Alhaji Imam is a very curious sort of protagonist for “The Water of Cure,” a story that served as an educational work for children in primary schools. Alhaji is certainly regarded as the true hero of this mini-epic tale. He overcomes the evil actions of a multitude of adversaries, and, in befriending evil itself, is capable of overcoming fate’s prevention of his finding the water that can save the Emir’s son. Why, though, is he still considered a well-regarded man by not only his peers and neighbors within the story, but also by the reader? Does his character simply have a reckless abandon for morals and good values?
I believe that the answer to both of these questions is found in a comparison of the behaviors and interactions of Malam Zurke and our protagonist. Alhaji’s first encounter with Zurke occurs when he is actually pretending to be a malam, Zurke’s true profession; after a controversy ensues concerning the most learned malam in the town, Alhaji is able to outsmart Zurke and effectively run him out of town. In another instance soon after in the next town over, Alhaji tricks the malam out of his own wealth and into jail after he attempts to befriend him. These two events set off a back-and-forth which most often amounts to Alhaji granting mercy or forgiveness to Malam Zurke. Malam Zurke certainly does no wrong the first two times he crosses paths with Alhaji; however, his tricks and eventual attacks, however, become targeted at Alhaji as they continue to meet on the road, even amounting to a direct attempts at on Alhaji as he is sleeping. Alhaji regards Malam Zurke as someone he must part ways with, and eventually forgive and “remain worthy of each other’s trust”(p. 30).
These two characters’ entire relationship exists during a part of Alhaji’s fifteen-year journey during which he is lost on the path of finding the magical Water of Cure. The petty slew of lies and trickery for material gains in the back-and-forth between the two characters, while ignoble and unexpected from the well-honored protagonist of such a tale, underscore his sympathy and good life deeds done for others – for example , when he scares the grieving man to stop “wishing death upon himself” (p. 23), or when he spares Malam Zurke from death at the hands of hyenas after he attempts to rob him (p. 26). Ultimately, it is during these moments, those during which pettiness and trickery are not present, that one can see the true character of the story’s hero.
Alhaji’s entire journey is all for the purpose of relieving his beloved stepfather of his shame acquired from being called a “foolish old man.” One could almost regard Alhaji as a character without shame for all of his trickery. More important, however, is the fact that his entire mission is to rid his loved ones of their own sense of shame. This is the essence of his role as the protagonist in “The Water of Cure.”