New Year 2021: Haiti’s Annual Tradition Of Drinking Soup Joumou Gets Listed In UNESCO’s Heritage List
Image Credit: This beef and pumpkin squash soup is loaded with vegetables and is a symbol of hope.

Since Christmas celebrations have come to an end, it is time to welcome the New Year. Beginning the year on a positive note is always on our agenda. Some people also make New Year resolutions so that they can achieve the things they want to in the upcoming year. The idea behind goal setting and making resolutions is to begin with a fresh start, leaving all the past mistakes, grudges and unpleasant experiences behind. Around the world, people have several special traditions and rituals that they perform to commence the New Year. For instance, in my family, we visit the Gurudwara to pay our respects. Similarly, Hindus go to their temples and Muslims to the mosques. 

Since the English calendar is the universally accepted date system that is followed, most of us celebrate the New Year according to that. Likewise, there is an interesting tradition that has come to light recently. Haiti, a Caribbean country, has been following the ritual of drinking a special Soup Joumou on the first day of the New Year. Every year, on first of January, Haitian households are filled with the aroma of this pumpkin squash-based soup that is to be savoured by the family and friends to celebrate the day. However, this year it is a cause of double celebration because UNESCO has listed the Soup Joumou in its Cultural Heritage List of intangible things. 

Quite recently, the official handle of UNESCO tweeted, “The Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee has just decided to inscribe Joumou soup on the Representative List of the #IntangibleHeritage of Humanity”. They congratulated Haiti on this prestigious nomination. Since we’ll be entering 2022 in just a few days’ time, this recognition for the traditional Soup Joumou is a huge deal for them. 

                 Source: UNESCO/Twitter 

For those untouched by the phenomenon of UNESCO’S list, it was started in the year 2008 with the idea to protect and provide worldwide recognition to age-old traditions of different communities across the globe. In the past, several such rituals have been listed with the total amounting to 35 items till date. 

Why Soup Joumou? 

Fair question. The significance of Soup Joumou is much more than just a warm and comforting dish. It extends to become a symbol of liberation, hope and dignity for the independent State of Haiti. The essence of the soup can be traced back to the days of African slavery when Haiti was Saint Domingue. A flourishing colony of the French slave masters, Haiti was under their rule till 1804 when it finally got independence after a long era of revolution and insurrection. 

During this period, the enslaved were expected to prepare this Soup Joumou for their masters i.e. the French and were not allowed to drink this soup. When Haiti became independent on 1st January, 1804, they decided to mark the day and etch a memory in history by drinking the forbidden soup as a sign of freedom, encouragement and hope. Since then, it became a tradition to drink the soup on this day each year. A squash-based soup, it comes loaded with calabaza (a green pumpkin), potatoes, beef, turnips, yam and chillies. 

Not only has the soup been accorded the status on compassionate grounds, it is also due to its rich history and immense significance for the community. In the past year, this Caribbean nation which boasts of picturesque beaches and clear waters, has been troubled due to the assassination of their President Jovenel in July as well as a strong earthquake that struck the country with a 7.2 magnitude, devastating property and lives. 

The first black republic of today overthrew their colonial masters many decades ago but the spirit of rebellion and the passion is still ignited every year on the first day of the year when Haitians get together to drink the Soup of liberty and freedom and rejoice at their independence. The fact that the Haitian diaspora prepares the soup at home or visits the house where it is being prepared, whether they are in Paris or Canada or any part of the world, is proof of the importance of a bowl of pumpkin soup in their lives.