Soup Joumou - Revolution in a Dish
New Year's day in Haiti is more than just the first day in a new year, it marks an important anniversary in Haitian history, its independence from the French. On January 1st, 1804, after Jean-Jacques Dessalines defeated French troops at the Battle of Vertieres, he declared the independence of Saint-Domingue and Haiti became the world's first independent black nation.
Soup jomou has become synonymous with how Haitians celebrate their New Year, which coincides with their struggle, sacrifice and eventual victory for their freedom against their oppressors. It's a symbol of everything they couldn't eat or drink during French colonization, when the rich pumpkin soup was a favorite of their rich slave owners, leaving (to put it mildly and quite literally), a bad taste in the mouths of slaves who would have been lucky to eat the scraps of their masters. In fact, hunger was used as a method of punishment, rather torture, along with whippings, burnings, live burials, mutilations, amputations and rape. Hungry slaves who were found eating sugarcane in the fields were even beaten and fitted with tin muzzles, a stinging and apt metaphor for the desperately starving people who suffered the indifference of Europeans and North Americans enchanted with the gleaning sweet stuffs imported from Haiti and other colonies.
Shortly after independence, there was a major wave of immigration from Saint-Domingue, with nearly 10,000 refugees settling in New Orleans. In 1809, this doubled the population of the city. Given that simple fact alone, there is no doubt that the history and culture of our city is inextricably bound to that of Haiti, and we can surmise that the custom of eating soup joumou extended to Haitians living in New Orleans, as we know it did for other Haitians living abroad. Was joumou a part of New Orleans' culinary heritage? Research needs to be conducted, but that'd be an exciting connection to a rich and significant culinary tradition.