Berber Bride Fair

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Berber Bride Fair (Moussem des Fiancailles)

Type of Holiday: Folkloric
Date of Observation: Late September
Where Celebrated: Near Imilchil, Morocco
Symbols and Customs: Folk Music and Dancing, Headdresses, Marriage Contracts, Silver Jewelry, White Turbans and Clothing

ORIGINS

For more than a thousand years, the Berber people of Morocco have lived in small communities spread throughout the rugged Atlas Mountains. People living in such tiny, remote communities had a hard time finding mates. The Berber Bride Fair addressed this problem. Each year, in late September, men and women looking for marriage partners converged on the shrine of a Muslim saint near the village of Imilchil. Once there they had three days to select a marriage partner from among the hundreds of other single, divorced, or widowed fair goers. The Berber Bride Fair continues till this day, providing Berbers both with an opportunity to find a mate and to stock up on necessary household wares at good prices.

No one knows exactly how and when the Berber Bride Fair began. A legend claims that once a boy and girl from warring tribes fell in love with each other. Due to the hostility between the two tribes, the couple was forbidden to marry. The boy and girl cried so many tears that two small lakes were created. After seeing the two lakes of tears the tribal rulers finally relented and allowed the couple to marry. They also created the Bride Fair, in order to give youngsters from different tribes a yearly opportunity to meet and marry.

The Berber Bride Fair is called a moussem, or pilgrimage, in French. Like other such events throughout the Muslim world, the pilgrimage takes as its destination the shrine of a Muslim holy person, or saint. The Berber Bride Fair takes place outside the shrine of Sidi Mohammed el Merheni, near the village of Imilchil. Although many people attend looking for mates, the moussem also includes an open-air market. Berber people from many remote locales attend the fair, looking to buy tea, sugar, jewelry, carpets, pots and pans, hardware, livestock, spices, and produce.

Until the eighth-century Arab invasion, Morocco was primarily populated by the Berber people. Although the Arabs successfully instilled their new religion, Islam, throughout the country, many Berber tribes remained intact. While Arab culture came to dominate Morocco's cities, Berber views and customs still have significant influence over Moroccan culture in rural areas. Unlike their Arab sisters, Berber women have traditionally had the right to arrange their own marriages. Moreover, compared to Arab women, their status has been closer to that of men. Among the Berbers divorce is common, and some prospective brides and grooms wandering around the Berber Bride Fair have been married seven or eight times.

At the Berber Bride Fair, women identify prospective grooms by their WHITE TUR BANS . Grooms identify possible brides by their HEADDRESSES and SILVER JEWELRY . Courtship consists of meeting and chatting with one another in public. Holding hands signifies that a deal is in the making. If one person drops the other person's hand, then the deal is off and both members of the couple need to keep looking. When a woman decides to accept a man's offer, she declares, "You have captured my liver." In Morocco, the liver, rather than the heart, is believed to be the seat of emotion. If the couple roams the fair together holding hands, it is assumed by all that they are engaged.

The actual wedding ceremony does not take place at the fair. Only family members and friends may attend a traditional Berber wedding. In recent years, due to tourist interest, a typical Berber wedding is presented in a nearby village. The nearly week-long exchange of gifts and rituals is collapsed into a 90-minute scenario. Visitors often enjoy watching the bride's representative arrive at the groom's house and mock the gifts of clothing and jewelry that he had selected for her, compelling him to bring out more and finer goods. The show ends when the bride-riding on a mule and dressed in a red robe-arrives at the groom's house. She carries a lamb to symbolize prosperity. A child rides behind her on the mule, representing fertility. Berber Bride Fair

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Folk Music and Dancing

The Berber Bride Fair is a joyous event, and the spirited music and sensual dancing reflect the crowd's excitement and happiness. These musical events are not scheduled, though they usually take place in the evenings. They occur spontaneously as musicians with drums and pipes gather and become inspired to play.

Headdresses

Berber men can tell which ladies have been married previously by examining the style of their headdress. Women who are divorced or widowed wear pointed or conical headdresses. First-time brides wear round, spangled headdresses. Some of them also veil their faces.

Marriage Contracts

Once a couple has become engaged, they await the last day of the fair when official marriage contracts are signed. A government official arrives on this day to record and notarize the couples' decisions. The men and women sit separately inside the officials' tent, waiting their turn to make these final arrangements. Sometimes couples who have been engaged for some time attend the Berber Bride Fair in order to take advantage of the reduced rates given on marriage documents at the fair.

Silver Jewelry

Prospective brides wander through the fair wearing silver and amber jewelry. Folk tradition teaches that silver jewelry brings them good luck. Merchants also sell silver and amber jewelry at the fair.

White Turbans and Clothing

Berber men who wish to find a bride at the fair often wear white djellabas, a garment that looks like a full-length white shirt. White turbans are another sign that men use to advertise their interest in finding a mate. By contrast, women looking for a husband usually wear colorful clothes.

FURTHER READING

Beckwith, Carol, and Angela Fisher. African Ceremonies. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2002. Covington, Richard. "Dreams in the Desert." Smithsonian Magazine. August 2002. www.smithsonianmagazine.com/issue/2002/august/dreams.htm Dax, Peter. "Seven Brides for Seven Berbers." New York Times. September 3, 1989.

WEB SITE

Africa Travel Magazine www.africa-ata.org/feature3.htm
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Le Moussem des fiancailles d'Imichil aura lieu du 20 au 22 septembre courant sous le theme "Moussem des fiancailles, un patrimoine au service du developpement des tribus Ait Hdiddou".
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Le Moussem des fiancailles d'Imilchil celebre donc l'histoire de cet amour tragique comme pour rendre hommage a ces amants extraordinaires.