Soup Joumou: More Than Just a Soup

Photo provided by the author.
Photo provided by the author.

Like every January 1st since 1804, this Sunday, Haiti will celebrate its independence. Whether they are in Haiti, the United States, Canada or France, Haitian families across the globe will enjoy a giraumon soup to mark the day, called the “Soup Joumou.”


Mixing meats, pasta, carrots, cabbage, leeks, parsley, potatoes, other vegetables, and the giraumon squash from which it takes its name, the Soup Joumou is a Haitian pride. For Haitians, it is much more than a simple dish. It marks a moment of reunion for Haitian families. It is the fraternal communion of the members of a free people. It is the unlikely, unexpected victory of a poor black people over a dominant white power.


Historically, the consumption of Soup Joumou was reserved for white settlers and forbidden to slaves, who were considered movable property – living beings, but deprived of all the natural rights that even the French colonizers said were inalienable and inherent to the human person.


On January 1, 1804, Haiti became the first independent black republic in the world following its victory over Napoleon’s France, arguably the most effective military force in the world. This was the beginning of the cycle of the abolition of black servitude the world over.


When Haitian slaves ate Soup Joumou that day, it constituted a strong symbol of freedom, of rupture within the transatlantic slave trade which lasted more than 400 years. Soup Joumou has a historical dimension, an undeniable significance. It is a special and uniquely Haitian way to celebrate independence, and Heartline marks this holiday by providing Soup Joumou to Haitian prisoners through its community outreach program.

Photo provided by the author.

Heartline celebrates Haitian independence by serving Soup Joumou to Haitian prisoners


Since 2010, Heartline’s Community Outreach Team has been preparing and serving Soup Joumou to inmates at the women’s prison in Cabaret (a coastal town north of Port-au-Prince) and the Children’s Rehabilitation Center in Delmas 33 (a central Port-au-Prince neighborhood) . Faithful to this appointment, Heartline offers this small moment of happiness to the inmates every year – even now, as gang violence, rioting, and police brutality continue.


Most current estimates place the prison cell occupancy rate in Haiti at 454%. The majority of inmates have not been convicted of a crime – instead, they wait in pretrial detention for months, as cellmates die from disease and malnutrition.


 (Learn more about Haitian prisons at Prison Insider or in this story from the Miami Herald)


”In prison, the feeling of sadness is amplified. And the holiday season is even more difficult…”explains Moïse, Heartline’s Community Outreach Program Manager. “Prisoners would like to spend Christmas and eat Soup Joumou with their loved ones as is the tradition, but they are isolated…our team then tries to bring some festivity into prison life.” He adds, “They’re always very happy to have us there on Independence Day, and they love our Soup Joumou.”


The prison administration also goes to great lengths to support the Heartline team in this initiative. ”Every year, the Direction of the Prison Administration gives us a letter of authorization to access the detention centers,” explains Moise. “We formed a team of 10 people to prepare soup in the courtyard of Heartline’s office. On the day of the visit, we split into two groups, one group heading to the civil prison of Cabaret and the other group to the Children’s Rehabilitation Center in Delmas 33. At 6am, we are already in the prisons serving our famous Soup Joumou to the prisoners who share it with endless joy.”

Invest in Heartline


Every January 1st, more than 300 Haitian women and 100 Haitian children have the opportunity to celebrate Independence Day despite being incarcerated. It is through your donations and support that Heartline is able to put a smile on the faces of these prisoners. When you invest in Heartline, you are investing in Haitian workers reaching their communities and loving their neighbors, in moments and in places where connection and warmth are hard to come by.


Again today, on the eve of the New Year, our dear Haitian friends prepare to share the delights of a recipe passed down from parent to child, Soup Joumou, Haiti’s freedom soup which is now part of UNESCO’s cultural heritage of humanity. Happy Independence Day to all our Haitian friends and partners!

About the Author


Aljany Narcius

Haitian journalist Aljany Narcius is currently pursuing a Master 2 in Media Management, online from France’s University of Lille. With ten years of experience in the fields of journalism and communication, Aljany is a linguist who uses the Creole language as her weapon in the fight against social inequalities, exploitation, and all kinds of violence.

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