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.”
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 writes and lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.