Morocco revives ‘Berrah’ tradition to get people’s attention amid pandemic

Morocco’s civil society and authorities have resurrected this old method to urge people to stay at home.
Sunday 12/04/2020
Moroccan authorities wearing protective masks check pedestrians in the street in Casablanca, April 8. (AFP)
On alert. Moroccan authorities wearing protective masks check pedestrians in the street in Casablanca, April 8. (AFP)

CASABLANCA - “Please stay home” and “Do not go out unless it is really necessary” have been recurrent messages uttered through loudspeakers as Morocco revived the old tradition of “Berrah,” usually implemented around neighbourhoods during the holy month of Ramadan to wake people for the “suhoor” meal before starting their fast at dawn.

Morocco’s civil society and authorities have resurrected this old method to urge people to stay at home and raise awareness about the danger of the outbreak among residents of different neighbourhoods across several cities, since the North African country’s number of COVID-19 infection cases started to rise.

Videos of some members of the security forces urging people to stay at home and respect the public health state of emergency enforced on March 20 went viral.

Caida Houria in the city of Safi used a serious tone to drive home the need to abide by the state of emergency rules and order teenagers and children wandering the streets to go home, warning that disobedience would result in severe legal consequences.

“Ladies, keep your children at home. Stay home. Children, take out your books and study. Visit the websites where your lessons are available and study. Learn new languages!” said Houria.

“Why are you laughing? People die and you laugh. Go home!” she shouted.

Mourad Alami, a columnist and university professor specialising in languages, told The Arab Weekly that the notion of Berrah has been well established in the collective consciousness of Moroccan citizens for a long time.

“Moroccan authorities’ decision to use the Berrah means was fair and appropriate, although it was conveyed instinctively and emotionally. If we want to win hearts and minds, we must use a living language that unites, more than another language that would sow discord and remain misunderstood,” said Alami.

Houria’s video flooded social media and free internet messaging apps as Moroccans praised her bravery and plain speech to impose law and order in a populated district of the western city of Safi.

“She deserves a royal medal! Who agrees with me?” wrote YouTuber Wissam Maria.

Alami said Houria opted for the Moroccan dialect to make her message clear and unambiguous.

“Only the Moroccan language is able to play this role. As for the severity and frankness of her jargon, this is normal. The truth of the potential thousands of deaths from coronavirus is often bitter, and for that we cannot use a conciliatory language,” said Alami.

In a densely populated neighbourhood of Casablanca, a police officer delivered a tearful message to the public in a more conciliatory tone.

“We are in the streets to protect you… if we respect the authorities’ decisions and protect ourselves, we will protect society,” said the police officer from a loudspeaker to a densely populated neighbourhood in Casablanca, which is the

Moroccan epicentre of the pandemic.

“Today, you will harm yourself, your family and loved ones if you disrespect these decisions,” warned the officer as tears were falling down his face in an emotional scene that has been viewed more that 2 million times on social media.

Atika Hamoun Aicha, a retired 78-year-old teacher, recalled the dark days of the contagious disease of leprosy that hit Morocco in the 1950s when she was a child.

“I remember quite well when local authorities were roaming the streets of the ancient medina of Meknes, shouting to demand people stay home during the contagion,” said Hamoun Aicha.

“Very few people had radios in their houses. Berrah was the most efficient way for the authorities to pass the message and warn us against the disease unlike today, when technology is facilitating the flow of information,” she added.

Morocco was one of the first countries in the world to implement strict measures to fight the pandemic, shutting down its airspace, closing its border with the two Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and enforcing a public health state of emergency.

It also closed schools, universities, businesses, mosques and clubs and cancelled all sports and cultural events.

The number of people infected with the coronavirus in Morocco stood at 1,527, according to the latest figures provided by the Ministry of Health as of April 11. There have been 110 deaths so far.