Ataba & Zarief E-ttool

"Ataba & Zarief E-ttool" are Palestinian Folkloric characters. Ataba is the symbol name for the lovely, Palestinian, beloved young lady. In the Arabic language dictionary, Ataba "comes from the infinitive "ATAB", that means the yearning talks, or making-up with somebody after blaming him." 1

Zarief E-ttool is the symbol name for the handsome, courageous Palestinian young man. Not necessary the beloved one, but also the strong fighter who defend his country. In the Arabic language, Zarief E-ttool is a two syllabus expression. It is composed of two words. Zarief, the first word, "comes from the infinitive "THURF", that means nice, handsome, or the good looking"2. E-ttool, the second word, "comes from the infinitive "TOOL", that means the height".3

Those two characters were presented in the Palestinian culture through dances, songs, and tales. No matter in which shape they appeared, their story was the same. The songs tell the same story as the tales, and the dances reflected the way each or both of the characters felt. Ataba and Zarief carry most of the Palestinian and Arabic morals and traditions.

It is a love story that shows the difficulties Zarief E-ttool had to face and pass through in order to win his beautiful beloved Ataba. Who was, during the same time, waiting and yearning for the courageous Zarief. The story was told in different cities and villages around Palestine and in different ways, but I will present the main events that people tried to adapt to their life style depending on where they lived.

1 "Mukhtar Al-sahah" Arabic-Arabic dictionary.(p.410)
2 "Mukhtar Al-sahah" Arabic-Arabic dictionary, (p.403)
3 "Mukhtar Al-sahah" Arabic-Arabic dictionary, (p.401)

The Story

Once upon a time, in the old days, there was a very rich trader who had business and trades all over the Arabic world. He had a lot of people working for him, among them was an intelligent young man. He was known by Zarief E-ttool among the people of the city. He was very handsome, polite, dependable, but a poor person too. The trader used to depend a lot on Zarief. He used to leave the country and leave every thing for Zarief to take care of.

One day, the trader's daughter came to the store looking for her father. She wanted to tell him that a very important visitor sent a message with his servant, notifying them that he will come over for an urgent reason. When she came in, Zarief was serving a customer. She salute him, he looked at her and did not believe what he saw: She was extremely beautiful. With big dark eyes, long, black, slightly-wavy hair, and her shy red cheeks, she meant beauty by all means. He answered her and promised to deliver the message to her father. In her way out, he wanted to ask her about her name, but he could not dare asking about any personal information. Since that moment, Zarief's life was turned upside down. He could not sleep, he could not eat, her image was coming back to him every morning and night, till he started imagining seeing her every where. So, he decided to do whatever it would take him in order to know more about her.

One day, Zarief went to his boss's house as to bring some samples of new material. The trader welcomed him, called his daughter, and asked her to prepare some tea...And at that moment, Zarief was all ears to receive the name of his beloved lady: Ataba. When she was back with the tea, her father had excused himself to see someone at the door. So, Zarief took the chance, and complimented her name as she served him tea. She was very shy that she could not lift her gaze. He apologized, and introduced himself to her. And there, he was surprised that she knew his name from her father. She wanted to leave the room, but he stopped her, and asked her if he can meet her at the river the next morning. She told him that this was not appropriate, and he would better not try cross his limits.

That night was a long one for Zarief. He thought a lot about what he should do so he can see Ataba. Finally, he decided to ask for her hand. So, the next morning, he went to the store, and waited for Ataba's father. When he came, Zarief asked him for Ataba's hand, and the father was shocked. He refused Zarief's demand, and told him that he can't supply Ataba with the fine, high quality things that she was used to have. Zarief told him that he can, and that he would do what ever he would ask him for in order to prove that he wants Ataba. After arguing for a long time, the father decided to give Ataba for Zarief if he would bring the best grapes in the country. So, Zarief accepted the condition, and started getting ready for the trip. In his way, he met Ataba, and told her about his request and her father's condition. She was very shy when she told him that she knows that he can do it, and that she will wait for him. He was very happy, and decided not to come back alive if he wont get the grapes. So, he went to KHALIL city, where the best grapes where grown. He bought some with all the money he had, and started his way back. When he got to his city, he headed to Ataba's house and gave the grapes to her father. The father was disappointed. He did not think that Zarief will survive till he gets to KHALIL city and comes back. So, he decided to send him to a farther city: YAFA to bring the best oranges.

Zarief kept on going and coming back, every time he brings something, Ataba's father asks for something else. He traveled all around Palestine, used different ways of transportation, and met all kinds of people. In his way, he sang for Ataba in a sad theme, describing her and her smile, describing his love for her, and how he misses her. So, all the people around Palestine knew him and his story with Ataba. They learned his songs and repeated his words as symbols of true love.

His last trip was to Egypt. There, he had a friend who held the position of the representative of the king (Mukhtar). So, Zarief went to see him, and told him about his story. The Mukhtar smiled, and told him not to worry because he will come back with him and talk to Ataba's father who was a very dear friend of his. Zarief was very happy in his way back, and couldn't wait to see Ataba. When they arrived to Palestine, they headed to Ataba's house. The father was happy when he saw his old friend, and asked him how he decided to come all this way from Egypt to pay this visit. The Mukhtar told him about his request, and how he would guarantee Zarief as to be the ideal man for Ataba. So, the father finally agreed and announced the preparations for his daughter's marriage.

