Haitians in South Florida and Around the World is happy to announce that the United Nations’ UNESCO has added Haiti’s soup joumou to its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. The soup is the first of Haiti’s entries to the acclaimed list.
What is Soup Joumou?
Soup joumou is a hot, mildly spicy pumpkin soup native to Haiti. In order to create this soup, pumpkins (or squash known in Latin America as calabaza) are usually simmered in a saucepan along with beef, potatoes, and vegetables, including parsley, carrots, onions, cabbage, and others. Then, the pumpkin is pureed with water and returned to the saucepan, where salt, herbs, and spices are added. Many cooks then add thin pasta along with butter or oil. Finally, a dash of lime is added before serving. Added ingredients can vary by region. Local chefs in South Florida (where many Haitians have emigrated to) are also known to add their own twists to the recipe.
The Cultural Heritage of Humanity list and meaning of soup joumou among Haitians
Soup joumou is more than just a soup. For many Haitians today, soup joumou is regarded as a symbol of freedom and dignity. Soup joumou has remained a symbol of the revolution that freed Haiti’s citizens and founded the nation. The origins of the soup harken back to colonial Haiti (then called Saint Domingue), which was then controlled by France. Despite usually being prepared by slaves, soup joumou was a delicacy reserved for slave owners and forbidden for slaves to eat. In 1804, Saint Domingue was declared independent and renamed Haiti, the name given by the Taino Indians who inhabited the island before European settlement. Because the nation was founded on January 1, 1804, the soup is now an integral part of the celebration of New Years’ and Haitian Independence Day, and is traditionally enjoyed on the first day of the year. Today, soup joumou is widely regarded as a symbol of the freedom and dignity those of African descent were once barred from enjoying. Haiti was the first slave colony to become an independent black nation, and the soup is a reflection of pride in that heritage.
The UNESCO Cultural Heritage of Humanity list is meant to showcase various cultural contributions to humanity from around the world. Soup joumou’s recent addition to the list speaks volumes about Haiti’s overall cultural contributions. Dominique Dupuy, Haiti’s UNESCO ambassador, submitted soup joumou as Haiti’s entry for the world-renowned list in March 2021. The submission, which normally takes two years to be considered, was fast-tracked in the wake of a series of disasters in the country: on July 7, 2021, President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, and five weeks later, on August 14, a major earthquake hit Haiti’s southern peninsula. According to Dupuy, the UNESCO submission is meant as a symbol of hope, and that of “the fight against slavery, the fight against racism.”
The soup is also known as a symbol of community, comradery, and neighborliness. In Haiti, neighbors are known to bring soup to each other as a kind gesture or as a peace offering after a dispute. In an interview with NPR, Dupuy has stated that on January 1 in Haiti, there is “a civic duty to bring [the soup] to those who don’t have [it] and those who can’t prepare it themselves – the sick, the elderly, the orphans, people in jail. So it’s really the ultimate symbol of coming together, of resilience, of cohesion and… solidarity.”