View Full Version : Albanian culture and history

04-26-2010, 04:15 PM

The kingdom of Albania, lying directly south of Montenegro, contains a population of roughly one million people; another million at least live outside the borders of their own country, mostly in Yugoslavia, although there are large colonies in Greece and in Rumania, as well as in the United States. They are divided into two distinct ethnic groups, each with its own variety and dialects of the Albanian language, its own costume, and its own particular pattern of culture. These are the Toscs in the south, and in the north and on the plain of Kosovo, the Ghegs. The Ghegs still preserve their system of exogamous patrilineal clans, comparable to that of the Montenegrins; they are divided into ten tribes of which at least part of each lies in Albania itself, and three or perhaps more outside. The ten in Albania include Malsia ë Madhë, Dukagin, Malsia Jakovës and Has, all north of the Drin, and reading from west to east. Both Has and Malsia Jakovës extend eastward into Old Serbia, north of Prizren; Malsia e Madhe has clans in Old Montenegro. Entirely outside of Albania, in Montenegro and the Kosovo country, are Peia, Podrima, and a number of clans in the neighborhood of Mitrovitza. South of the Drin are Zadrima, immediately southeast of Shkodra; Puka, Mirdita, and Luma, part of which is Serbian-speaking; south of this band are Mati, the tribe of King Zog, and Dibra, which occupies the slopes on either side of the Black Drin.

Seventy per cent of the Albanians in Albania are Moslems. The remaining 30 per cent are equally divided between Catholics and Greek Orthodox. The Catholics are all Ghegs, the Orthodox all Toscs. Of the Ghegs, all of Mirdita, all of Dukagin, and parts of Zadrima, Malsia ë Madhë, Puka, Malsia Jakovës, Has, and Mati are Catholic. The Catholics are the most conservative culturally, and as a rule the most remote in their habitat. Neither Catholicism nor Islam have inhibited the functioning of the Gheg social system, which operates in an unusual manner. Each tribe is divided into geographical and political divisions known as bairaks, but independent of this is another concept known as the fis. The fis is an exogamous patrilineal kinship group, without geographical attachment; several whole bairaks may belong to one fis, and thus be excluded from intermarriage; on the other hand one small village may contain branches of several fis, some large and national, other small and local.

The fis is the body of descendants in the male line of one usually eponymous ancestor. In various tribes different rules hold as to the determination of when this relationship may become so remote that the marriage restriction breaks down; in some, after one hundred generations; in others, only when the exact relationship is unknown. This exogamy has a close bearing upon the regional physical anthropology of the Ghegs, since it oversteps tribal boundaries and causes a trading of wives over large distances. Designed to prevent incest, it actually produces close in-breeding, since reciprocal matings amount in many cases to habitual cross-cousin marriage.

MAP 15: Tribal Divisions in Northern Albania

The most important fis is that to which the people of the famous bairaks of Shoshi and Shala, in Dukagin, belong, and also three of the five bairaks of Mirdita. The restrictions against intermarriage between Shoshi and Shala have broken down, as well even as unions between moieties within these bairaks, but in Mirdita all the young men of the three bairaks of Spaç, Orosh, and Kushnein must take their wives from the other two, Dibri and Fan. The original ancestors of this super-fis were brothers, who came from the plain of Kosovo into the mountains looking for refuge, at least 100 generations ago, according to the popular tradition. That many such movements must have taken place in the past is apparent; northern Albania is a refuge area of the first water. The Albanian language, a hybrid between Illyrian, Thracian, Latin, Slavic, Turkish, and other elements, reflects the ethnically composite origin of the Albanians.

04-26-2010, 04:21 PM
"High Albania" by Edith Durham. Old containting an interesting insight into Albanian society 100 years ago from the eyes of a Westerner.


"Oh we're back in the Balkans again,
Back to the joy and the pain–
What if it burns or it blows or it snows?
We're back to the Balkans again.
Back, where to-morrow the quick may be dead,
With a hole in his heart or a ball in his head–
Back, where the passions are rapid and red–
Oh, we're back to the Balkans again! "

"Of old sat Freedom on the heights"

THE great river of life flows not evenly for all peoples. In places it crawls sluggishly through dull flats, and the monuments of a dim past moulder upon the banks that it has no force to overflow; in others it dashes forward torrentially, carving new beds, sweeping away old landmarks; or it breaks into backwaters apart from the main stream, and sags to and fro, choked with the flotsam and jetsam of all the ages.

Such backwaters of life exist in many corners of Europe–but most of all in the Near East. For folk in such lands time has almost stood still. The wanderer from the West stands awestruck amongst them, filled with vague memories of the cradle of his race, saying, "This did I do some thousands of years ago; thus did I lie in wait for mine enemy; so thought I and so acted I in the beginning of Time."

High Albania is one of these corners. I say High Albania advisedly, for the conditions that prevail in it are very different from those in South Albania, and it is with the wildest parts of High Albania alone that this book deals.

The history of Albania, a complicated tale of extreme interest, remains to be written–strange that it should be so. The claims of Greek, Bulgar, and Serb in the Balkan peninsula are well known; so are the desires of Austria, Russia, and Italy. But it has been the fashion always to ignore the rights and claims of the oldest inhabitant of the land, the Albanian, and every plan for the reformation or reconstruction of the Near East that has done so has failed.

"Constantinople," says the Albanian, "is the key of the Near East, and Albania is the key of Constantinople."

The history of every people is a great epic, the writing of which is beyond me. The following brief sketch shows only the passing of the peoples that have swayed the fortunes of North Albania, but never yet subdued its stubborn individuality.

Illyrian Period (from about 700 B.C. to 230 B.C.).–A fierce tribal people, known as Illyrians, are recorded as dwelling in the lands now known as Montenegro, High Albania, the Herzegovina, and Bosnia. About 300 B.C. they were invaded by the Celts, who have probably left a deep mark on the people of to-day by the infusion of Celtic blood.

Roman Period.–Fierce fighters and inveterate pirates, the Illyrians brought down upon themselves a Roman punitive expedition in 230 B.C., and, after a long struggle, Illyria became a Roman province. Gentius, last king of Illyria, was defeated and captured at Scodra in 169 B.C. The land must have been thickly populated, for the Romans were long in subduing it. Thousands of prehistoric graves exist in vast cemeteries throughout Bosnia and the Herzegovina–similar ones are found in Servia, Montenegro, and High Albania. They yield many bronze and iron objects of the highest interest, for the patterns are still worn, or have been till recently, by the peasants of Bosnia, Servia, Albania, even of Bulgaria. The rayed ball or circle is not only a common pattern in silver, but is also a traditional tattoo pattern.

Rome found some of her best soldiers among the fighting tribesmen, and more than one Emperor–Diocletian and Constantine the Great, and many of lesser note, were of native blood.

In the mountains, it would seem the natives retained their own speech throughout. In the fat plain lands of the peninsula the Romans left Latin dialects. The Roumanian language still survives. The Latin dialect of Illyria, spoken universally in the coast towns in the Middle Ages, died out at the end of the nineteenth century, on the island of Veglio.

