In Pictures: Imilchil marriage festival

Despite its name, the traditional Amazigh gathering in Morocco is not designed for wedding ceremonies.

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Imilchil, Morocco - In the eastern High Atlas mountains of Morocco, the Moussem (or festival) of Sidi Hmad Mghani marks the end of the harvest ahead of the freezing winter. Held at the intersection of several major nomadic roads, the festival has been a gathering of several Amazigh tribes for approximately four centuries.

According to Imilchil historian Bassou Oujabbor, the Moussem is primarily a religious event celebrating Sidi Hmad Mghani. A local holy man, Mghani is believed to bring blessings to political agreements between tribes and the business transactions made in the large market set up for the occasion.

Besides its religious aspect, the market is the main feature of the event. It is primarily an opportunity for shepherds to sell their cattle, but also for now-settled nomadic groups to sell textiles and artisanal and agricultural goods.

More recently, the gathering has begun to attract the Amazigh intelligentsia from major Moroccan cities, who come to celebrate Amazigh culture.

However, what the Moussem is most known for, outside of Imilchil, are the marriages that supposedly take place during the event. Oujabbor explains that this is a misconception: "There are no wedding ceremonies during the event; it is simply an opportunity for already-married couples in this geographically isolated region to obtain marriage certificates from the state."

Imilchil resident Fadma Bassou explains that the tribes in the region reject the title of "Festival of Marriage", which was created by the state in the early 1960s to stimulate tourism in Midelt province. After the construction of paved roads, couples began to travel to obtain their marriage certificates in towns such as Er-Rich or Midelt.

It was then that the governor of Errachidia began to offer a cash prize of 700 dirhams ($80) for couples who marry at the Moussem. Couples have also reported being refused marriage certificates and being told to obtain them at the festival during the two-month period preceding the event.