Ataba's and Zarief's marriage was in a very big party. People from all over Palestine attended. "And Zarief's friends were singing a song for Zarief congratulating him and telling his story in a very happy tone, accompanying the singing with the traditional dance: DABKEH"4.

4 Palestinian Folk-tales. P.(136)

That was the story. Now if we analyze the characters, we will see how the story carried the basics of the Arabic morals and traditions, and specifically, the Palestinian culture.

The trader, for example, represented the typical sort of father who would not give his only daughter to a poor man. Specially if she used to live in a high class life style. He also showed the importance of old friendship when he accepted Zarief's request for his friends satisfaction.

The Mukhtar is a wise man. That what his actions reflects. He knew how to help Zarief, and in the same time without letting his old friend looses his face and his self dignity between his other friends and customers. He shows how people should act in such sensitive situations, and how they should not omit social rules.

Ataba is the character of the Arabic shy girl, who would hide her love and keep her silence till the man makes the first move. She also did not accept meeting with him, although she loved him, because she was a respectful girl who would not waste her and her family's status because of a stupid act.

Zarief E-ttool, who was the main character of the story, was nothing but a good human being. He presented the ideal Arabic, courageous young man who would do any thing for his girl. He also knew how to deal with her father by setting a deal, knowing that a high status family won't give their daughter easily for a poor young man if he did not have the main other qualifications such as: intelligence, courage, force, morals...etc. He also knew whom to choose as a middle man, which is the way most of the people follow to get their requests in the Arab world.

After looking at the main events of the story, and after analyzing the characters, we can see that the moral of the story is With Patience and Hope, Everything is Possible.

The story was told in different ways for different purposes. The advantages of telling the story for children are:

The advantages of telling the story to young men and women are differs from the children's. Because by that time, they don't need to know about agriculture or ways of transportation, they want to know how the society system goes, and how they can reach their dreams. So, they will ...

Ataba & Zarief E-ttool as Songs:

Ataba: is known as "a special type of slow sad folk-songs. People sing it in weddings as an introduction before fast songs" 5. It is mostly sang by men during their long nights, while they are sitting around the fire, relaxing and talking-out their problems. Ataba is a song that talks about the beloved girl's beauty and shyness, as well as how desperate the young men are because of the many unsuccessful ways they tried in order to win or even to get the attention of the lovely "Ataba". So, the song takes the form of taking turns. Each one sing a verse of it when his turn comes. Usually, it takes the whole night, not because it is a long song, but because young men get involved and passionate. So, they start making-up verses that tells each one's love story.

Zarief E-ttool: is also known as a fast rhythm folk-song. "it is sang at weddings and other happy occasions. It is the type of fast, steady rhythm song, and it is accompanied with a special folk-dance called DABKEH."6 The song is sang in two ways: either the singers talk about the deeds of the courage of Zarief in wars and fights while defending his country and properties. Or, they talk about the looks of the handsome, charming young man. Mostly women sing this type, describing their feelings and yearning, each one of them for her "Zarief E-ttool".

In both types, Zarief E-ttool is usually away. He is living far from his country or his "Ataba". He does the impossible for his return, and beats all the dangers and difficulties that stands between him and beautiful Ataba.

Ataba & Zarief E-ttool in the Arabic World:

In other countries than Palestine, Ataba is known in the same type of song, but with different words. In Lebanon, for an example, people sing some "Ataba" before any other folk-song in different occasions. It has the same impression on them as in Palestine, because of it's sad theme, and the sensitive love feelings expressed by the singers. Later on, people in Lebanon and other countries such as: Jordan, Syria, and Iraq started singing "Ataba" as a theme. They changed the words only from love songs to yearning words for their countries, relatives, friends, and even asking God to help them in their life.

Zarief E-ttool, like Ataba, kept it's theme and dance too. Wherever people sang Zarief E-ttool, they accompanied it with a DABKEH. In Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, the topic of the song is always the same. Where the words are concerned, only slight changes occurred due to the different accents.

In Conclusion:

At the present time, "Ataba" and "Zarief E-ttool" are considered as important parts in the Palestinian heritage. They carry the bases of the Palestinian folklore: songs, dances, and tales. That is why we; Palestinians; teach this tale at our Arabic schools in Montreal. So the children would have the chance to get the objectives and the advantages of the events of the story , just like their brothers and sisters back home in Palestine.

5 The Palestinian Folk-songs. P.(79)
6 The Palestinian Folk-songs. P.(71)


1. Abdelhady, Tawadud. PALESTINIAN FOLK-TALES, volume 3. Ibenrashed Publishing Company; Beirut.

2. Elrazy, Mohammad. MUKHTAR AL-SAHAH Arabic-Arabic dictionary, 1985. Alkebla Islamic Cultural House; Syria

3. Elzanoty, Helmy. PALESTINIAN FOLK-SONGS, 1982. Alsanabel Cultural Company; Kuwait.

4. Sarhan, Nemer. PALESTINIAN FOLKPOETRY, Volume 1, 1980. The Palestinian Folkloric Encyclopedia; Jordan

5. Toukan, Ibrahim. POETRY, Aswar Akka Publishing House; Palestine.

Go back to Palestinian Folktales
Go back to The Palestinian Folklore Page