Zayed University & Pixelhunters – Together to Stimulate and Promote the Emirati Storytelling

Emirati Storytelling – Middle East Talents Awards and The Story Mile – Reliving the Heritage 

We have always loved to be around the youth. It makes us want to help them achieve a brighter future by encouraging them to do what they are most passionate about. In our contemporary world, it is undeniable to see a lot of children and younger adults going towards the wrong road. Being individuals who want to inspire others can be one of the most fulfilling jobs we’ve had. It allows us to express the things that we think of as well as the things that we want to extend to the youth. This includes our principles and philosophies of life. We want to share it with others. This is the reason why we came up with different ideas on how to train and motivate the youth around us. This is the reason why we came up with Middle East Talents Awards.

Middle East Talents Awards enables the youth to mold their minds, direct them towards the right way and help them do the right thing. In lieu with this, we have recently opened an idea with Zayed University ( We have always wanted to work with young minds when it comes to art and we think telling and creating stories is one of its traditional forms of expression through words. We are used to be exposure to skillful individuals who make use of paints and visual applications to express their interest in art. When we had the chance to hear and see these amazing stories that tell lessons, we were in awe. Words are indeed a mighty way of expression.

Reviving the Emirati Storytelling Traditions

The Story Mile is an exhibition by the students of Zayed University that reveals tales of historical figures and events in light boxes along the seafront path. With its partnership with our very own Middle East Talents Awards, we dare to help these young artists reach more people through the power of the internet. We will post their stories along with their maker’s insights. We will make it closer to you.

The Storyteller Club is set to revive the country’s jinn characters with its series of Emirati fairy tales and fables called the ‘Story Mile’. The first book in a three volume series was published by Zayed University and H.H. Sheikha Alyazia bint Sultan bint Khalifa Al Nahyan’s ZOWD Foundation and launched this year at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

In this modern society, we often forget our rich heritage and get lost with how modern fairy tales have been introduced to us since our childhood. Brionée LaThrop, Story Mile’s Program Manager got inspired to introduce the rich Emirati heritage to her students to bring back its memoirs and allow the younger generation to appreciate them once again. The project went to more than the four corners of their classroom as its initiative was commissioned by the Abu Dhabi Music & Art Foundation to yield more original stories for the Abu Dhabi Festival.

Now, the Story Mile is more than a school drive. These tell tale stories of traditions reached the younger minds, allowing them to get to know more of their folklore. What is so special about these forms of arts is that the students are the creators of the stories, allowing them to express their modern form of art without losing touch with the old culture. Many times when people forget how we are molded by our ancestors, these kinds of stories tell them without leaving its readers bored. It tells a unique story with a simple lesson that can sometimes be forgotten in our modern age. This project by the Al Kharareef Emirati Storytelling Club aims to keep the city closer to its heritage and culture despite its continuous efforts to move forward in life.

With our advocacy in Middle East Talents Awards and Pixelhunters, we dare to encourage everyone, not just the story creators but every dreamer to express themselves through art so that one day, no single young mind shall remain silent with their dreams sleeping.

‘Story Mile’ project puts a fresh new spin on traditional Emirati tales and Emirati Storytelling

7DAYS April 27, 2014

The Story Mile ProjectA host of Emirati folklore characters have been given a new lease of life through imaginative stories written and illustrated by students from Zayed University’s female campus. 

Members of the university’s Kharareef (Storyteller) Club have revived the country’s forgotten djinn characters with a series of Emirati fairy tales entitled ‘Story Mile’, which is set to be published this year by Zayed University.

Brione LaThrop, Story Mile’s Programme Manager, was inspired to re-introduce her students at the university to their rich Emirati heritage of storytelling after finding out how little her students appreciated them.

“Whenever I asked my students who their favourite characters from childhood were, they almost always responded with Disney characters,” she said. “When I asked them why traditional Emirati characters weren’t their favourite they looked at me in shock, saying ‘Why on earth would they ever be our favourite characters? Our parents told us they would kill us and eat us!’ That was always their reaction.”

Brione’s project became so successful that it expanded from a classroom initiative and led to a commission from Abu Dhabi Music & Art Foundation (ADMAF) to create original stories for the Abu Dhabi Festival.

After being displayed in the form of storyboards in Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa Park last month, the stories will be available in book form for the very first time at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which opens on Wednesday at ADNEC.

“We had always planned to develop the Story Mile into books. It was a natural transition for the preservation of these tales and just another vehicle to allow us to re-introduce these cultural icons that make up the Story Mile back into Emirati storytelling tradition,” said Brione.

The university students were presented with 24 traditional Emirati characters and 42 themes. “As they only knew a handful of the characters, everyone wanted the same ones at first,” said Brione.

A definitive list of characters was compiled with the help of local historian and Master Storyteller Abdul Aziz Al Mussallam, who has been researching Emirati folklore characters for years and travels from emirate to emirate collecting oral stories. The characters were also authenticated as genuinely Emirati by the Department of Culture, Heritage and Information.

Umm Duwais, a female djinn character, is one of the most well known characters in Emirati folklore. She is described as a temptress with an enchanting scent and captivating beauty who lures cheating men to their death with bladed hands. Her terrifying character has been used in fables for years in Emirati culture as a warning to unfaithful men, as well as a threat to misbehaving kids. “I’ve never met an Emirati that hasn’t heard of Umm Duwais,” said Brione. “She is definitely the most iconic of them all.”

Despite the scary nature of many of the characters, Brione and her students were determined to show a different side to them with this project. “One of the reasons why the characters have died out over the years is because they were so terrifying,” said Brione.  “We all knew that in order for this project to be successful we would have to introduce different aspects to the characters.”

Students used different themes to create their own interpretations of their assigned characters. For example, one student chose to portray Umm Duwais as the guardian of Emirati love, while another portrayed her as an orphan protector who saves children from an abusive uncle.

“While the characters themselves have been around for hundreds of years, the stories are totally original,” said Brione. “We used themes to bring out different sides of the characters, like respect, integrity, selflessness, courage – universal themes that apply to every culture.”

Abu Ras, another well-known traditional Emirati character, is a guardian of the souq who traditionally catches thieves but becomes a defender of human rights for one of the stories.

Abu Ras punishes a man who abuses his servant by taking him back in time and making him work as a labourer, and the man eventually apologizes to his servant after spending time in his shoes.

“The moral of that story is nobody deserves to be mistreated,” said Brione. “We want the stories to have an impact.”

The book keeps alive stories in danger of being lost in the modern world, and Brione says: “I wanted my students to look at these characters as guardians that are here to safeguard Emirati values and heritage.”

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