Imilchil – A Celebration of Marriage
High in the desert territory of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, lies a village by the name of Imilchil. Here, life is hard and locals are raised with a strong sense of culture and tradition. Not many outsiders come to this desolate Moroccan village, as the road that leads here is long, rough and almost inaccessible. However, each September, residents of the surrounding villages make the journey to Imilchil to celebrate the Imilchil Festival, also known as September Romance.
Even though the Imilchil Festival is a wedding festival, it is not a wedding venue and no-one gets married during this time. It is a Moroccan event that commemorates the love, the heartache and the tragedy that befell two lovers many years ago. According to legend, the lovers came from two Berber tribes that lived in the Atlas Mountains. As expected, their parents did not approve of the romance and forbade them from getting married. Torn between their families and the thought of a lifetime without each other, Tislet and Isli decided to drown themselves in the lakes nearby. But their story does not end there. They were unable to unite in death, as the mountain that separates the two lakes also separates their spirits, leaving them to yearn for each other in death as they had in life. After this event, families of the different tribes decided that both men and women would be able to choose their own life partner.
But the question still remains, why trek to this isolated village to attend the Imilchil Festival? Well, Sidi Mohammed El Maghani is buried here. He is the patron saint of Ait Haddidou, and it is believed that any union blessed by El Maghani will be prosperous and lasting. The festival is held to allow young men and woman from the various tribes to meet. Couples also get engaged at the festival, but tie the knot at a later time at a wedding venue of their choice. It is a joyful event that is accompanied by rhythmic music, great feasts, singing, dancing and of course…a little flirting. Woman available for marriage and who are seeking a husband are dressed in traditional attire, and men that are looking for a bride, are easily visible in their white dress.
For years this glorious wedding festival was a closed affair, with only family members of the respected tribes being allowed to participate. But as tourism and the interest in different cultures and traditions started to grow, even this intimate Moroccan festival had to start relenting to foreigners. Even thought most tourists and visitors to the festival try to remain unseen and not intrude on the proceedings, many fathers of future brides feel that their daughters are in jeopardy and do not approve of the visitors. Those who are able to attend the Imilchil Festival should consider themselves privileged and respect every ritual and custom of the event.