Christianity reached the Dalmatian coast as early as the first century. In the interior it made little progress till the fourth.

The transference of the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium had but little effect on Illyria, which remained part of the Patriarchate of Rome. And to Rome the descendants of the Illyrians have to a large extent remained faithful.

Servian Period (Seventh Century to Fourteenth Century).–The next event of importance was the Slavonic invasion. The ancestors of the modern Servians poured into the peninsula in irresistible numbers, overpowered the inhabitants, and reached the Dalmatian coast, burning the Roman town of Salona, 609 A.D. Serb influence grew stronger and stronger. At first as tribes suzerain to Byzantium, and then as an independent kingdom, they dominated the west side of the peninsula, and finally, under the Nemanja kings in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, almost the whole of it. The Venetians came in as protectors of the remaining Latin coast population in the eleventh century, and crept by degrees along Dalmatia.

The inrushing Slav appears not so much to have displaced the native population of old Illyria as to have absorbed it. There is no record of when the native Illyrian language died out in Bosnia, nor to what extent it had been replaced by a Latin speech by the time the Slavs arrived. In Albania it never died out, but survives to-day as modern Albanian. And with the language has survived the fierce racial instinct, which to this day makes the Albanian regard the Slav as his first and worst foe.

Empires came and went, and passed over the Albanian as does water off a duck's back. In the fastnesses, which he held, he was never more than nominally conquered, and retained his marked individuality and customs. He was probably one of the causes of the instability of the successive mediæval kingdoms, which were all, indeed, but loosely strung collections of temporarily suzerain tribes.

To race hatred was added religious hatred. The Slavs, converted to Christianity by missionaries from Salonika in the ninth century, decided eventually for the Eastern Church. The Albanian remained faithful to Rome.

A certain Frère Brochard in 1332–the palmy days of the Great Servian Empire–gives a vivid picture of the hatred of the Albanian for Serb rule.

"There is among other things, one that makes it much easier to take this kingdom (Servia). . . . There are two people, the Abbanois and the Latins, who belong both to the Church of Rome. . . . The Latins have six cities and as many bishops. Anthibaire (Antivari), Cathare (Cattaro), Dulcedine (Dulcigno), Suacinense (?), Scutari, and Drivasto. In these only Latins live. Outside the walls of them are Abbanois, who have four cities, Polat major and Polat minor (the tribal districts of Upper and Lower Pulati), Sabbate (diocese of Sappa), and Albanie (diocese of Durazzo). These, with the six above, are under the Archbishop of Antivari. These Abbanois have a language quite other than Latin, but use in their books Latin letters. Both these people are oppressed under the very hard servitude of the most hateful and abominable lordship of the Slavs. If they saw a Prince of France coming towards them, they would make him Duke against the accursed Slavs, the enemies of the truth and of our faith. A thousand cavaliers and five or six battalions, with the aforesaid Abbanois and Latins, would with ease conquer this kingdom, great and such as it is."

And no sooner did the Servian Empire break up after the death of Tsar Dushan in 1356, than the Albanians arose, and powerful chiefs ruled soon in lands that had been his.

The Servian kingdom shrank northward. The Balshas, a line of chieftains of Serb origin, formed a principality which in time included a large part of Albania and the Zeta (modern Montenegro). Though of Serb origin they were probably of mixed blood. Their sympathies were Albanian, for they made alliance with the Albanian chieftains, and fought against Marko Kraljevich, the best beloved of Serb heroes, wresting from him Ipek and Prizren (1373).

Down on the struggling mass of little principalities came the Turks. Greek, Bulgar, and Serb were shattered. The final great victory of the Turks at Kosovo established them in Europe to this day.

The Albanians were the last to fall. Led by their great hero Skenderbeg, they offered a magnificent resistance. But they had not outgrown the tribal system, and on his death (1467) broke up under rival chiefs and were overpowered. And after this the ancestors of many of the modern tribes fled from Bosnia and Rashia, and refuged in High Albania.

As for the very large population that must have been of mixed Serbo-Illyrian blood, whether they eventually called themselves Serb or Albanian seems to have largely depended upon whether they decided in favour of Rome or the Orthodox Church.

There are certain old Roman Catholic communities in Bosnia that have preserved to this day the ancient Illyrian custom of tattooing. This is never practised by the Orthodox or Moslem Slavs, but is common among both Catholic and Moslem Albanians. It is therefore possible that these tattooed Bosnians, though now Serbophone, descend from the pre-Slavonic inhabitants, and have not yet lost the custom of putting on a distingushing mark. It is of special interest to note that, of the present tribes in North Albania, the most tattooed are those that relate that they fled from Bosnia to avoid the Turks.

Forced to accept Turkish suzerainty, the position of the Albanians was yet different from that of the other conquered peoples. They retained very many privileges, and remained semi-independent under their own chiefs.

Their race instinct–the unreasoning, blind instinct of self-preservation–drove them ever against their old foe, the Slav. They did not hate the Turk less, but they hated the Slav more. Turning Moslem in numbers, and thereby gaining great influence under Turkish rule, Moslem and Christian Albanian alike supported Turk against Slav.

Already in the sixteenth century the Albanians began to go over to Islam. To-day two-thirds of the Ghegs (North Albanians) are Moslem. The reasons are not far to seek. School for native priests there seems to have been none. Foreign priests were often ignorant of native language and custom. The bishops, largely foreigners, strove only each to obtain power for himself. "The hungry sheep looked up and were not fed."

As early as 1684 the quarrels of the bishops for territory had become so bitter that a commission was appointed to delimit the bishoprics of Sappa, Durazzo, and Alessio, and the three bishops were solemnly adjured to observe these limits. "For it is not meet that your lordships should contend further, because of the scandal that may be caused, not only among the faithful, but also because of the grave inconveniences that arise from quarrels in those parts that are under the Turks."

Yet in 1702 it was again necessary to call the bishops to order. Pope Clement XI., of Albanian blood on his mother's side, wishful to save his Albanian brethren, sent Vicentius Zmajevich, Archbishop of Antivari, as Visitator Apostolicus, to Albania. After traversing the mountains and visiting all the tribes, he makes a most lamentable report. The vineyards of the Lord are corrupt, desolate, given over to pagan and Turkish practices; the bishops are quarrelling with one another for various villages. The worst case he gives is that of Postripa, for which three bishops at once contended, while the people were left "without leader or shepherd, like a scattered flock subject to persecution and oppression." To-day a very large part of Postripa is Moslem, which is not surprising. That any Catholics now remain in North Albania is mainly due to the efforts of the Franciscans, of whose courage there can be no question, and who, through the three darkest centuries, took Albania under their special care.

During the years dating from the Turkish conquest to the end of the eighteenth century, the Albanians continued to press the Slavs back and to reoccupy territory. More than once, especially under the powerful Pashas of Scutari–the Bushatlis–they were on the point of gaining complete independence; and, had they possessed organising power, would have done so.

