We were invited to attend the monthly meeting of a njangi group, taking place on the feast of the Assumption, or "Big Day Maria." I have heard of njangi groups, but really didn't understand them, but now I think I can explain better.
The meeting itself was fun, with plenty of good will, jokes, and encouragement. Those who were celebrated were treated to speeches in their honor, and gave short speeches in return. Our Lamnso' teacher, Mr. Emmanuel Keelen, is a member, and it was good to interact with him on a social level. Our kids played with toys provided by our hosts, Paul and Janet Kee, LOOONG term missionaries and the only non-Cameroonian members of the njangi. Paul would offer running commentary on the whole thing and answer our questions as they came up. It is interesting to see the difference between how he talks to Americans, and how he talks to Cameroonians. He is definitely able to turn on a more West-African accent, saying things slower and pronouncing words the Cameroonian way, using Cameroonian turns of phrase, etc. He's been here longer than I've been alive, so I'll defer to him and assume that's a good way to be understood.
The food was a specialty dish of the Southwest region (we're in the NW, remember) and chicken. It IS a poultry farmers' njangi, after all. We all ate under cover of the garage as the rain drizzled. Our children stomped in puddles and slipped and made people smile. One of the members had recently been married, and he came with his new bride to the applause and pleasure of the whole group. Toward the end of the meal, the group erupted into spontaneous singing and dancing... it was very festive!
There are different kinds of njangi groups, but the general purpose is to help the members to save money. Or rather, the purpose is to enable each member to receive a lump sum of money once a year. Here's the general idea: Each month, one of 12 members of the njangi is celebrated. He or she provides a meal, and sometimes drinks, for the others, who in turn give the celebrant a (usually) fixed amount. At the meeting, everyone eats and drinks and has a good time. After the meeting, the celebrant has a decent amount of money, enough to do some big project: fix up your house, make an investment in the form of a fowl or a young goat, etc, start a small business.
Obviously, you want to make sure you have trustworthy friends, so that they dependably bring their share each month. Some njangis are Christmas oriented, so that the whole group saves a little more each month and then pools the money and buys a goat, or even a whole cow, to celebrate richly. Or, they give back cash with which to buy presents.
For the njangi we were at, the group takes in money through registration fees, interest due on loans, and fines (for being late to the meeting), in addition to what is collected each month for the "heaving," which is the money given to the celebrant. Money is loaned out from the common pool for short-term loans during the year. At the end of the year, everyone has settled up, and any money the group has made (through interest, fines, etc.) is split fairly. This kind of group requires meticulous book keeping, as well as a high level of trust. There is a staff Njangi here at SAC, which I hope to join at the beginning of the next cycle.
Thinking about it, I realized there are similar set-ups back in the States, such as the weekly prayer breakfast at my parish, where we each took turns providing the meal. Then, there are some people who increase their withholding on their paychecks in order to get a bigger refund come Spring, to give them a big chunk of change for vacation, home repairs, or what have you.
In some ways, the njangi (which, by the way, means "exchange") is a good way to save, if you are poor. Living hand to mouth, it can be difficult to put good money away to be able to eventually do something big. Relying on a small community means you are helping each other with your big projects. It's like a miniature savings and loan, with just you and your friends. Plus, you literally get to eat, drink, and be merry. What's not to love?