Barra, Mubarkah Bent al- (1957–)

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Barra, Mubarkah Bent al-

Mubarkah (Batta) Bent al-Barra is a Mauritanian poet and teacher writing primarily in Arabic. She is very active in the cultural and literary life of her country, and has achieved some renown elsewhere in the Arab world. She frequently takes part in literary festivals in other Arab countries.


Al-Barra was born in al-Madhardhara, Mauritania, in 1957. She studied in public schools. She graduated with a degree in education from the Teachers High Institute in Nouakchott in 1983. She received an M.A. in Maghrebi and Andalusian literatures from Muhammad V University in Rabat, Morocco, in 1987 and teaches in the Teachers High Institute, in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. Al-Barra is bilingual with a solid knowledge of Arabic and French, but writes primarily in Arabic.

Al-Barra's interests are social issues facing her country and literature, and she writes about both. She published a collection of poetry, Taranim li-Watanin Wahid (Chants for a country for all) in 1992. She has published research papers on oral poetry, specifically the tibra', a form of amorous poetry recited by women in closed gatherings attended only by women, popular in both Mauritania and the Western Sahara. She has also published translations of tibra' poems in French. Al-Barra is the author of a book on Mauritanian poetry, titled, al-Shi'r al-Muritani al-Hadith, min 1970 ila 1995 (Modern Mauritanian poetry, 1970–1995), published in 1998.

Al-Barra published a children' book, Hikayat Jaddati (My grandmother's tales) in 1997. She is the coauthor of another book on Mauritanian oral literature, al-Hikayat al-sha"biyya al-Muritaniyya (Mauritanian folk tales, n.d.)


In the country of the million poets, as Mauritania is often referred to, al-Barra belongs to the third generation of poets. Like many of this group, she resorted to the use of dialogue in her poems and a narrative style to address the realities of Mauritanian society. Like the other poets of her group, al-Barra uses free verse in some of her poems. She borrows images from religious texts, ancient Arab history and classical Arabic texts to portray conditions in her country. The symbolism of the religious stories is particularly effective in a country deeply rooted in Arab-Islamic traditions. Al-Barra uses both free verse and rhymed poetry, borrowing images from her own environment, which explains the frequent use of palm trees and sand.

In "Intizar" (Waiting), the poet defends the cause of the villagers who seem forgotten by the political regime. The poem refers to the rural population who moved to the capital and established shantytowns at the outskirts of the city, awaiting a solution to their problems. In the meantime, they were leading a life of misery and humiliation due to their poverty. The poet chooses human situations involving children and elderly people to create a dramatic effect.

Like the poor people exhausted from waiting at the periphery of the capital, al-Barra is tired of waiting for the improvement of conditions in her country. She expresses feelings of sadness and despair in "al-Qafila" (The Caravan):

     Once I wanted my poetry and myself
     To become pouring rain,
     To quench the thirst of the sands.
     I wanted, in the people's name, to eliminate dust,
     To erase weak will
     To see the sad evenings disappear,
     And also the cobwebs and the suffering of children,
     To allow the muzzled to break their chains
     To wait no more.
     I am tired of waiting
     I am tired of seeing the caravans (al-Shi'r, p. 262)

The caravans the poet refers to are those of the poor beggars roaming the city. Natural conditions in Nouakchott, with an overwhelming presence of sand that covers the streets, add to the dramatic effect created by the human suffering described in her poems.

Al-Barrra's collection Taranim li-Watanin Wahid is characterized by a strong nationalistic tone. She defends Mauritanian and Arab causes, with a special attention to the Palestinian problem. Her support for Palestine is clear in "Kayfa Abharta?" (How did you sail?), a poem she wrote to welcome the Palestinian poet, mahmud darwish, on his visit to Nouakchott in 1993. With the same concern for the suffering of her people she expresses her compassion for the suffering of the poet who carries the burden of his homeland on his shoulders:

You are the one carrying the pain of the land inside your body, Gaza and Galilee,

She then invites him to rest a little in her country, saying,

Relax a little on these sands, for you the thorns and the palm trees blossom, And speak to its friendly inhabitants in a time when friends are scarce. (al-Adab, p. 67)


Name: Mubarkah Bent al-Barra (Batta Bent al-Barra)

Birth: 1957, al-Madhardhara, Mauritania

Nationality: Mauritanian

Education: Bachelor's degree, education, Teachers High Institute, Nouakchott, 1983; M.A., Maghrebi and Andalusian literatures, Muhammad V University, Rabat, Morocco, 1987


  • 1988: Participates in al-Mirbad poetry festival in Iraq
  • 1992: Publishes poetry collection, Taranim li-Watanin Wahid
  • 1993: Reads her poem "Kayfa Abharta?" on the radio to welcome Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish to Mauritania
  • 1997: Publishes children's book, Hikayat Jaddati
  • 1998: Publishes book on Mauritanian poetry, al-Shi'r al-Muritani al-Hadith, min 1970 ila 1995



How is she called, she who remains a dream, she who's impossible to embrace

How is she called, she in whose love a generation is consumed, and another is born? Breathless, you were passionately eager to meet her, while memories stood erect:

The scent of a martyr's blood, a mother watching the stars, and killers and victims,

The remains of a mawwal, sung in her honor, late at night, by a weary voice.

             ("HOW DID YOU SAIL?" AL-ADAB, p. 67)

Al-Barra is particularly concerned with the problems of Mauritanian women. She takes a strong stand against those who view them as an object of pleasure.


Al-Barra's poetry has not been translated into any foreign language, which limits the circle of her readers to her own country and the Arab world. She has been quite involved in literary festivals taking place in various Arab countries. She participated in al-Mirbad poetry festival in Iraq in 1988. The festival was held annually until the war in Iraq interrupted it.

Al-Barra is very active in the cultural and literary life of Mauritania, as examplified by the aforementioned poem in honor of Mahmud Darwish, which she read on Mauritanian radio in April 1993. The poem is published in its entirety, in the Lebanese journal al-Adab's (Literature) special issue on Mauritanian literature. The choice of her poem from all those submitted reflects al-Barra's importance. The wide circulation of al-Adab has certainly given her visibility outside her own country.


Al-Barra's active literary life and her prominence in Arab literary circles make her a role model for Mauritanian women. In a country where most writers endure extreme hardships to publish their writings in book form, al-Barra succeeded in publishing a collection of poetry in Nouakchott and a book on modern Mauritanian poetry in Damascus.


Ould Bah. Introduction à la poésie Mauritanienne. Arabica. V. VI, 1975.

                                              Aida A. Bamia

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Barra, Mubarkah Bent al- (1957–)

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