Soup Joumou/Pumpkin Soup is a radiant golden yellow soup eaten on January 1st to commemorate Haiti’s Independence day. This delicious one pot meal makes the official end of slavery in Haiti a Thanksgiving Day Celebration. By legend, the soup was made popular on Independence Day in 1804 when all over the island, people shared this great meal symbolic of freedom and moral fortitude.
The soup is rich in nutrients. It contains essential minerals and vitamins. Such a fortifying meal could only be enjoyed when we obtained the freedom to nourish ourselves away from French oversight.* Today, much of the pain of slavery has been forgotten, but the joy of breaking those chains has been passed down in every Haitian family through an unbroken link. Every generation has shared with the next the joy of having the symbolic Soup Joumou on Independence Day.
Every New Year we celebrate the courage of our Ancestors. The freedom they secured for us glows like magnificent sunshine. Like the sun, joumou is round and its pulp is golden yellow. It is good for you as it is rich in vitamins A, C and E. The ingredients added to it enrich it further with proteins, carbohydrates and fats to make it a more complete meal. The added spices make it delicious and good for one’s spirit. It is a Haitian Soul Food.
Our fore-parents who left us this symbolic meal were well grounded in their belief that freedom was their innate right. They felt linked to the Native Taino who suffered a fate much like their own. In tribute to these former custodians of the land, they selected joumou, a plant native to Haiti to show that we are united with those who preceded us in their aspiration to live freely. Joumou is a vine that grows on the ground and represents the fruit of the land, a land that would call us: chè mèt, chè metrès. In our sharing Soup Joumou, we are able to celebrate our aspirations while not forgetting how we came to inherit this great land.
The use of joumou on Independence day connects us ideologically to the Tainos but how the soup is prepared links us with the people of Ginen who used to prepare similar one pot meals. Our foreparents brought their cultural cooking style to Haiti and applied it to their new circumstances. Our Bouyon Samdi, the American Gumbo and the Caribbean Pepper Pot Soup are but a few examples of one pot meals derived from West African Cuisine.
Soup Joumou arises from our cultural heritage and is symbolic of our everlasting hope for a bright and radiant future. The food is nutritious and delicious making it contrast starkly with the unpalatable foods that our foreparents were given, just so that they could survive a few sugar cane and coffee harvests. Independence brought us life and Soup Joumou is symbolic of that.
Enjoy a bowl of Soup Joumou, share the hope for a brighter future, and pass it on.
*While it is true that enslaved Africans were poorly fed, there is no evidence that the French ever forbade Africans from drinking Soup Joumou or from eating any other foods. It is a misconception to suggest that it was a meal reserved for colonists. Soup Joumou was not copied from the French. It is an African style meal made in Haiti and not derived from French Cuisine.