It’s always fascinating to learn about other cultures’ ways of expressing and celebrating love. Imilchil, a small Berber village in the Atlas Mountains with strict social norms around courtship and marriage, holds the Imilchil marriage festival, a three-day celebration where women and men meet eagerly every year to flirt, get engaged and marry.
The festival is born from a romantic Berber tale and assembles up to 30,000 mountain dwellers under tents with their flocks, their horses, and camels.
Accompanied by their parents, young people come to the festival after a hard-working year to find love. Men wear an all-white djellaba while girls dress in colorful traditional apparel which they adorn with their silver jewelry and beautiful smokey eyes. They can flirt and dance for hours under the stars with their parents’ blessings in a joyful ambiance full of music, and food.
To find their soulmate, men are helped by a wingman to overcome any shyness. They nod to their chosen woman and wait for her answer, a discreet wink which means they can engage in a discussion and even hold hands if there is mutual interest. This act of holding hands is incredibly symbolic and bold in a conservative culture.
Impatient couples or couples from last year’s festival can marry at the festival. Festival brides wear the Handira, a sequined and talismanic throw specially handmade for the occasion by their mothers.
Imilchil Marriage Festival Origins
The festival is born from a Berber legend implicating ”Isli” and ”Tislet”, the Amazigh equivalents of Romeo and Juliet.
According to the legend, ”Tislit” was a stunningly beautiful girl from the Ait Azza tribe in Imilchil. One day while she was walking in the mountains, she met ”Isli” a young shepherd from Aït Brahim, a neighboring enemy tribe. ”Isli” and ”Tislit” instantly connected, talked for hours, and fell in love with each other.
After many unsuccessful attempts to convince their tribes to bless their marriage, they lost hope. One moonlighted night, they secretly met on the mountain separating their two tribes. Their grief was so immense that they cried themselves to death and created two lakes, now known by their names.
Saddened by their death, both guilt-ridden tribes established a day on the anniversary of their passing to allow the teenagers of the tribes to meet near these lakes and marry whomever they chose, giving life to the tradition of the Imilchil marriage festival.