But though they were a serious danger to the power of the Turk in Europe, their successive efforts were doomed to failure, owing to the want of unity caused by the tribal system. And before they were ready to stand alone the tide of Turkish affairs turned. The Serb arose; the Slav again appeared as invader. Russia proclaimed a Holy War to free the Serbs after four centuries of oppression.

The details of the Serb resurrection, and of the successive Russian campaigns, are too well known and too recent to need re-telling.

The Albanians had, and have, no allied power to come thus to their aid. They threw aside plans of independence, and again made common cause with the Turk against their old enemy the Slav, in the struggle for existence. This time they played a losing game. They had not merely military force to contend with, but also the forces of education and civilisation. Between the campaigns, Russia spared neither effort nor money to raise the condition of both Serb and Bulgar. More especially between the Crimea and the war of 1876-77, money was poured into Macedonia and Bulgaria lavishly. Schools and churches were built, teachers sent to preach the Panslavonic idea and fit the people for freedom.

The Slav triumphed. Turkey, utterly crushed, had to accept such terms as Europe chose to dictate. And with the Turks fell the Albanians. They were in fact the greatest sufferers. As valiantly as any others they had fought for their fatherland, but they were classed as Turks and their claims ignored.

Europe, too, was now afraid of the Slav. To check Slavonic advance, the wholly Slavonic lands were handed over to Austria to be "administered" (have their Slavism crushed out of them), and lands wholly Albanian were awarded to Montenegro.

The Albanians flew to arms and saved their towns of Gusinje and Tuzhi, but were ordered instead to cede Dulcigno, one of their best ports. Never has there been a more mistaken piece of bullying than the naval demonstration, instigated by Gladstone, to force the cession of this wholly Albanian town. The large maritime population left it, and has never been replaced. Trade has decreased, and Dulcigno remains a monument of diplomatic blunder. The Montenegrins have been unable to develop it; it is a constant reminder to the Albanians that they may expect no justice from Europe, and it has enhanced their hatred of the Slav. Austria has taken advantage of this, and works upon it. Only last winter, when war between Montenegro and Austria was imminent, the Albanians were advised to attack simultaneously with Austria and redeem Dulcigno, and were offered rifles.

North Albania is a hotbed of Austrian intrigue. The Austrian Consul-general even takes it on himself to spy the actions of tourists, as though the land were already under Austrian jurisdiction.

Scutari swarms with foreign consuls, and the Albanian has acquired the bad habit of crying to one and the other for help. Austria, by lavish expenditure, strives to buy up the tribes. Italy offers counter attractions. The Albanian has learnt by long practice how to play off one against the other. He accepts money upon occasion from each and all that offer it, and uses it for his private ends. This annoys the consuls. They hate to be outwitted at their own game, to find that when they mean to use him as a pawn he cries, "Check to your king!" They call him bad names–but it is only the "pot calling the kettle black"–and they offer bigger bribes.

"'Will you walk into my parlour?'" said the spider to the fly." And should he ever rashly walk into either, he will rue the day.

One must live in Scutari to realise the amount of spying and wire-pulling carried on by the Powers under pretence of spreading sweetness and light.

The Alphabet question will suffice as a sample. In early days an alphabet was made by Bishop Bogdan, and used by the Jesuits for all Albanian printed matter required by the church. Briefly, it is the Latin alphabet with four additional fancy letters. The spelling used is otherwise as in Italian. Help from without had enabled Greek, Serb, and Bulgar under Turkish rule to have schools in their own tongues. The natural result has been that each in turn has revolted, and, so far as possible, won freedom from Turkish rule. And those that have not yet done so look forward, in spite of the Young Turk, to ultimate union with their kin.

Albania awoke late to the value of education as a means of obtaining national freedom, and demanded national schools. But the Turks, too, had then learnt by experience. They replied, "We have had quite enough of schools in national languages. No, you don't!" and prohibited, under heavy penalty, not only schools, but the printing of the language.

The only possible schools were those founded by Austria and Italy, ostensibly to give religious instruction. These used the Jesuits' alphabet. Ten years ago some patriotic Albanians, headed by the Abbot of the Mirdites, decided that the simple Latin alphabet was far more practical. They reconstructed the orthography of the language, using only Latin letters, and offered their simple and practical system to the Austrian schools, volunteering to translate and prepare the necessary books if Austria would print them–neither side to be paid. A whole set of books was made ready and put in use. Education was at last firmly started; it remained only to go forward. But a united and educated Albania was the last thing Austria wished to see. Faced with a patriotic native clergy and a committee striving for national development, Austria recoiled. Three years ago the simple Latin alphabet was thrown out of the Austrian schools and a brand new system adopted, swarming with accents, with several fancy letters, and with innumerable mute "ee's" printed upside down–a startling effect, as of pages of uncorrected proofs!

It was invented by an influential priest. Its adoption enabled Austria to split the native priesthood into two rival camps, and–as it was not adopted by the Italian schools–to emphasise the difference between the pro-Italian and pro-Austrian parties; and that it was expressly introduced for these purposes no one who has heard all sides can doubt.

Nor can Albanian education make any progress till it has schools in which no foreign Power is allowed to intrigue. Such are now being started.

But enough of Scutari. I was bound for up-country.

04-26-2010, 04:22 PM
Travel in Turkey is generally complicated by the fact that the political situation is strained. It was exceptionally so in the beginning of May 1908. An Englishman who, six weeks before, had applied for a teskereh to travel inland, had been flatly refused, and had had to give up his tour.

To ask, I was told, was to court refusal. I must "take my blood on my own head" and slip off quietly–or give up.

"It is my duty to show you this," said our Vice-consul; "but, as I know you, I do not suppose it will make any difference." It was an official letter from our Embassy in Constantinople, warning all persons travelling in the Turkish Empire merely for pleasure, that the British Government would neither be responsible for their safety nor pay ransom. The palmy days of civis Romanus sum are over.

As I knew there was no case on record of a stranger being "held up" in North Albania, and, moreover, the Albanian is an old friend of mine, it "made no difference." Meanwhile, it remained only to find a suitable dragoman.

Meanwhile I explored the environs of Scutari. They are strewn with the wreckage of dead Empires–past Powers–only the Albanian "goes on for ever."

In the fourth century the district was a Roman province called Prevalitana–its chief towns were Scodra, Dioclea, and Drivasto. Scodra was very early a bishopric, and, according to a Bull of Pius IX., was raised to an archbishopric from 307 to 601. The Archbishop was then transferred to Dioclea, and thence at the end of the tenth century to Antivari. Antivari is still an archbishopric–the remains of Dioclea have been recently excavated. Drivasto was a bishopric till 877, and is now a heap of ruins. Scutari alone survives as the capital, and was raised again to an archbishopric in 1867. So turns the world.

I left Scutari at 5 A.M., piloted by a native who "knew all about guiding foreigners," and regarded it as running contraband. "The Vali," he said, "at that hour would still be asleep." Going over the plain, we followed the Kiri and crossed it on the fine stone bridge, the Ura Mesit, said to be Venetian.

