Domestic male pig or hog is boar (Serbian: svinja, vepar, krmak); breeding boar also has a different name, nerast, and the young are piglets (Serb. prase). A very young pig is called a suckling. Other Serbian words for somewhat older animal are also svinjče or krme.
A pig slowly turning on a spit over fire for Serbs has always been a symbol of peace and prosperity. Pig is roasted on special occasions: important family celebrations or on big holidays. The size of a pig to be roasted also indicates the size of a group of people gathering around the table. It is usually the whole extended family, all the relatives and the closest friends. Big family events require lots of food, so when a celebration gathers a mass of people, an ox or even several oxen are roasted.
New age has brought new views on animals, so meat is usually bought – already cut and packed, or in larger chunks, which gives us just a slight indication of an animal those pieces used to belong to. A whole pig roasting on a spit is a sight we can see only in Asterix and Obelix comic books – and at family celebrations in Serbia. A pig on a spit has gained a mythical meaning in Serbs and has become more than just a gastronomic trademark of Serbia.
Pigs hold a special place in Serbian culture for two reasons: they used to be the most important source of income in the Serbian economy and furthermore, the Turks as Muslims could not eat pork. Being able to eat pork (hot roasted piglet meat is just the most delicious form) in itself differentiated the Serbs from their Muslim invaders. In those times, the general population was very poor and often lived on the verge of starvation. Meat found its way to the table only a few times a year, but once on the menu, it was in its best form – a roasted piglet.
When the Turks withdrew from the Pannonia plains, the country north of the Sava and the Danube was left with very few pigs. As pigs were an important commodity in the Austrian and Hungarian trade, the need for them increased, so with time, they started to be imported from Serbia. A major Serbian pig merchant was prince Miloš Obrenović, who started the business by exporting the pigs of Šumadija. The traders from the whole Hungarian Kingdom used to buy their pigs in Serbia. Then pigs started to be raised at an increasing rate, owing to the vast oak forests and groves that yielded acorn – an ideal pig food. Thence a phrase in Serbia “pig acorn fattening”.
Pig trade had been one of the Serbian basic foreign trade branches even before prince Miloš, but it actually had a great impact on starting the First Serbian Uprising. It was in the 18th century that an important change occurred in the way princes were elected (the highest authority figures in Serbia under the Turkish rule). In many regions it was the wealthy families, particularly those in the business of pig raising, who were granted the office of a prince. Principalities were territorial units formed under the Turkish rule where the Serbian people had their own local authority. Principalities consisted of groups of villages of various sizes, with an elected prince as their head authority. Among other things, the prince could also collect taxes, which could bring a substantial income.
After his career as a haiduk (a fighter against the Turks), the leader of the First Serbian Uprising, Karađorđe, also became one of the most successful pig merchants of the Belgrade Pashalik. He got very rich by the Serbian standards of the time, owing to his connections in the Austrian Empire.
One of the things that played a part in sparking the Uprising was the greed of the janissaries and too heavy taxes on livestock, on pigs in particular. As founders of the new Serbian aristocracy, the princes stood against the janissaries and the events followed one another towards the rebellion.
Throughout the 19th century, pig raising and trade never ceased to be one of the major economic activities of Serbia. Therefore, a story of a golden-brown piglet on a spit actually conceals another one about the foundations of the modern time Serbia.