November 9, 2023 | Време читања: 4 минута

Hajduk Parting on St. Demetrius Day (Mitrovdan)

Hajduk Parting on St. Demetrius Day (Mitrovdan)

A large number of people in Serbia celebrate St. Demetrius, also known as Mitrovdan, on November 8th. But how much do we actually know about the significance of this saint in Christian culture, particularly in Serbian tradition?

Mitrovdan is a day celebrated throughout Serbia and holds a deeply rooted place in the Serbian cultural and religious calendar. Saint Demetrius himself was a historical figure, and the influence he has on the Serbian people is evident in the names of cities like Sremska Mitrovica and Kosovska Mitrovica, named after him.

The significance of Mitrovdan is even greater when considering its connection to the legends of hajduks. The hajduk parting becomes a symbolic mark on this day, where our heroes part ways until spring, when they will meet again on the mountain around St. George’s Day.

More on this will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

Who were the hajduks according to history?

Although there is a prevalent belief among the people that hajduks were defiant rebels against Turkish law, historical revision has brought forth different facts that we cannot overlook.

To be clear, a portion of hajduks was not motivated by ideas of freedom but rather by personal gain. An example can be found in the poem ‘Battle on Čokešina,’ where hajduk Ćurčija left Čokešina with about 300 hajduks. In the same poem, Jakov entered into conflict with the Nedićs and, seeing that he couldn’t command them, also left, withdrawing his army. At the site of the conflict with the Turks, only the Nedić brothers remained with their hajduks and faithful companions Damjan Kutišanac and Panto Damjanović.

This poem directly contrasts hajduk motives with chivalrous motives and connects it with the Kosovo epic, where Ćurčija is linked to the character of Vuk Branković (hajduk motive as a motive for acquiring the general benefit of a mercenary army as opposed to the motive of medieval chivalry with the Nedić brothers, who fought for the freedom of Serbia).

Hajduks operated in the central Balkans and other parts of the Ottoman Empire during the Middle Ages. They later became a symbol of the fight for the freedom of their people.

The origin of the word ‘hajduk’

The origin of the word ‘hajduk’ remains shrouded in mysteries and challenges for etymologists. One theory suggests that it comes from the Turkish word ‘hajdud,’ used by the Ottomans for Hungarian infantry troops. Another theory links the word to the Hungarian term ‘hajtu’ (plural ‘hajtok’), meaning cattle driver, which began to be used for soldiers during the 16th century.

The word ‘hajduk’ gradually entered the Turkish language as ‘hajdud’ and later into the Serbian language as ‘hajduk.’ Miodrag Stojanović’s theory is quite convincing, suggesting that the word ‘hajduk’ comes from the Sanskrit word ‘aydh,’ meaning to fight and resist.

In different languages, there are variations of words indicating similar concepts to ‘hajduk,’ indicating the global presence of similar concepts and characters in world traditions. This linguistic diversity attests to the richness and complexity of the hajduk culture phenomenon and its significance worldwide.

Nevertheless, we believe that the word ‘hajduk’ reached us through the Turkish language because ‘haydud,’ which is confirmed by the Turkicisms in Serbo-Croatian in Abulaha Škaljić’s work, means ‘to deviate from the right path’ or ‘to rebel.'”

Hajduks – Symbol of Heroic Past

Hajduks played a crucial role in Serbian history and folklore, becoming a symbol of the fight for freedom and resistance against the tyranny of Ottoman colonizers. Their courage and fearlessness left a deep mark on folk epics, creating a wealth of myths and legends on this theme. Throughout the centuries, hajduks became heroes in many stories and songs, passed down from generation to generation. The Christian population in Serbia often joined hajduks for several main reasons.

  1. The first reason was the fear for their own lives, especially when facing charges such as tax evasion. In the Ottoman Empire, Christians had weak legal protection, so they often chose to escape to the mountains instead of staying in villages and risking arrest. There, they survived through thefts and raids. Raiding Turkish convoys transporting taxes from vassal Serbian colonies is documented in many historical writings and literary texts, whether from folk or oral tradition.
  2. The second reason for joining hajduks was to escape hatred and potential danger from the Turks, which would drive them to flee to avoid violent reprisals. Hajduk raiders feared retaliation as punishment for Ottoman raids – impaling, horse dismemberment, beheading, and dismemberment were just some of the punishments.

Remember the songs “Stari Vujadin” or “Mali Radojica,” where only some of the ways hajduks were brutally tortured are described. During that time, a hajduk had to have a heroic heart, as evidenced by the verses in the song “Stari Vujadin.”