High on a hill that guards the entrance of the Kiri valley stood Drivasto–Drishti as it is now called. Half-way up, the modern village is built among the ruins of little houses. A rude gateway in the remains of an old wall leads to it. The people have been Moslem just two centuries–that is, since the bishops quarrelled over them. On the summit are the ruins of the citadel that in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries was of some importance. From the thirteenth century the Comneni–Despots of Epirus, and descendants of a side branch of the Byzantine Imperial family–were lords of Drivasto. It was part of the Balsha Principality, and in 1396 the Balsha prince, unable to withstand the oncoming Turk, sold Drivasto with the consent of its last lord, Angelo (Andrea?) Flavio Comneno, along with Scutari, to the Venetians. But in vain.

The Turks took it, after a most bloody struggle, in 1478, hewed off the heads of the conquered leaders, and set them on pikes round beleaguered Scutari to strike terror into its defenders. Scutari too fell. The survivors from both Scutari and Drivasto fled to Venice–in the records of which the names of many well-known Albanian families occur–and Drivasto was wiped out of existence.

Naught remains now of these "old, unhappy, far-off things" but the outer wall of the citadel, of rough, unmortared stone, and a few fragments of buildings. Coins and other relics are found from time to time, but the Drishti folk keep jealous watch that no stranger shall search in what they regard as their own Tom Tiddler's ground.

The Moslem village people, reputed fanatical, were most friendly. We were asked into the wide balcony of a house where the women–unveiled, and wearing a big tuft of black-dyed hair on either side of the face–were busy weaving red and white striped cotton. Men and women sat round and amused themselves hugely, teaching me Albanian. Then the women boiled milk for me, and the men inveighed against the Turkish Government. Had to pay tax, could not avoid it, the town is so near–and it all goes into the Vali's pocket. Nothing is done for the land. By God the men of the mountains are better off! Nothing is done for them, but they do not have to pay for it.

Drishti folk are thrifty and industrious. All the river bank is made into neat market-gardens, full of little ponds, from which the water is scattered with huge wooden ladles, and the produce is taken weekly to Scutari. When I left the elder lady rubbed cheeks with me, and all begged me to come again.

My next walk was to the villages Guri Zi and Jubani, with a lad of twenty. Over the plain we went, east of Scutari to the Kiri, which was deep and full, and bridgeless, and found a wadeable shallow where it spread in four wide streams. The water was cold from the mountain snows, and the bottom slippery shingle. It was one of the occasions upon which I wonder why I have come. Nor was the other side much better. All the fields were flooded. We dodged ditches and paddled in liquid mud. But the frogs kept us happy by hollaing and shouting "Brek-kek-kek-kek" all the time. Their Albanian name, bretkots, must come from that classic chant. It should be noted that they pronounce "koax" as "koach," with a gutteral German "ch." Perhaps they are the only people who remember the correct pronunciation. And the mudflats were beauteous with tall white flowers like bunches of snowdrops on one stalk.

Christian Jubani was hospitable as Moslem Drishti. The men were out ploughing, but the women, sewing and weaving at home, welcomed me to their little red-tiled, white-washed houses. These, quite unfurnished within, were very fairly clean, and the children bonny and newly washed. Most of the boys had a cross tattooed on the back of the right hand. Two came with us, and dashed into the hedge to hunt a large grass snake (Pseudopus), excellent eating they said, only you must cut off its head, for it is poisonous (it is not, but can bite sharply); also because you must always cut off a snake's head. If you leave it as dead, and other snakes find it before sundown, they will cure it even though its back be broken to pieces. The grass snake escaped. A few tortoises came out grazing. These too are very nice to eat, I was told, but later in the year–now "they had been eating earth all the winter, so were not good."

From Jubani we went to Guri Zi ("Black Stone") which takes its name from a huge isolated rock. The village is largely Moslem, but friendly. There is indeed no danger in visiting the villages near Scutari, save from the dogs, which are trained to fly at all strangers. They are great grey or white wolfish beasts, often with wolf blood in them (the hybrid is fertile). "Without dogs we cannot live," say the people. And when each house has three or four loose at night, no enemy can approach unnoticed.

Even when puppies–mere fluffy balls–they are extraordinarily ferocious, and before they can run or bark will roll over and choke in their efforts to scare you. Had it not been for the English laws about imported dogs, I felt tempted to buy fifty for Ireland. The drivers of other folk's cattle would find it a case of "the biter bit."

The priest of Guri Zi entertained me with the tale of how his large moustaches caused him to be arrested in Italy on the charge of masquerading as a priest. "A man may be a very good priest," said the old gentleman, "fit for Paradise, but he won't do for Albania unless he has a moustache. If they've made him shave it off abroad, he must just sit in his room in Scutari till it has grown again."

To be without a moustache, both in Montenegro and Albania, is held to be peculiarly disgraceful. The wicked man of Albanian fairy stories is a chosé (a hairless man). When I mentioned, in Montenegro, that my brother was clean shaven, I was told not to repeat such disgraceful facts about him.

My youthful guide objected to going more walks without a rifle. I had been specially advised to go unarmed. "If your boy wants a gun he probably owes blood. Don't go with him."

We were to go to Vraka next day, and, contrary to orders, he turned up with a Martini and a belt full of cartridges–borrowed–and persisted in taking them; and, thus weighted, objected to carrying my lunch-bag.

Vraka, the only Orthodox Serb village in the district, lies an hour and a half north of Scutari on the plain.

The people were highly delighted that I could speak with them, and at once started cooking me a meal. It would be a disgrace, they said, for me to eat my own food in their village.

The stone houses are good and large–some great one-roomed structures, others with stable below and dwelling-room above.

The people complained greatly of Moslem persecution. The houses were full of rifles. "Vraka," said my host, "is made up of various families that had fled, because they owed blood, from Bosnia and Montenegro about two hundred years ago." They number now some one thousand souls. His family had six houses, much land, grew maize and vines, and made plenty of wine and rakia. Being near the lake, they had enough fish for Wednesdays and Fridays. (A woman was stringing little fish on a long wire, and hanging them in loops to a great wooden frame over the open hearth, to be smoke-dried.) Were it not for the Moslems they could live very well, but not one of the Vraka men could now go into Scutari. They would be shot on the way. The women had to do all bazaar business.

He added philosophically, "The Moslems have killed a great many of us, but, thanks to God, we have shot plenty of them."

At Scutari I was told it was quite true that the Vraka men lived at the end of a gun–both ends–and had no protection from the Vali. The Vraka women wear their hair looped in two plaits on each side of the face and fastened with a cowrie-shell. It is rare to find the cowrie so far west in Europe. A child had a cowrie and blue beads on its forehead. The women would not say why. The men laughed and said it was against the Evil Eye–the women had put it there.

I began to draw the room. The woman snatched up the baby and drove other children away. "You may write the house," she said, "but not the children."

The head of the family slept in a cubby-house of hurdle, hung from a tie-beam of the roof and supported on a pole below. A long row of chests held clothing, and food was stored in baskets hung out of reach of rats and cats. All houses were marked with many crosses.

