IMILCHIL, MOROCCO —
What started as an annual marriage festival has become an economic boon for a tiny Berber village tucked into the foothills of Morocco's Atlas Mountains.
In recent years, the village has become an attraction for tourists, both foreign and Moroccan, drawn in by local folklore.
According to legend, a man and a woman from different tribes fell in love, but were forbidden from marrying. Out of grief, they cried themselves to death, creating the nearby lakes of Tislit and Isli, meaning bride and groom.
Poor conditions and harsh geography have led many residents to seek employment in bigger towns, but the annual festival and the tradition surrounding it helps keep the village of 2,000 going. Dozens of couples from places too small to have government offices gather to have their marriages legalized, while other young people hope to find partners. It's a 10-hour, mountainous drive 450 kilometers (280 miles) south of Rabat, Morocco's capital.
Today, the event is arranged to coincide with a large three-day market that marks the end of the harvest season. For the local tribe of Ait Hadidou, this market is the main event, overshadowing the marriage ceremonies as it helps to sustain the small region for the next year.
It is also a chance to commemorate the local holy figure, Sidi Hmad Mghani, who is believed to bring blessings to political agreements between tribes and to the business transactions made in the large market.
The market, which spreads across a large valley a few kilometers outside Imilchil, provides an opportunity for farmers to sell their cattle, but also for now-settled nomadic groups to sell textiles and agricultural goods.
For most merchants of nearby towns, it's the busiest season of the year. For families, it provides an opportunity to stockpile food and provisions for the months ahead, as the mountain roads become impassable during the snowy winter months.