Abraham’s Treasure by Joanne Skerrett – reviewed by Nahdjla Carasco-Bailey

Historical fact meets fiction in this adventure story by Dominican-born author Joanne Skerrett, set in the Caribbean “Nature Isle” of her birth.  A couple of 14-year-olds, twin brothers James and Jerome, on their journey into the unknown in search of treasure which they have been reliably informed is destined for them, must as they go along, decode clues in order to find their pot of gold.  Conflict comes in the shape of the evil contender, Julius, who shadows the young lads on their expedition and is out to claim the treasure as his rightful inheritance.

The tale appears to be loosely based (whether intentionally or by utter coincidence) on the jè lajan (money jar in Kwéyol) custom prevalent in the French colonized territories (such as Dominica and Saint Lucia) during the era of slavery.  With no banks existing in the islands at the time, slave masters were known to secrete their money and other precious assets in jars which were then buried deep in the ground.  First, the hole would be dug, the treasure placed in it, and a trusted slave carefully selected. He would be asked to bend over and look into the hole, and in so doing would be decapitated.  His head was promptly buried in the hole, which was then securely covered over.  It was the firm belief of the slave owners that the spirit of the trusted slave would faithfully and forever guard that treasure.  After the death of the slave masters, the whereabouts of the jar would be told to the rightful heir/s in a dream.  If anyone else should try to discover that wealth, he would end up dying a nasty death.  How much of the surrounding events of the jè lajan  custom is fact, and how much fiction, is certainly open to conjecture…

But, similarly, in Abraham’s Treasure, we see James and Jerome, the young descendants of Abraham, to whom the treasure had been promised, being given intelligence, albeit indirectly, about the hidden treasure, and we also see Julius perishing in a terrible manner as he attempts to capture it first. Then there is Mr Brown, the gatekeeper of the mountain, as well, who has been given strict instructions to guard the treasure and allow only the two boys and no one else to have it.

Abraham’s Treasure should entertain boys and girls looking for a tale of adventure and should resonate with young Caribbean readers especially.  In any case, the stories of our ancestors need to be told in whatever genre. With the continuing absence of Caribbean history in many of our schools’ curricula, there is an unfortunate disconnect between then and now.  It is up to our practitioners of the arts, in their own way, to instruct the young, and, in fact, not let any of us forget.

As in any good adventure story, there is in Abraham’s Treasure  intrigue, there are twists and turns, there is dramatic irony.  There are lessons also – of the nature of determination, of man’s inhumanity to man, of greed, of justice, of being able to let go of one’s dreams once daunting reality sets in.  Though, we are told, in the words of Mr Brown, when in the final pages he is asked how the boys should get the treasure if it is indeed theirs:  “I don’t know.  We will have to see what they do next…” – no doubt, leaving the gate wide open for a serial publication, as fans of Abraham’s Treasure would be pleased to hear.

The action and lessons of Abraham’s Treasure should inspire the imagination of boys in particular – and that is surely a very good thing for all of our Caribbean youth, their parents and teachers.

Abraham’s Treasure (2011, 170 pages) is published by Papillote Press.

Nahdjla Carasco-Bailey is an educator and the author of the children’s book Telling Tales from St Lucia (2010) and Time for Poetry (1988) which was used for many years in schools throughout the Caribbean. She has journeyed the globe and taught in several countries, including her homeland Saint Lucia.

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