The church had been built with Russian help. My youth, a Catholic, disapproved of it, and whispered, "These people are not Christians, they are only Greeks!" I said that the Albanians in the south had churches like this. He replied, "They are not Christians, but Tosks."

We returned to Scutari without meeting any "blood foes," but the youth lost one of the borrowed cartridges, and had to pay threepence for it, which depressed him.

Then there turned up the man for whom I had been waiting, one Marko. He had been in his young days servant to a war correspondent, and knew all about rough travelling. He had friends in all the Christian tribes. And to his resourcefulness and intelligence I owe whatever success I may have attained on my travels.

His patience was unfailing, nor would he ever allow mine to break down. "We must remember," he would say, "the Wolf and the Fox. The Wolf and the Fox heard that Man was coming to take their kingdom and kill them. One day, when out together in the forest, the Wolf put his foot in an iron trap and began to howl loudly. 'What is the matter?' cried the Fox. 'Oh, my foot! my foot!' screamed the Wolf. 'Is that all?' said the Fox. 'If you make such a noise about a foot, whatever will you do to-morrow when Man comes to hammer you on the head till you are dead?'"

Moral. However bad things are, they might be worse. It is well to remember this in the Albanian mountains–and elsewhere.

04-26-2010, 04:23 PM

"But natheles, while I have tyme and space,
Or that I forther in this Talé pace
Me thinketh it accordant to resoun',
To telle yow al the condicioun
Of eche of hem so as it semede me
And whiche they weren, and of what degre."

The land north of Scutari, called Maltsia e madhe, the Great Mountain Land, is the home of five large tribes–Hoti, Gruda, Kastrati, Skreli, and Kilmeni. It is part of the same group of mountains that form the bulk of Montenegro–the grey wilderness of barren rock, called Karst, that glares dazzling in the midsummer sun and beats back the heat with cruel force, takes wondrous blue and mauve shadows at dawn and even, and, when wet, is the heavy purple-black of a thunder-cloud. Very little of it is cultivable. Great tracts are waterless, depending solely on rainfall–aching wildernesses, the bare bones of a half-created world.

The whole district consists, mainly, of two long deep valleys and the high ranges that form their watersheds.

The one is the valley of the Tsem, a swift stream, never dry, that runs parallel with and near to the Montenegrin frontier and into the Lake of Scutari. The other is that of the Proni Thaat (dry torrent), which but seldom has water in it, but in olden days must have been of great force, for it has carved a deep canyon below, and has above a wide bed of water-worn boulders. The summits of the mountain range that rises on its left bank form, roughly speaking, the frontiers of Maltsia e madhe, with its neighbours, the Lower Pulati group and Shala.

On its other sides, Maltsia e madhe is bounded by the lake and by the Montenegrin frontier (a purely political and in no way ethnographic line). In the north the mountain range called the Prokletija ("accursed," a name often erroneously applied by travellers to all the North Albanian mountains) divides it from the lands of Gusinje.

To Maltsia e madhe I first turned my steps–not to see the mountains, but to see life, history, the world, and the great unknown, as it looks to the mountain man. One race has never yet seen with the eyes of another, perhaps never will. Universal peace is a far cry. But the perspective of everything, life and modern politics included, depends entirely upon the point from which it is viewed.

To attain this standpoint one must live the life of the people, and know not merely the past, but the present facts of their life. And the main fact is the tribe (fis). It has been both their strength and their weakness. Each tribe has a definite tale of origin. Descent is traced strictly through the male line, and the tradition handed from father to son through memories undebauched by print.

The head of each fis is its hereditary standard-bearer, the Bariaktar. The office passes from father to son, or in default of son to the next heir male. The standard is now a Turkish one. Only the Mirdites have a distinctive flag with a rayed-sun upon it.

Some large tribes are divided into groups, each with its own Bariaktar. A division thus marching under one standard (bariak) is called a bariak. Such a bariak may be descended from a different stock from the rest of the tribe, or the division may have been made for convenience when the tribe grew large.

The men and women descending from a common male ancestor, though very remote, regard one another as brother and sister, and marriage between them is forbidden as incestuous. Though the relationship be such that the Catholic Church permits marriage, it is regarded with such genuine horror that I have heard of but one instance where it was attempted or desired, when against tribe law. Even a native priest told me that a marriage between cousins separated by twelve generations was to him a horrible idea, though the Church permitted it, "for really they are brothers and sisters."

The mountain men have professed Christianity for some fifteen centuries, but tribe usage is still stronger than Church law. A man marries and gives his daughter in marriage outside his tribe, except when that tribe contains members of a different stock, or when it has been divided into bariaks considered distant enough for intermarriage. But in spite of this exogamy, it would appear that, through the female line, the race may have been fairly closely in-bred. For a man does not go far for a wife, but usually takes one from the next tribe, unless that tribe be consanguineous. If not so debarred, he takes a wife thence and marries his daughter there. Kastrati, for example, usually marries Hoti, and Hoti Kastrati. The bulk of the married women in one were born in the other. A perpetual interchange of women has gone on for some centuries.

Even educated Scutarenes reckon relations on the mother's side but vaguely.

A man said to me, "She is a sort of relation of mine. Her mother and mine were sisters."

"Then she is very near. She is your first cousin."

He considered and said doubtfully, "Yes. Like a first cousin certainly, but on my mother's side."

His third cousins on his father's side he reckoned as brothers. One very near and dear cousin was so remote I never quite placed him.

The Catholic Church prohibits marriage to the sixth degree, and the law is now enforced. But among the Moslem tribes, I am told, female cousinship is not recognised. Male blood only counts. That male blood only counted under old tribe law seems fairly certain. In Montenegro, where the tribal system is not yet extinct–under the "old law," which prevailed till the middle of the nineteenth century, though marriage was prohibited so long as any drop of blood of male descent was known of–I am told relationship through the female was but slightly, if at all, recognised.

Church law in Albania has only recently had power to restrain illegal unions. Archbishop Zmajevich, in his report on Albania in 1703, laments: "Among the execrable customs of the mountain people, the wretched parents are in the habit of buying for a price young girls for their sons, who are of tender age, and keeping them in their house till they are of age to cohabit, and of omitting to contract matrimony unless a male child be born, even after fifteen years or more of sinful cohabitation. This pollution is spread throughout the mountains."

The custom exists still among the Catholics along the Dalmatian frontier of Bosnia, who, in spite of the efforts of the priests, refuse to legalise a union till sure that the woman is capable of child-bearing.

The fis is divided into the mehala, a group of closely related houses, and the shpi, or house. The head of a mehala is called the kryé (head). The head of a house is xoti i shpis (lord of the house). The house, among the outlying tribes of Pulati and Dukaghini, is a communal house, including as many as seventy individuals, all under the absolute sway of their lord. The "house" may overflow into two or three houses, all holding goods and flocks in common under one xoti.

Forbidden degrees of marriage include not only blood relations on the male side, but spiritual relationships. According to Church law, those related by having the same godfather are not intermarriagable to the sixth degree, but the Albanians consider not only those related through their kumarii i pakzimit (godfather of baptism) to be not intermarriageable, but also those related through their kumarii i floksh (godfather of hair).

