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Haitian soup joumou awarded protected cultural heritage status by UNESCO


Haiti got some cheery news this week. Its traditional joumou soup has been awarded protected cultural heritage status by UNESCO. Joumou soup is a hearty blend of pumpkin, potatoes, squash, beef, chili peppers and other things. And this is the first time that any cultural item from Haiti has received the designation.

Dominique Dupuy is Haiti's ambassador to UNESCO and joins us now. Ambassador, thanks so much for being with us.

DOMINIQUE DUPUY: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure being here with you today.

SIMON: Help us understand what this soup means to Haitians and in Haiti.

DUPUY: This soup means everything. And I'll explain what that means. The soup is not so much about what it tastes like, although it tastes delicious. It's a velvety, bright yellow, very tasty soup. It's a vehicle of all the Haitian heritage. We call it the bowl of freedom. During the colony, the soup was prepared by slaves for hundreds of years. And they could never taste it because they were deemed too uncivilized. So on the day of independence, the first emperor of Haiti has his wife stand up and declare that this is now the national soup of the first free Black people in the history of humanity. And we've been having that soup every January 1 for 217 years, kind of like calling every person around the world that is denied freedom, denied dignity to join on this table and share the soup with us, just as we did on January 1, 1804.

SIMON: What a beautiful story. What a beautiful legacy (laughter).

DUPUY: Thank you. I think so, too, but I'm biased. What I didn't tell you about the soup - when two neighbors fight with each other, you bring a bowl of soup. That's the token of peace.

SIMON: Oh, my.

DUPUY: And on January 1, there's kind of this civic duty to bring it to those who don't have and those who can't prepare it themselves - the sick, the elderly, the orphans, people in jail. So it's really the ultimate symbol of coming together, of resilience, of cohesion and just of solidarity.

SIMON: Is there a recipe you can you can recommend to us?

DUPUY: (Laughter) There are plenty of recipes going around. And I like to insist on the fact that this inscription by no means tries to encapsulate a fixed recipe. What you need to know is the vital core of the soup, which is joumou. This is, like, the pumpkin, as you call it in the United States.

SIMON: Turban squash is the word - is the phrase I've read, yeah.

DUPUY: Turban squash. And you have to have vegetables. You have to have some type of meat, whether it's goat, whether it's beef, whether it's even pork. Some people put chicken in it. Now almost every recipe you'll find includes some type of pasta.

SIMON: You were visibly emotional when you accepted this award for Haiti - help us understand what was going through your mind and your feelings.

DUPUY: It's a mix, a blend, a cocktail of a lot of emotions. First of all, pride. As a people, when you go through years and years of collective trauma, you're constantly in a state of coping. And there's this famous word that we use so often. You have to be resilient. But resilience comes at a cost. To me, this inscription reminds us of our humanity, of our fragility but of our strength when we come together. And also, when we just accept that we are worthy of always bringing something - in this case, quite literally to the table. And also, there was a sense of reparation. There is hundreds of countries with cultural heritages listed, and yet there was a missing name. Haiti was not on that list. How can a country like Haiti, which has contributed so vitally to the history of the world, be missing on a list that showcases the diversity of the world? There was no better way to have such a strong entry than with this element, with the soup, with everything it embodies.

SIMON: Dominique Dupuy, Haiti's ambassador to UNESCO, thank you so much.

DUPUY: Thank you very much, Mr. Simon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.