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Dan Auta – An African Tale

Authored by Jose Ortega Y Gasset (translated by Elisa Amado)
Illustrated by Piet Grobler
Published by Greystone Books

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This translated retelling of a Hausa folk tale follows the adventures of the mischievous and brave, yet flawed hero Dan Auta, who takes on and defeats a monster that is terrifying an African community. The original story was first published in the early twentieth century after it was collected from the oral tradition and was later translated by Ortega Y Gasset. This version is illustrated using mixed media by Piet Grobler, incorporating elements used in graphic novels, e.g. panels and speech bubbles.

The story itself contains content that might lead some readers to feel uncomfortable on occasion; many would say the protagonist behaves appallingly and he certainly sits within the tradition of flawed heroes. The story begins when he and his sister Sarra are orphaned, with his parents’ dying words urging her to, ‘…make sure that Dan Auta never cries.’ What follows is a series of incidents where Dan Auta challenges authority, for example burning all the granaries so that they have nothing to eat, and deliberately poking out the eye of the king’s son. Each time the long-suffering Sarra does not admonish him but instead remains focused on ensuring he doesn’t cry and fixing his mistakes. However, ultimately it is Dan Auta’s confidence that enables him to challenge and defeat the ‘terrible Dodo,’ bringing him back in favour with the king.

In this tale, there are many ethical and philosophical issues raised that warrant discussion in a KS2 classroom. Adults generally want children to be confident, but should they be allowed to behave how they wish, regardless of the consequences? In what way could Dan Auta be described as heroic? How are males and females portrayed in the story? These discussions should be considered against the backdrop of the historical context of the tale. An afterword explores some of this and provides information that might support teachers when having these discussions.