It is recorded that in very early days the Illyrians shaved their heads. Head shaving was still practised by Greeks, Slavs, and Hungarians in the seventeenth century. The custom prevails to this day throughout Albania and Bosnia, and has only recently died out among the Orthodox Montenegrins. It is practised by Moslems, Catholics, and Orthodox.

Among the North Albanian tribes a patch of hair, called perchin, is usually left, varying in shape and position according to district.

Among the Catholic tribes the first shaving of the head is thought even more important than baptism. When the child is about two years old, a friend is invited to be kumarii i floksh. (In Montenegro the relationship was called Shishano Kumstvo, and prevailed till fifty years ago.) The child's hair must have never before been cut. In the case of a Catholic Albanian, the kumarii, sitting on the ground, takes first another child on his knees (to ensure that his godchild be not the last that its parents have), then takes his godchild and cuts from its head four locks of hair, one to each of the points of the compass–north, south, east, and west–thus marking a cross. The Moslems, I am told, cut three locks–a triangle is a favourite Moslem tattoo pattern. Girls as well as boys are shaven, but girls have a fringe left over the forehead.

Handsome gifts are exchanged, according to the means of the family. The kumarii gives the child several napoleons, and receives some fine garments or fancy knitted socks. Some tribes have limited the value that may be given, as the gifts became so excessive as to be a severe burden. The relationship thus acquired ranks as blood relationship, and the descendants of children who have the same kumarii, though not otherwise related, are not intermarriageable till after the sixth degree–some have told me, never.

Another forbidden degree is created by sworn brotherhood. The custom is old and widely spread. But as the North Albanians almost always call a sworn brother probo or probotin, an obvious corruption of the Servian probratim (brat =brother), they have possibly derived the custom, too, from the Serbs. There is an Albanian word, though, vlam.

In Montenegro the custom is almost dead. In Albania it flourishes. The procedure was told me by a Catholic Albanian, thus: "I travelled through a dangerous part with a young Moslem. We became great friends. He asked me to be his brother. I asked leave of my father (the head of the house). He said it was a very good family to be allied with. We waited a short time. Then, as we still both wished it, we met, and each tied a string round his little finger tightly till it swelled, pricked the finger, and let the blood drop on to a lump of sugar. I ate his lump, he ate mine. We swore brotherhood. We were of the same blood. We gave each other beautiful socks in patterns, and I went to dinner at his house. He is dead now, but his brothers are my brothers, and our children are cousins. Of course they cannot marry, they are of the same blood. They cannot marry for more than a hundred years."

In the case of two Christians, three drops of blood in a glass of rakia or wine is customary. The Church, of course, takes no notice of this relationship, but I am told that persons so related never marry unless the relationship has become remote.

There is, I believe, another relationship acquired by the woman who cuts the umbilical cord at the birth of an infant. But of this I have learnt no details as yet.

For all their habits, laws, and customs, the people, as a rule, have but one explanation: "It is in the Canon of Lek,"–the law that is said to have been laid down by the chieftain Lek Dukaghin. Lek is fabled to have legislated minutely on all subjects. For example, a man told me that Lek had ordered that men should walk the length of one gun-barrel apart, lest in turning the barrel should accidentally strike the next man, for a blow even by chance must be avenged. And this law was to keep peace. Similarly women must walk the length of one distaff apart–they always spin on the march.

Of Lek himself little is known. His fame among the tribes that still bear his name far exceeds that of Skenderbeg, and the fog of mythology is thick round him. He has left no mark on European history–is a purely local celebrity,–but must have been of insistent individuality to have so influenced the people that "Lek said so" obtains far more obedience than the Ten Commandments. The teachings of Islam and of Christianity, the Sheriat and Church law, all have to yield to the Canon of Lek.

The Dukaghini (Duke John Duka, dux in the Latin sense) were a ruling family in the fifteenth century. (Hopf Chroniques Greco-romains inédits) gives an old pedigree of Dukaghini, Lords of Zadrima, the Black Mountains (probably Mal i zion the Drin), of Pulati and Shati, as early as the end of the thirteenth century. Later come Lords of Guri kuch, Fandi and Salita, and the "last Lord of Zadrima and Dagno was dispossessed by the Turks in 1479."

Some of the Dukaghini seem then to have fled to Venice along with the Venetians when they evacuated Scutari, and a "Luca Ducagini Duca di Pulato e dell stato Ducagino" is recorded in Venice in 1506.

The pedigree contains numerous names, and is possibly inaccurate in detail, though true in its main lines–for all the districts above named still quote Lek, keep his law, and call themselves Dukaghini. When not making common cause against the Turks, there was much quarrelling between Skenderbeg and the Dukaghini Princes. They were allies of Venice, and he was friend of the king of Naples. Within the widespread Dukaghini lands there is no local tradition of Skenderbeg, no "castles" or "rocks" of Skenderbeg, but plenty of Lek–which shows that the Dukaghini were the old established hereditary rulers, for their mark on the land is deeper than that of Skenderbeg, whose victories gained European fame. There is, it is true, a tale that Skenderbeg was related to the Dukaghini, but it is vague.

It appears that there were several Dukaghini of the name Lek (Alexander–I have been told, too, Lek was related to Alexander the Great), and they have become entangled. Tradition tells that the Ljuma tribe had a chief in the fourteenth century called Lek Kapetan.

An Albanian once gave me a message to European politicians in general: "If a man tells you that he knows about the Near East, ask him what is the difference between Lek Dukaghin and Lek Kapetan? If he cannot tell, he should let the Near East alone. We suffer from people who interfere and know nothing." The question, I fancy, would "plough" many a Foreign Office.

04-26-2010, 04:24 PM
Lek of the Canon, says tradition, fled from Rashia when the Turks overpowered it, came with the ancestors of the Mirdites, and is of the same blood as the bariak of Oroshi. The present hereditary prince, Prenk Bib Doda of Oroshi, claims to be descended from the Dukaghins. Nor is it historically improbable that one of the Dukaghins (a chieftain family, widely influential) should have fought the Turks on the plains, and been forced to retire with his men to the mountains.

As for the laws and customs ascribed to him, the greater part are obviously far earlier than the fifteenth century, when he is said to have lived. They probably were obeyed by the unknown warriors of the bronze weapons in the prehistoric graves.

Lek possibly put together the then existing tribe law, but his own laws are probably those only that are designed to check or reform old usage by enforcing punishment. It is impossible to believe, for example, that–as the people declare–Lek both ordered blood-vengeance to be taken, and condemned the taker of it to be severely punished. Rather, that he devised a heavy penalty to check blood feud. But it has signally failed.

