camel souq, which turned out to be horribly depressing) . Then we climbed to a good vantage point on a nearby hill and tried to capture the whole event in a picture – very difficult, you’ll notice my picture from above catches neither end of the pandemonium.

I ended up buying a very warm, soft and pretty wool blanket from a woman named Zaynab who lives in a town near the city of Midelt. She was shocked and excited to hear me speak Tashelheit, and she invited me to come visit and stay for a few months if I wanted to learn how to weave a blanket myself – albeit probably much slower than her, my blanket is quite large and only took her 15 days to make! I didn’t ask if that included carding and spinning the wool or not. I was convinced I was getting the low version of the tourist price, but many locals have now oohed and ahhed over my blanket and told me I got a good price – which is good, because they normally tell me if I got a crap price. It also makes me happy, because I payed her what she asked for – I tried to bargain it down a little, but she told me she’d originally planned on asking for 50 less dirhams but had been convinced by her co-op that 50 less dirhams (250, 5000ryals) would be too little. I also went and visited her stall the next day, and she told me she’d sold all her blankets the day before at the 6000 ryal price. If you’re wondering, in the picture of Zaynab and myself my blanket is the one in the back in a bag – mostly undyed with dark red stripes.

One picture in the gallery is of men singing an aheydus with Moroccan and Amazigh flags in the audience (the Moroccan flag, red with a star, is mandatory and part of the festival set up. The Amazigh flags were being purchased at the festival and brandished by very enthusiastic aheydus watchers).  The particular aheydus was men only, heavy on the percussian, and featured the men singing/chanting while moving their line in a very slow circle.

On Saturday evening, most of us took a transit from the agdud (souq) to Imilchil, where we had heard there was going to be a performance. Sadly, this left no time to go to either Isli or Tislit lake, where weddings may or may not have been taking place – and where I still really want to go for a hike! The Isli and Tislit Lakes are drenched in mythology – Isli and Tislit mean groom and bride, respectively, and there’s a Romeo and Juliet type story involved in the creation of the lakes, and even to this day the story dictates some wedding traditions in the area (not just ceremony, but even how the tribes intermarry!). I’m hoping my friend in Imilchil posts the story on his blog so that I can appropriate it; he knows and tells the story better than I do.

The last picture is some unmarried ladies walking around the souq. Those white shawls with the silver circles (muzun) indicate that they’re bachelorettes looking for a guy. Nearly all of these girls had their scarves tied over the lower part of their faces, and the all had carefully applied heavy handed eye makeup and blush.  I have no idea what percentage of them actually met a guy there, I never saw a single dressed up girl talking to a male.

Last but not least, the show in Imilchil was a lot of fun. We had great seats at a coffee shop above the stage, and I mostly hung out there (departing once for soup and once to try to get a better picture from lower down, but all of my night pictures are still terrible). At one point while I was gone, Fatoum (who works for PC as an LCF, and although I didn’t know her beforehand a lot of my friends did) rounded up some people and walked them through a coffeeshop to dance to the side of the stage. Right as those of us at the coffeeshop noticed their location (and their amazing rendition of the electric slide to the aheydus going on), the Tamazight channel as well as some other large videocameras descended on our friends – all who were total hams, and some of whom (maybe all) appeared on TV.

That was the end of the official festivities – on the tranzit ride on the way back we saw the mostly deconstructed souq wrapping up, in desperate need of a trash pickup, and then slowly made our way down the mountain to Tinghir. The gorge just north of Tinghir is filled with tourists (mostly european, but some moroccan), almost all of whom are showing a lot of skin and are a bit difficult to identify with. However, I did see a few climbers both on my way up and down the gorge, and I would love to find some climbing gear and make it up there for a weekend sometime.

And that ends this update. Have a wonderful day!


4 responses to “Imilchil Wedding Festival

  1. Oh my, I want Zaynab to teach ME how to weave a blanket!!! You should go so I can live vicariously through you!!

    Great posting, my friend. I am really enjoying your blog!

  2. thanks for the author who write about that festival of imilchil really very nice article i hope to learn more about that village of imilchil thanks thanks for that effort

  3. Pingback: Imilchil Wedding Fest 2011 | Temporarily Tamazight

  4. very nice i am amazighe moroccan too

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