  1. The third reason was the desire for revenge against the Turks. Revenge for atrocities, described as heroic acts of martyrs, raised the morale of the Serbian people, leading them from Kosovo myths to freedom myths created in the cycles of Serbia and Montenegro’s liberation. Thus, such hajduks became particularly motivated and became an inspiration for epic poetry.

The hajduk movement in the Balkans was an expression of rebellion against foreign invaders, Turkish oppression, and impositions. Vuk Karadžić noted that the number of hajduks in the country depended on the quality of Turkish rule, with better and more humane governance reducing the number of hajduks, while bad administration and injustice increased their number.

Hajduk Epic Folk Songs

Mitrovdan is associated with newer songs, primarily encompassing the hajduk cycle of songs. Mitrovdan was considered the beginning of winter, when hajduks no longer had support in the woods and sought refuge in safe places, such as the homes of peasants.

The hajduk cycle is often described as a story of avengers and protectors of the people under Turkish rule. These songs depict many details of hajduk life, such as their retreat into the mountains, forming groups, bravery, heroism, endurance, vindictiveness, and various episodes of conflict with the Turks.

However, not everyone could be a hajduk. We know well that a hajduk was usually someone who could reach and escape from a frightful place and exist there. In the song “Gavran harambaša i Limo,” the folk poet emphasizes what is necessary for rallying under the hajduk banner.

Jovan Cvijić on Hajduks

Hajduks were a key symbol of bravery and resistance for the Serbian people under Turkish rule. In different periods, their role varied from fighting against Turkish authorities, local agas and beys, to leading auxiliary troops in various military operations, espionage, and protecting the people during the First Uprising. Hajduks became indispensable heroes in folk tales, enjoyed prestige among the people, and were often fearless warriors used by uprising leaders in the toughest battles.

In our region, hajduks were a response to Turkish terror, and gathering under their banners provided hope and courage to the enslaved people. Over the centuries, their presence fueled the spirit of resistance and encouraged the masses. Hajduks were the essence of resistance, often becoming leaders of rebels and insurgents.

Jovan Cvijić explained the emergence of hajdukism in this region with the characteristic mentality of the Zlatibor highlanders, created during Turkish rule and within a patriarchal life framework. For the local population, hajduks were a symbol of resistance and the fight for justice. Milan Milićević added to this opinion, highlighting that easy defection to hajduks often happened for various reasons. Revenge, fear of punishment, or prestige and fame, as mentioned earlier, were just some of them.

Hajduk Veljko Petrović: “I give my head, but not Krajina”

We’ve heard that hajduks were epic heroes. But were there historical heroes? Yes, and the greatest among them is testified by Vuk Stefanović Karadžić.

Veljko Petrović, the most famous hajduk from songs about the liberation of Serbia, comes from the village of Lenovac near Zaječar. He was born into a wealthy family of Petar Petrović, known as “Sirenjar” because of his numerous cattle and cheese production. At the age of 22, he faced two Turkish attackers who assaulted his sister. In a decisive moment, he killed the attackers and immediately became a hajduk.

In 1803, he joined Stanoje Glavaš’s band and later joined Đuša, the chieftain of the Smederevo district. Veljko actively participated in the uprising from 1804, first under the leadership of Stanoje Glavaš, and then under Đuša and Vujica Vulićević.


Veljko’s personal courage and heroism quickly made him one of the greatest Serbian heroes. Karađorđe appointed him as a duke and entrusted him with guarding Banja and later Negotin.

In early July 1813, the first major battle occurred in which Veljko and his bachelors defeated part of the Turkish army. After three days, a large Turkish army crossed the Timok and headed towards Negotin.

Despite the advice of many that, with the available army, which numbered less than 3000 people against 16,000 Turks, Krajišina could more successfully defend with the surrounding hills, Veljko decided to wait for the Turks in the fortified Negotin.

The multi-day siege of Negotin completely exhausted its defenders. Ammunition was running out, and help was not coming. Meanwhile, the Turks approached Veljko’s trenches and continuously bombarded the Negotin fortress with cannons. It was said that Veljko ordered all metal objects, plates, and tin candles to be collected and melted into cannon ammunition. In the end, he even filled the cannons with coins (metal money) when the Turks made a charge somewhere. On the nineteenth day of defense, on July 18, 1813, Veljko was killed on Abrašev šanac, encouraging his fighters to persevere until the last moment. His closest comrades hid his death for five days to prevent panic among the people.

His life motto remained: “I give my head, but not Krajišina,” and Mokranjac dedicated VI rukovet to him. Vuk Karadžić testifies about him in the famous biography “Žitije ajduk Veljka Petrovića”.