Communal marriage fairs are common among the Berber clans of the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. They are akin to Western harvest fairs wherein surplus produce and animals are sold off before the winter months.
The Brides' Fair at Imichil, the setting for Hal Fleming's recent novel of diplomatic intrigue and terrorism, is a colorful annual event on a high mountain plateau. As many as 200 young marriageable girls, some as young as 15, assemble dressed in festive costumes. The prospective brides wear peaked caps to signify that they have never married and thus are available. Over two or three days they parade about circling young men who wear white robes or djellabas, and there is much subtle flirting.Presumably in this process, matches are made, but it is probable that at least some arrangements are made beforehand in the traditional manner with the exchange of gifts, and that the ceremony is mainly a confirmation.
Unique in this part of the world, women who have been married before but seek new husbands for a variety of reasons, also participate in the ceremony. They wear flat caps to indicate their status. As is known, in many of the cultures of North Africa and the Middle East, it is the man who divorces by merely saying "I divorce thee" three times. Among this Berber clan, it is the women who take charge of their own destiny.
On the last afternoon of the Fair, all the new couples gather on the field, fill out the registration documents and the imam performs the communal marriage rites before a small domed mosque freshly white-washed for the occasion.
This particular event has become a major tourist attraction, but in Hal Fleming's time in Morocco in the 1980s, mostly those of the diplomatic community visited the fair given the remoteness of the site and the hair-raising drive through the mountains.
Before the winter snows close the passes and fodder becomes scarce, surplus animals art also disposed of at the Fair; however, given the rocky terrain there is no fantasia, or display of equestrian skills as is common on the lower plains during harvest season. The novel, nevertheless, includes the fantasia as a plot device.