We have mentioned the importance of family to Serbs several times now, so we have decided to entertain you with a closer look at Serbian family relations. Serbian family tree and relations are among the most complex in the world. In the most of the West European cultures only direct blood lines are recognized with specific names with a couple of closer relatives, while other relatives are commonly called „cousin“. Serbian word for cousin – „rođak“ – is commonly used to distinguish relative from friend or other social relations, or simply to determine very distant relative.
What is „distant“ in Serbian family tree?
Serbs have several words for family, by which the family levels are determined. The most general term is „RODBINA“, which could be translated as „relatives“ or „kinsfolk“. A bit more particular term is „FAMILIJA“, which usually considers relatives up and around the 2nd or 3rd generation. The most particular term is „PORODICA“ by which we consider the closest family members, such as parents, grandparents, siblings and children.
Serbs have a special name for each direct ancestor 16 generations back, and for 5 future generations. Besides this, Serbs can easily determine relation to most cousins of the second and third generation simply by having particular name for uncles and aunts. Not only this, but their children are not called „cousins“ – they are brothers and sisters on uncle’s/aunt’s side.
So, how does it work?
Here’s an example:
Let’s say my mother has 3 brothers and 1 sister – 3 uncles and 1 aunt. As a Serb, I would say I have 3 UJAK and 1 TETKA. For them I am SESTRIĆ or „Sister’s son“, which would be the closest translation. Now, let’s say my uncle has 1 daughter, and my aunt has 1 son. This means that I have 1 SESTRA OD UJAKA (sister on my uncle’s side) and 1 BRAT OD TETKE (brother on my aunt’s side).
My father has one brother, whos title in Serbian family relation to me is STRIC or ČIČA. My „nephew“ title in relation to him is SINOVAC (literally meaning „other son“), and his son is my BRAT OD STRICA – „brother on my uncle’s side“. However! I am not SINOVAC to my father’s sister (my aunt, or TETKA as we say) – but I am BRATANAC to her (meaning „brother’s son“). How about that, huh?
Thanks to these particular names for cousins, Serbs can recite relations for days. But this is not strictly attached to direct blood lines only. Serbs are notorious for the fact that they can find their relations to other families for generations back. This comes from the very interesting detail of remembering brothers and sisters of our grandfathers and great grandfathers (sometimes even further back). So, why is that so important for us?
There are several explanations for this particularity. First explanation goes all the way back to the time when Serbs were a part of vast nation of Slavs. In order to maintain good relations, Slavs used to marry between tribes. Now, in order to avoid crossbreed of similar genetics, Slavs used to take the best precaution – determing family relations to the closest details. Thanks to this peculiarity – Slavs have maintained the least of the same gene mixture thus avoiding genetical mutations. Second explanation is tightly connected to the first: Serbs are a small nation. In the old times, communities were organized almost in the same – tribal manner; so in order to avoid „bad genetics“ – Serbs used to determine family relations for generations back.
Family events are crowded
This led to the other phenomenon – Serbian wedding and other great ceremonies are famous for the number of guests. Seldom one wedding can pass without at least 100 invitees, and even nowadays there is a custom of inviting the whole family to the wedding. This can result with the number of over 600 family members at one wedding! With friends and KUMOVI – special kind of relation – Serbian feast can easily count over 1000 guests!
Speaking about the wedding, here’s another peculiarity – the in-laws, or TAZBINA in Serbian. Not only direct relatives to your spouse have family titles, but this spreads almost indefinetely: so, if you’re married to Serb (or if you’re planning to marry one), prepare yourself to learn the following:
If your husband (SUPRUG or MUŽ) is Serb, then his father is SVEKAR, and his mother is SVEKRVA. His sister is ZAOVA and her husband is SVOJAK; your husband’s brother is DEVER and his wife is JETRVA. And your title in relation to them is SNAJA.
If your wife (SUPRUGA or ŽENA) is Serb, then her father is TAST, and her mother is TAŠTA. Her sister is SVASTIKA and her husband is PAŠENOG, BADŽA or ŠOGOR (depending on the region of Serbia your wife’s family comes from). Her brother is your ŠURAK, and his wife is ŠURNJAJA. Your title in relation to them is ZET.
God in Heaven, kum (godfather) on Earth!
So, now we have scratched the surface of Serbian blood relations. Besides genetical connection, Serbs nurture a very strong cult of spiritual relation which is known as KUMSTVO. What is kumstvo, and how does it relate us to others?
There is a proverb in Serbia, deriving from the Holy Bible, which says: „Bog na nebu, kum na zemlji!“ meaning „God in Heaven, kum on Earth!“. Who is kum (pronounced: koom) and what is kumstvo? Kum is a word for godfather – person who is a special witness at one’s baptism, the one who gives the name to the baptised and vouches for him/her before God; but it also defines one’s best man and maid of honour at the wedding. It was customary – and still is – that the godfather is also your best man at the wedding – that’s why both relations have the same name, but it is not unusual to make a new spiritual connection with your best friend by asking him/her to be your best man/maid of honour at your wedding. This way we create new KUMSTVO and gain new KUM or KUMA.
Whoever watched famous „Godfather“ movie got the picture of the godparents’ significance among Sicilians. This is practically the same sense among Serbs. The godparents are extremely appreciated and well respected, as they are considered to be one’s spiritual parents. It is not rare that some families have much closer relations with godparents and their family than with their own relatives. It is considered great sin to offend godparents, hence Serbian children are being taught since the very beginning to respect godparents as much as their own family. The significance of the godparents is best depicted in Serbian ceremonies, such as Slava: godparents are always seated in the most respective seats – at the top of the table. Thanks to these facts, Serbian KUMSTVO is almost unbreakable bond to the other family and can last for centuries. As they are considered very close relatives – although not by blood – spiritualy bonded families do not get married between each others.
How about that? Now you know the basics of Serbian family bonds! Here’s a little homework for you: try to determine Serbian titles for your relatives, it will be fun!
Writen by Petar Živić / Serbia Incoming DMC Project Manager