I remember watching one of the judge shows (I can’t recall which one) and the case involved two ladies; one of whom had defaulted on her contribution to the sou-sou hand. While I was a bit shocked at the woman breaching the trust essential to the sou-sou system, I also felt a sense of fear and pity for her.
Sou-Sou as, it is commonly known in many Caribbean, South American and African countries (it is also referred to as ‘Partna’ in Jamaica and ‘Box hand’ in Guyana) orijinated in Africa and later spread throughout the African Diaspora. While it is referred to by some who first hear about the system as a ‘pyramid’ system, this assertion is very far from the truth. Unlike the pyramid system where those at the top of the system profit from those at the bottom of the system, sou-sou ensures that everyone contributes equally and in turn they receive an equal contribution. In the sou-sou system, a group of people contribute a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly amount to a pool (also known as ‘hand’). The ‘hand’ usually cycles for months or sometimes up to a year. The amount from each ‘hand’ also varies from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Those who get the hand first are still expected to continue paying into the system until the cycle ends. If you are one of the first to get the ‘hand,’ then it becomes somewhat of a loan, in the sense that you have to continue to pay into the system until you have given an equal contribution. For those who get their ‘hand’ last, it is a good way to save money. While there is no profit for ‘savings’ put into the sou-sou sytem, there are also no high interest rates for those who get their ‘hand’ (AKA share) before the end of the cycle.
The foundation of the sou-sou system is one built on trust, equality and integrity – all of which are enforced by the community. Usually groups contributing to the same ‘hand’ are composed of close friends, family or community members. To break the trust of the sou-sou system is akin to the most heinous of crimes. While imprisonment is a very unlikely outcome for a breach of trust necessary to the sou-sou system because of its ‘unofficial’ status in most countries, social and community ostracism, harassment and mistrust are the inevitable outcomes. In places like Africa and the Caribbean where the notion of community is necessary to daily survival, a breach of community trust is one of the most detrimental things that could happen to an individual’s life. Hence my sense of pity for the lady who did not fulfill her and of the bargain in the sou-sou hand.
The story of the above lady is very far and few in between in the sou-sou system, since many do not dare taking such a risk. The benefits of the sou-sou system far outweigh the possible drawbacks. For those in need of a loan but do not have the collateral or financial credit to do so, it is a safe and efficient way of obtaining an interest free loan. For those who want to save money but do not possess a saving account, the sou-sou system is a possible solution. Additionally, many new immigrants throughout the Diaspora who lack the financial history necessary to secure a loan for a home or vehicle have the means of doing so through the sou-sou system.
In financially troubling times like the one many of us are facing, the sou-sou system provides as another means of attaining financial stability and empowerment. We are bombarded daily with reports detailing how financially irresponsible we are in the African Diaspora. The sou-sou system just might be a solution in helping to change these reports and alter public perception of our financial and management skills.