UNESCO adds Haiti’s freedom soup to cultural heritage list

Haitians took ownership of Joumou Soup in 1804 and turned it into a national symbol of freedom and independence.

The dish is eaten on January 1, Haiti’s Independence Day, as well as served as a traditional Sunday morning breakfast [Courtesy UNESCO]

The United Nations cultural agency (UNESCO) has added Joumou Soup – Haiti’s national symbol of freedom from slavery – to its intangible heritage list, saying the soup is “so much more than just a dish”.

UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee decided on Thursday to put Joumou on its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The dish, also known as giraumon soup, is made of pumpkin, vegetables, plantains, meat, pasta and spices.

“Intangible cultural heritage has the capacity to unite communities around their unique know-how and traditions, and thus to strengthen social cohesion,” Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO director general, said in a statement.

“This is especially true when communities are hit by disasters or emergencies: intangible cultural heritage has a major role in community resilience and recovery,” Azoulay said.

Originally exclusively reserved to slave owners, Haitians – who prepared the dish but were never allowed to eat it – took ownership of Joumou Soup when they gained independence from France in 1804.

They turned it into a symbol of their freedom and the regaining of their dignity.

“So much more than just a dish, Joumou Soup tells the story of the heroes and heroines of Haitian independence, their struggle for human rights and their hard-won freedom,” Azoulay said.

Former Haitian Prime Minister Claude Joseph welcomed Joumou Soup’s addition to the UNESCO list, saying on Twitter that it filled him “with a lot of pride and emotion”.

The announcement comes at a time when the small Caribbean nation has been experiencing a series of crises.

One of the world’s poorest countries, Haiti has been battling an uptick in gang violence that worsened after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July.

In recent months, powerful armed gangs have erected blockades of fuel terminals, leading to shortages and spiralling gas prices, while kidnappings for ransom have soared.

On Thursday, a group of US and Canadian missionaries kidnapped by a gang in October was freed.

The nation is also struggling to recover from a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck in August, killing more than 2,200 people, injuring many others and destroying critical infrastructure.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, at least 75 people were killed and dozens more were injured after a fuel tanker truck in the northern coastal city of Cap-Haitien exploded.

Joumou Soup’s UNESCO recognition, the UN agency said, is a much-needed positive step.

Joumou Soup is a Haitian dish made of pumpkin, vegetables, plantains, meat, pasta and spices [Courtesy UNESCO]

“Haiti has faced countless challenges, including natural disasters that have dramatically affected the daily lives of the population, and the country’s authorities wished to make an inscription that would help revive national pride while perpetuating a unifying and symbolic know-how,” Azoulay said.

According to the UNESCO application, there are several variations of Joumou Soup and it can be found in multiple Caribbean and Latin American cuisines.

It is made from giraumon, a pumpkin variety that once was cultivated by the Indigenous peoples of the Caribbean.

The dish is now eaten in Haiti on January 1, the country’s Independence Day, as well as served as a traditional Sunday morning breakfast.

Source: Al Jazeera