I live in the Midwest of the United States, and few things motivate me to leave my home during the winter months. But once a month, whether there is a dusting of snow or a frigid chill in the air, I attend oqub (ዑቁብ) with other Eritrean women who live in my small city.
If you ask my American-born grandchildren, Oqub (ዑቁብ) Saturday – as they fondly refer to it – is a day that the mahber (community group) ladies get together to share a meal and coffee. They often ask if I will bring them back a piece of himbasha (traditional bread) or some other treat back from oqub (ዑቁብ). While the socializing is undoubtedly enjoyable, it isn’t the aspect of the gathering that I look forward to the most. The might of oqub (ዑቁብ) comes from upholding a tradition that spans many generations and is practiced at home and in the diaspora.
From a Global West perspective, Oqub (ዑቁብ) can be akin to a grassroots or community savings co-op. However, a fundamental difference is that oqub (ዑቁብ) is not part of a banking system – no bank building, ATM cards, interest rates, late fees, etc.
Instead, this is a system of engaging with money based on the power of an unspoken but deeply respected social agreement and a shared understanding rooted in the reverence of community care.
A rising tide lifts all boats. Under this premise, the financial health of my neighbor and my community ensure my financial health and that of my family. Oqub (ዑቁብ) can be structured in so many ways, and many of the guidelines are agreed upon by all during its establishment. In my case, we meet once a month, each member taking a turn to host. Our meeting includes a shared meal or tea/coffee and a lot of time to catch up and hear about one another’s life.
At the end of the allotted time, all the members put the pre-determined, fixed amount of money into a bowl or basket. A member of the oqub (ዑቁብ), who is not the host, counts the money for accuracy and presents the money to the hosting member. The elders in the space take the time to bless the money and the host – wishing that the collected money serves the family well. Sometimes, the recipient may share what she hopes to do with the money and thank the mahber for their support while also declaring that she will return the trust and favor.
Women traditionally practice Oqub (ዑቁብ), and throughout history has served many purposes encouraging and supporting women who did not work outside of the home and did not earn an income, to save. Many women that came before me shared stories of saving a portion of their household budget to contribute to their oqub (ዑቁብ), allowing them to plan for more significant purchases later in the year (like grain in bulk or treats for the children, jewelry, etc.).
In times of celebration or loss, the order of who is hosting the oqub (ዑቁብ) can be changed to ensure that the host receives the financial support to help her through her life event.
While there is a very practical and economic benefit to oqub (ዑቁብ), the rising of all comes from the camaraderie and community created by this intimate practice of trust. The mahber becomes bound, which is reflected through the support given by and to each member, expanding beyond the space of this savings co-op. In this world where it seems like we are governed and ruled by money, there aren’t many times for working-class people where our conversations about money aren’t related to struggle and strife.
Oqub (ዑቁብ), and similar concepts and traditions, have existed in Eritrea, and the Global South, for generations. It has allowed me to see money as a tool that can strengthen individuals and communities, not as a tool used to harm and divide. As we are experiencing a global recession, I often hear Western media talking about ways people can save or create good habits with money. These ideas have existed for many communities and oqub (ዑቁብ) works to build strength and resiliency. If you are an Eritrean reading this article and haven’t started an oqub (ዑቁብ) in yourarea – all it takes is one or twoother people! If you’re not Eritrean and want to start oqub (ዑቁብ), go for it!
From my grandchildren and me – Happy Oqub (ዑቁብ) Saturday!
(First published at EAH Magazine Issue 2 # 3 – March – May 2023)