Tuesday, January 01, 2008

On Soup Joumou, Stollen, and Junkanoo: Celebrating the Holidays Away from Home

For most of the world--at least those of us on the Gregorian calendar--today is New Year's Day. But for those of us who are Haitian, married to Haitians, or otherwise living in Haiti or its Diaspora, today is also important because it is Haitian Independence Day. While of special significance to Haitians, today is important for all Caribbean peoples and, indeed, all of us who are--in some fashion or another--descendants of the Atlantic slave trade and its legacy. You see, the Haitian Revolution was the first--and only--successful slave revolt in the New World, making Haiti the the oldest Black Republic in the world and (after the U.S.) the second independent country in the Western Hemisphere. So in typical Haitian Protestant fashion, we observed this dual holiday by attending New Year's Eve services last night at Emmaus Baptist Church here in Nassau and then ushering in the new year by wishing each other Bon Ane! and eating soup joumou and pain Haïtien.

As an expatriate American living in the Bahamas (and married to a Dominican of Haitian descent), you can imagine that our holiday celebrations reflect a number of cultural traditions that have shaped us over the years, making for a truly cross-cultural celebration. I've already mentioned, of course, our tradition of eating soup joumou and pain Haïtien for New Year's/Haitian Independence Day. But when we are in the U.S. and the Bahamas, we also eat more traditional American holiday foods such as turkey and stuffing or baked ham. When celebrating the holidays with Estela's family in the Dominican Republic, however, American-style foods are replaced with Dominican foods such as cassava fritters, beef empanadillas, spaghetti, and fried chicken. And while I'm a couple of generations removed from my German ancestry, we still bake an Americanized version of stollen, made from a recipe handed down from my great-grandfather who was a German baker.

Here in the Bahamas, the Junkanoo parades are an essential part of the holiday festivities, beginning with Junior Junkanoo in mid-December and, then, the two big Junkanoo parades held in the wee-hours of the morning (or, as we say in Spanish, por la madrugada) on Boxing Day and New Year's Day. Dating back to the days of slavery, Junkanoo is perhaps one of the best known (though hardly the only) and most popular forms of Afro-Bahamian culture.

As I generally tend to avoid places where large crowds congregate, we've never attended Junkanoo before. But this year, Estela and I took advantage of the opportunity to join Stephen Aranha, president of the Bahamas Historical Society, and his family to watch the Boxing Day parade from the excellent vantage point of the Bahamas Historical Society Museum. I'm glad we went as it was well worth the experience.

While much of what takes place in Junkanoo (especially the numerous, smaller activities throughout the year) is packaged for the consumption of foreign tourists, Junkanoo is actually a very profound and complex expression of Bahamian culture. The Bahamian anthropologist Nicolette Bethel has written a number of helpful blog posts (see here and here) that have helped my artistically-challenged mind to get a better grasp on Junkanoo's deeper meaning.

But perhaps the best way to understand Junkanoo is simply to observe it first hand. To that end, I've posted a couple of video clips below. (Thanks, again, to Nicolette Bethel for pointing these out.) The first is a scrap group, which is basically an informal--and usually small--group of friends who get together to rush. Back in the old days, all Junkanoo groups were scrap groups and today's groups continue in that tradition. The second video is of the Valley Boys, one of the large A-Groups that competes for prizes. Since Estela and I live near and work in Mason's Addition, we chose to root for the Saxons and One Family, both of which hail from our neighborhood.

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At Tuesday, January 1, 2008 at 10:28:00 PM EST , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did not drink my soup jounou today. I enjoy reading your blog. It is very informative.


At Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 11:55:00 AM EST , Blogger haitianministries said...

Thanks, Lou! We had plenty of extra soup joumou to go around. Too bad I couldn't have just uploaded some to the computer and e-mailed it to you :-) But, hey, maybe Bill Gates will figure out a way for us to send food over the information highway in 2008!

At Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 12:33:00 AM EST , Anonymous Anonymous said...

In fact, I went over a friends' house and had two big bowls of soup jounou.

Happy new year!

At Saturday, January 5, 2008 at 10:25:00 PM EST , Blogger Douglas said...

Hello! I found your blog by way of Global Voices Online. I hope you'll stop by Crossword Bebop sometime.

It is my grand dream to blog about crossword puzzles in every English-speaking country. Where do people in the Bahamas go when they want to do a crossword puzzle?

At Monday, January 7, 2008 at 3:48:00 PM EST , Blogger haitianministries said...

Thanks for stopping by, Douglas! Crosswords in the local papers are basically syndicated versions of those appearing in the U.S. papers. Likewise, crossword puzzle books available in local bookstores are generally imported from the U.S. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any local efforts, if any exist, to produce crossword puzzles.


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