October the 4th, 2023 – Croatia abounds in myths and legends, and many of them (such as the one about Mila Gojsalic) centre around the Ottoman attacks on the country. Have you ever heard of an unlikely hero called the Đurđevac rooster?
Now, you might be wondering just how a rooster ended up sending the fearsome Ottoman forces packing, but the Đurđevac rooster is no ordinary fowl. In fact, he was so extraordinary that even now, Đurđevac locals call themselves roosters with pride.
The Ottoman forces plan to conquer Đurđevac…
Let’s hop in the time machine and head back to the sixteenth century. As you can imagine, the sixteenth century didn’t really provide the vast majority with easy living, and the marauding Turks didn’t make things any more simple in Croatia and the more immediate region. Back in those days, the continental Croatian town of Đurđevac was fortified, but the Ottoman army didn’t see the conquering and occupation of this town as anything that would require a great deal of effort. Thinking they might lose only a few men and otherwise sail straight to victory, the Turks were at ease. Their ease didn’t aid them much, as it turned out that the capturing of Đurđevac wasn’t as straightforward as they had initially hoped, and it ended up being drawn out over several days.
In attempt to force the people of Đurđevac to surrender to the Ottoman forces, they tried to starve them out. They cut of the townspeople’s food supply, sat back, and waited. Food supplies gradually went down, even with careful rationing, and in the end, the poor townspeople were left with nothing at all to eat but one single, rather worryingly underweight little chicken.
Ulma-beg, the leader of the Ottoman forces sitting back and waiting for the half-starved townspeople of Đurđevac to come out waving their white flag with their hands up, had no idea what was coming next…
One wise old Đurđevac woman comes up with an idea…
With nothing left in the town to eat except the skinny rooster who seemed unaware of any sort of impending doom, or of the weight of the responsibility now placed on his shoulders, one local woman came up with a rather odd plan.
She chose not to put the skinny rooster in a pot, cook it and eat it. The bird had next to no meat on it, there was nothing left to consume to go with it, and it would barely feed one individual, let alone the population of the town who had remained alive.
This wise old local woman suggested that the skinny chicken be put inside a cannon and fired at the waiting Ottomans, instead of putting it in a pot. At first, the townspeople, delirious with hunger and fear at the prospects of Ottoman occupation, thought the old woman had lost the plot. The commander of the Croatian forces protecting Đurđevac, however, had a different view. Given the low chances of Croatian success at fending off the Turks at this point, he begrudgingly agreed with the old woman that they may as well do as she suggested.
The Đurđevac rooster is launched at the Turks
Now, one can hardly blame Ottoman leader Ulma-beg for being rather surprised at fowl being launched at him with the use of cannons. When the Đurđevac rooster flew out and hit his army, he attempted to understand the message behind the chicken. What on Earth could the people of Đurđevac be trying to express by throwing chickens? His paranoia led him to the conclusion that the townspeople weren’t quite as starving as he had hoped they’d be by now. How could they be if they were firing animals that could easily be used as meat at him?
The Ottomans call off their attack
Totally confused by this, Ulma-beg calls off his troops and the attack on the town entirely. The Ottomans had wasted their time waiting around for the townspeople to stave and surrender, so they packed up their camp and left the area. The Turks didn’t leave without anger, and Ulma-beg was particularly irritated by having a rooster launched at him. When turning away to leave and go and pillage elsewhere, Ulma-beg called the townspeople of Đurđevac ”picoki” – roosters.
The people of Đurđevac remain proud ”picoki” to this very day
Thanks to the wise old woman and the Đurđevac rooster having saved the town from Ottoman ruin, Đurđevac locals continue to refer to themselves as picoki. There’s even a festival named after it which continues to take place in the town to this very day – Picokijada.