The dish, originally cooked by slaves for their owners, has come to symbolise hope and dignity in the troubled Caribbean country
Last modified on Fri 17 Dec 2021 01.02 EST
Haiti’s joumou soup, a symbol of hope and dignity for the world’s first black-led republic, has been awarded protected status by Unesco.
The soup, made from turban squash and originally cooked by enslaved African people for their owners in Haiti, was on Thursday added to Unesco’s prestigious list of intangible cultural heritage. It is Haiti’s first inclusion on the list, and the country’s Unesco ambassador, Dominique Dupuy, cried as the announcement was made. The decision is expected to be officially endorsed by Unesco’s general assembly next year.
Since Haiti’s independence in 1804, joumou soup has become the national symbol of liberation from slavery, and is traditionally eaten on 1 January, the Caribbean country’s independence day.
“It is a great joy and a point of pride to see this project come to fruition today, just two weeks before the Haitian independence day. It is an important gesture of recognition for the entire Haitian culture and identity, which will further strengthen its influence throughout the world,” said Audrey Azoulay, Unesco’s director general.
The nomination of joumou soup was considered by Unesco on compassionate grounds, after the country’s difficult year. President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July, and a devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the country in August.
The Haitian delegation to Unesco said the listing was “not only a fabulous sign of hope and encouragement, but also a unifying call, for a Haitian people currently facing an exceptionally difficult moment in their rich history”.
A number of countries expressed solidarity with Haiti before the entry was adopted. “We cannot abandon Haiti at a time like this,” the representative from Brazil said in an emotional plea. “You cannot leave Haiti to its fate.”
But a representative from Switzerland said joumou soup was being listed not only on compassionate grounds, but because of its quality.
Members of the Haitian delegation said: “A symbol of the rejection of a system of oppression and discrimination, of the struggle against colonisation and all forms of racism, the soup also strengthens cultural identity, encourages coexistence and social cohesion and plays a key unifying role. This heritage generates a strong sense of belonging to the Haitian nation, connects new generations with their roots and has become an expression of their dignity as a people.”
The spicy soup’s main ingredients are joumou, or turban squash, meat, potatoes and other vegetables, including malanga (taro root), yams, turnips and hot chilli peppers.
The Unesco cultural heritage list was established in 2008 to protect national traditions.
In 2020, 35 entries were added to the list, including sauna culture in Finland, sourdough making in Malta, budima dancing in Zambia and a grass mowing competition in Bosnia and Herzegovina.