Marriage Fair

Marriage Fair

September
This mass engagement and marriage moussem, or "festival," is held in the remote village of Imilchil in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. As many as 30,000 people of the Ait Hadiddou tribe, a Berber clan, gather for the three days of the moussem. Also known as the FiancÉe Festival, this is a combined trade fair and pageant of public courtship, instant engagement, and the immediate exchange of marriage vows. The festival solves the problem of meeting a mate in a society where isolation is the norm: the men spend half a year moving with their flocks to upland pastures, while the women stay in the villages, planting crops and weaving rugs.
Families and their herds of sheep and donkeys stream onto the Imilchil plateau at dawn of the first day. They sell or barter their wool, meat, grain, and vegetables, while tradesmen set up tents of pottery, rugs, and tools. Musicians beat tambourines, games are played, and acrobats perform. The center of their Islam-influenced devotions is the tomb of the holy man Sidi Mohammed el Merheni. It's not certain when he lived but it's known that the marriages he blessed were happy.
The courtship proceeds with women wearing a peaked headdress and striped wool capes over white dresses. Their eyes are outlined with kohl and their cheeks are rouged. The prospective grooms, wearing white robes and turbans, weave in pairs through the clusters of brides-to-be. A man speaks to a woman, the woman nods assent, and if the family approves, the couple will enter the wedding tent to seek approval from a representative of the Ministry of Justice in Rabat. Brides who have not been previously married will leave the moussem with their fathers, and be welcomed by their grooms' families with a feast later in the year. Women who are divorcÉes or widows will go directly to live with their husbands. (Ait Hadiddou women are free to divorce and remarry.)
When a woman consents to marriage, she tells her suitor, "You have captured my liver." The Ait Hadiddou consider the liver to be the soul of love because it aids digestion and well-being.
CONTACTS:
Moroccan National Tourist Office
20 E. 46th St., Ste. 1201
New York, NY 10017
212-557-2520; fax: 212-949-8148
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