Wedding Fair at Imilchil, Morocco
My father, who operated a tour company in Morocco and France for many years, took me along with a German tour group to visit a traditional "Wedding Fair" at Hadiddou Imilchil, a Berber village in southern Morocco. While I knew that many Berber Fairs combine a local Saint's Day with a regional market event, only at September's 'moussem' (pilgrimage) of Imilchil, have I seen such a colorful pageant, with instant engagement, and a mass exchange of marriage vows. Berbers have inhabited North Africa for centuries, some being of Caucasian ancestry, with fair complexions and blue eyes. Visitors may think of Berbers as exotic outsiders, yet they preceded the Arabs in settling Morocco, and they remain the country's main culture. This is expressed by the phrase, "Morocco is Berber - the roots and the leaves of freedom."
While the Wedding Fair is key part of Berber marital custom, families usually arrange marriages in their home village. Women are free to divorce and remarry. At the moussem, divorced and widowed women form the majority, and are identified by their pointed headdress. The courtship is a family affair as I learned after accepting an invitation to drink mint tea in the goat hair tent of a Berber elder. His oldest daughter Malika, prettied up her divorced 18 year old sister Yasmina with traditional beauty aids - rubbing saffron colored powder into her sister's eyebrows, applying kohl to outline her eyes and carmine rouged to her cheeks. A wool cape, striped in tribal colors, covered her white dress; then a cone shaped headdress was assembled, held on by loops of spangled wool.
Yasmina a silver chain as a wedding gift, since silver
brings good luck. Many Westerners think that Moroccans
purchase their wives at the fair, but in truth, marriage
depends on mutual consent and family approval.
Once this happens, the newly acquainted boy and girl unite, holding hands as a sign of intent. Male relatives who accompany the bride-to-be lend advice, often making snap judgment calls at first sight. If rejection is signaled by a broken handclasp, it's time to look elsewhere.
When a bride does give consent, she may speak the magic phrase," You have captured my liver." Since a healthy liver aids digestion and promotes well-being, in Berber culture it's the liver, not the heart that's considered the location of true love. Might one say, "Darling, my liver pines for you?" Often snowbound behind village walls for up to six months a year, the new couples must learn to live in harmony. Despite those old Foreign Legion movies from the 50s, which showed Berbers as being fierce, hot tempered and warlike, they believe in "paix chez eux" (peace at home).
Goufrani, Africa Travel Magazine's Associate Editor covers
destinations and events in Francophone Africa. She has lived
in five West African countries, working for Air Afrique,
Royal Air Maroc and Citroen. As a Travel Agent, she worked
in North Africa, where her family operates an inbound tour
company, and later in Tahiti and Cambodia.