He gave his sanction, it would appear, to much barbarous custom–nor with such a conservative people could he well have done otherwise. It is said that Pope Paul II. (1464) excommunicated him for his most un-Christian code. Some have suggested that, as Lek came from Rashia, he must have been of Slavonic blood. This is improbable, as the Canon does not resemble the famous Servian Code of Tsar Stefan Dushan (1349), which we may fairly presume was founded on old Slavonic usage. On the other hand, the "old law" that prevailed in Montenegro and the Herzegovina till the middle of the nineteenth century resembles very strongly that of the Albanian mountains. The chief differences seem, so far as I have learnt, to have been in the punishments. These therefore I take to be Lek's, and the rest, old tribe law common to this Serbo-Illyrian group of people.

The law in the Albanian mountains is administered by a council of Elders. Each tribe is self-governing. Custom varies with the district.

In the Maltsia e madhe group (Hoti, Gruda, Kastrati, Skreli, Kilmeni) a full council, i.e. one that can deal with matters affecting the whole tribe, must consist of the Bariaktar, four Voyvodas, twelve Elders (specially chosen for their intelligence and knowledge of law), and seventy-two heads of houses.

For small local affairs–quarrels, robbery–the Bariaktar and nine Elders suffice. The title Voyvoda (head of a mehala) is Slavonic, and does not occur in any other district of Albania.

The council meets near the church (or mosque). I had difficulty in unravelling the procedure, which is complicated. I believe it to be as follows:–

A man accuses another, say of theft. He lays the case before the Bariaktar. The point to be determined is whether a sufficient number of con-jurors can be found before whom the accused may swear his innocence, and who are willing to swear to it with him. The Bariaktar can decide how many to summon. The plaintiff has the right to nominate them. They must belong to the tribe. The accused may object to a certain number–it depends, I believe, on how many are called–and have them replaced. All meet before the council. The accused and plaintiff are heard. Should the con-jurors agree that the accused is innocent, the Elders acquit him. (It must be remembered that in these tribes every one knows all about every one else's doings.) Should all con-jurors but one agree to his innocence, that one can be dismissed, but two must replace him.

The plaintiff, if not satisfied, has the right to demand more con-jurors up to a fixed number according to the crime. Twenty-four may be demanded for murder, and from two to ten for stealing, according to the value of the thing stolen. Eight for a horse. If it cannot be otherwise decided, the defendant may put in witnesses from among his own family.

If the verdict be "guilty," the Elders decide the punishment. For theft, twice the value of the thing stolen must be given to its owner, and half the value to be divided among the Elders. It may, when possible, be paid in kind–for one sheep, two.

For anything stolen off church land as much as ten times the value may be exacted. In olden times a fancy value was set on a stolen cock. Probably because the cock was held of great power against evil spirits, so of much value to its possessor.

If the accused be found innocent, the whole party goes into the church. The candles are lighted on the altar, and, in the presence of the priest, the accused first swears his innocence on the gospel. Next in order swear those of his family who may have been summoned, then all the other con-jurors. Whether innocent or guilty, the accused has to pay each con-juror 20 piastres (about 3s. 4d.). The plaintiff can therefore annoy by insisting on the full number the law allows. A priest counts as twelve con-jurors. Men of importance in the tribe are sometimes also reckoned as more than one. Among Moslems the oath is sworn in a mosque.

In the case of a wounding accidentally, or with intent to kill, the damage is estimated by the Elders. For example, a man playing with a rifle shot a woman through the foot, and had to pay her husband 15 napoleons, and must pay 15 more if she ever die from the resultant lameness.

Cases of compounding blood feuds or murder have to be referred (when they take place in Maltsia e madhe) to the Djibal in Scutari. This is said to have been started because on one occasion the tribes could not agree on some point and asked Turkish advice (Kastrati has another tradition about it).

The Djibal is a mixed council. Each of the five above-mentioned tribes has a representative in it (called krye t malit), and there is a Moslem representative of each (called a bylykbasha), appointed by the Turkish Government. One Bylykbasha can represent more than one tribe. The president of council is the Sergherdé, a Government-appointed Moslem. The penalty for murder is about £24 paid to the Sergherdé and £12 to the Bylykbasha of the tribe. Twenty-four pounds is payable also to the Church if the murder be on Church land. Twenty-four pounds also to the xoti i ghakut (lord of blood=that one of the deceased's family who has the right to demand blood, or its equivalent). Should he accept it the feud ceases. But he usually prefers to shoot the offender himself, and the blood feud thus started is not compounded till several on either side have been killed.

To compound it the guilty party must send emissaries to the xoti i ghakut. If he be willing to compound, a council is called. It is usual, when the blood-gelt is accepted, for the two chief parties to swear brotherhood. If the feud is with a member of another tribe, and the parties are not consanguineous, it is usual also to give a daughter in marriage to some member of the offended family, and thus establish peace.

The Sergherdé and Bylykbashas have no other pay than the fees they can collect for "blood," so are reported not to wish to stop the practice. They are called on sometimes for an opinion in other cases, and are said to require bribing.

The Canon also punishes the taker of blood by burning down his house. And, except in cases where the slaying is thought justified, the penalty is inflicted by order of the Elders, who can also forbid him to work his ground for a year or even two.

Neither Sergherdé nor Bylykbashas venture into the mountains save on rare occasions under promise of safe-conduct. If their fees are in arrears they arrest any man of the same tribe that comes down to market, and imprison him as hostage till paid. As a rule in Maltsia e madhe it is paid punctually, and all shooting cases are notified to Scutari by the tribes with surprising speed. They say Lek ordered a fine to be paid, and that they themselves accepted the Djibal–"It is the law, so must be obeyed." What the tribesman resents to the uttermost is not the administration of law, but the attempt to force on him laws to which he has never assented.

An occasional paragraph in the English newspapers tells of an outbreak of "Albanian lawlessness,"–that troops have been sent to Ljuma, for example, to enforce the payment of cattle tax, or order the disarming of the population–an expedition that always fails. In these cases the lawbreakers are not the Albanians, but the force sent against them. The Albanians originally agreed with the Turks that they should retain their own law, and give in return voluntary military service. They have kept their part of the contract, and have quite justly resisted Turkish attempts to forcibly break the other part.

The Young Turks have broken the Turkish covenant with Albania, and fighting has in consequence taken place near Ipek.

Among the tribes called Dukaghini, customs are found in more primitive form than in Maltsia e madhe.

Dukaghini–the tribes who accept the Canon, though a more restricted district is now called Dukaghini–includes Pulati proper–that is, Kiri, Plani, Mgula, and Ghoanni; Upper Pulati–that is, Shala, Shoshi, Nikaj, Berisha, Merturi, and Toplana; and Postripa–that is, Ura Strengit, Mazreku, Drishti, Shlaku, Suma, and Dushmani. Also all Puka. The Canon is, however, much more widely spread. It is the law also in Mirdita, and Kthela, and Luria. It has been carried by branches of many of the above-named tribes into the plains of Metoja and Kosovo. It prevails also, I believe, in all the large Moslem tribes, but details of the usages among them I have not yet obtained.

The most important fact in North Albania is blood-vengeance, which is indeed the old, old idea of purification by blood. It is spread throughout the land. All else is subservient to it.

