haitian soup joumou, Jacmel haiti
Haiti's soup joumou has helped mark the country's independence from France since January 1, 1804. The hearty dish recently made UNESCO's list of iconic cultural contributions. — Photo by Roland Philemon

LA CROIX, HAITI — Soup joumou holds an important place in the hearts, and palates, of Haitians throughout the world. The pumpkin-based soup is a staple of the country’s cuisine and Haitian identity. A signature dish that everyone looks forward to savoring on January 1, Haitian Independence Day. 

Haitian school children know the soup’s tradition marks the day that the chains of slavery were broken when enslaved Blacks rose against French colonizers and declared the country’s independence. Prior to 1804, only the French colonial masters and plantation owners enjoyed this hearty dish, prepared by slaves. After the revolution, the newly-freed peoples of Haiti ate this meal as a symbol of liberation.

In recent years, the soup dish has appeared on an array of websites with chefs demonstrating the how-to’s, vegans modifying the 200-year old recipe and even stirring controversy centered on a recipe published in Bon Appetit food magazine in 2020. Weeks ago, UNESCO awarded protected cultural heritage status to the hearty, squash-based soup. 

In the village of La Croix, Haiti, high in the mountains outside the south-coast city of Jacmel, local photographer Roland Philemon documented the process of buying the ingredients, persuading a friend to cook it and sharing it with his neighbors before the first of the year. 

“It was really delicious,” said Ricardo Remarque, one of Roland’s neighbors in La Croix. “So good, I won’t need to eat pumpkin soup, again, on January 1.” 

But, if he can, he will. 

La Croix, with its distinctive blue and white Catholic church, sits at the highest point of La Montagne, a commune of a few thousand people in the Southeast Department of Haiti. Some residents live along the main road that links the village to Jacmel about 25 miles away. Others live on surrounding farms, which are usually large enough to feed family members and provide some goods for barter. — Photo by Roland Philemon
The weekly “market day” takes place every Tuesday, attracting both vendors and customers from all over the region. Everything, from fast food to vegetables and clothing to rope, is sold. Ingredients for soup joumou, of course, are available this time of year. — Photo by Roland Philemon
Vendors tend to sell a specific commodity, exhibiting it on a cloth on the ground. This vendor, for example, specializes in food staples, offering (l to r) cooking oil, spices, bags of sugar and flour. — Photo by Roland Philemon
Roland purchases beef, the most expensive ingredient of soup joumou, on a recent market day. He spent a total of 3000 Goudes (about $30) on ingredients, which proved to be plenty of servings for his nine guests. — Photo by Roland Philemon
Loriane Andre of LaCroix cooked the soup joumou for Roland. Here, she’s mixing sour orange with spices in a bowl to marinate the meat overnight. To her soup base, she then adds chopped vegetables and, at the very end, hot scotch bonnet peppers. — Photo by Roland Philemon
Roland grew the pumpkins in his garden. Loriane boils and mashes them into a pulp. — Photo by Roland Philemon
She pushes the pulp through a sieve to make it smooth. — Photo by Roland Philemon
And she lets it simmer for five hours to ensure all of the flavors coalesce. — Photo by Roland Philemon
At this village kitchen, lots of conversation takes place while the meal is prepared. — Photo by Roland Philemon
Loriane’s soup joumou, ready to serve. — Photo by Roland Philemon
“The soup is the biggest symbol to commemorate the Day of Independence,” said Miyolda Casimir. “It was tasty!” — Photo by Roland Philemon

J.O. Haselhoef is the author of “Give & Take: Doing Our Damnedest NOT to be Another Charity in Haiti.” She co-founded "Yonn Ede Lot" (One Helping Another), a nonprofit that partnered with volunteer groups in La Montagne ("Lamontay"), Haiti from 2007-2013. She is a 2022 Fellow for the Columbia School of Journalism's Age Boom Academy. She writes and lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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