"What profit is life to a man if his honour be not clean?" To cleanse his honour no price is too great. And in the mountains the individual is submerged tribe. He is answerable, too, for the honour of his mehala, sometimes indeed of his whole fis.

Blood can be wiped out only with blood. A blow also demands blood, so do insulting words. One of the worst insults is the marrying of a girl betrothed to one man, to another. Nothing but blood can cleanse it.

Abduction of a girl demands blood, as does of course adultery. This does not appear to be common. It entails so much blood that "the game is not worth the candle." The blood taken need not be that of the actual offender. It must be male blood of his house or tribe. The usage differs in various districts, and will be noted in the accounts of them.

A man is answerable, too, for his guest, and must avenge a stranger that has passed but one night beneath his roof, if on his journey next day he be attacked. The sacredness of the guest is far-reaching. A man who brought me water from his house, that I might drink by the way, said that I now ranked as his guest, and that he should be bound by his honour to avenge me should anything happen to me before I had received hospitality from another.

Blood-vengeance, slaying a man according to the laws of honour, must not be confounded with murder. Murder starts a blood feud. In blood-vengeance the rules of the game are strictly observed. A man may not be shot for vengeance when he is with a woman nor with a child, nor when he is met in company, nor when besa (oath of peace) has been given. The two parties may swear such an oath for a few weeks if they choose, for business purposes. There are men who, on account of blood, have never been out alone for years.

When the avenger has slain his victim, he first reaches a place of safety, and then proclaims that he has done the deed. He wishes all to know his honour is clean. That he is now liable to be shot, and, if the blood be taken within the tribe, to heavy punishment also, is of minor moment to him.

In the Dukaghini tribes the council has power not merely to burn his house, but to destroy his crops, fell his trees, slaughter his beasts, and condemn him to leave his land unworked. An incredible amount of food-stuff is yearly wasted, and land made desolate.

The house is perhaps not merely the home of himself, his wife and children, but that of a whole family community, forty or fifty people. The law is carried out to the last letter. It crushes the innocent along with the guilty; it is remorseless, relentless. But "it is the Canon and must be obeyed."

A man can save his house only if he can return to it and defend it successfully for three days, so that no one can approach near enough to set fire to it. A "very brave man" was pointed out to me in Berisha, who has three times been condemned to have his house burnt, and each time saved it thus. A man can also save his property by inviting to the house the head of another mehala, who must then declare himself house lord and take command. The house is then, for the time being, his; he summons his own men to defend it, a regular battle may take place, and the house be saved. But it is usual at once to call a council of Elders to stop the warfare. In such a case it is usual to burn only the house, and spare the crop and other property (Berisha).

The Canon of Lek has but two punishments, fine and burning of property. Neither death nor imprisonment can be inflicted. Prison there is none. Death would but start a new feud. And Lek's object appears to have been to check feud.

In the case of a man accused of murder, and arraigned before the Elders, should it occur that they cannot come to any agreement as to whether he be guilty or not, a new trial can be made. But the Lord of Blood rarely waits for this. He prefers to shoot the man that he accuses, and by so doing renders himself liable to house-burning, and to being shot in his turn. Sometimes the Ghaksur (taker of blood) flies and shelters with another tribe, leaving his burnt-out family to shift for themselves. Or his relations take him in, help pay his fine–for the honour of them all is cleaned by the blood-taking–give him, one a sheep, another an ox, and he helps work their land till free to work his own again, and so he makes a fresh start. I have met men burnt clean out three times, but now in fairly flourishing condition.

Any house to which a Ghaksur flies for shelter is bound to give him food and protection; he is a guest, and as such sacred. The Law of Blood has thus had great influence in mixing the population of all the western side (at least) of the Balkan peninsula, Montenegrins have for centuries fled from "blood" into Albania, and Albanians into Montenegro. A large proportion of the Serbophone Moslems of Podgoritza are said to derive from Montenegrins, who refuged there from blood in the days when it was Turkish territory. According to the Canon a man is absolute master in his own house, and, in the unmodified form of the law, has the right to kill his wife, and any of his children. My informants doubted whether the killing of the wife would be tolerated now. She would be avenged by her own family. A man may, however, kill his wife with the consent of her family. A case in point took place, I was told, recently. The wife of a mountain man left him and went down to Scutari, where she lived immorally with the soldiers, thereby blackening the honour of her husband, and of her own family.

Her husband appealed to her brother (head of the family), who gave him the cartridge with which he shot her and cleaned the honour of them all. Had she eloped with a man, he would have been held guilty and shot. She would not be punished, as the man would be held to have led her astray. But in the above case her guilt was undoubted. It is very rare that a woman is killed. To kill a married woman entails two bloods–blood with her husband's and with her own family.

A woman is never liable for blood-vengeance, except in the rare case of her taking it herself. But even then there seems to be a feeling that it would be very bad form to shoot her. I could not hear of a recent case. I roused the greatest horror by saying that a woman who commits a murder in England is by law liable to the same punishment as a man. Shala is a wild tribe; it shoots freely. But a Shala man said, "It is impossible. Where could a man be found who would hang a woman? No mountain man would do it. It is a bad law. You must be bad people." He was as genuinely shocked as is a suburban mission meeting over the sacrifices of Dahomey. The tribe cannot punish bloodshed within the family group, e.g. if one cousin in a communal house kill another. The head of the house is arbiter. A man said naïvely on this subject, "How can such a case be punished? A family cannot owe itself blood?" To him the "family" was the entity; the individual had no separate existence. Marriage is arranged entirely by the head of the house. The children are betrothed in infancy or in utero . Even earlier. A man will say to another with whom he wishes to be allied, "When your wife has a daughter I want her for my son." A wife is always bought. The infant comes into the world irrevocably affianced, and part of the purchase-money is at once paid. She can marry no other man, is sent to her unknown husband when old enough, and the balance of the price handed over. The husband is bound to take her, no matter what she is like, or fall into blood with her family. The girl may–but it requires much courage on her part–refuse to marry the man. In that case she must swear before witnesses to remain virgin all her life. Should she break this vow, endless bloodshed is caused. If her father sell her to another it entails two bloods–blood between her family and her first betrothed's, and blood between her husband's and her betrothed's. Should she make a run-away match there is triple blood, as her family is at blood also with her husband's. In such cases the woman is furiously blamed. "She knew the laws, and the amount of blood that must be shed."

The most singular part of the business is the readiness with which most youths accept the girl bought for them. I never heard of one refusing, though I met several "Albanian virgins," girls who had sworn virginity to escape their betrothed.

The Catholic Church is making strenuous efforts to suppress infant betrothal by refusing to recognise it under the age of fourteen, and trying then to be sure that the girl consents, but as yet little progress has been made. By the Canon a man could divorce his wife by cutting off a piece of her dress and sending her home thus disfigured. The Church has not quite suppressed this among the Christian tribes. It is said to be a common practice among the Moslems. A man though married may take his brother's widow as concubine one month after his brother's death, also his uncle's or cousin's widow. Children of such unions are reckoned legitimate by the people, and may even be considered to be those of the first husband. In Maltsia e madhe this custom is now extinct; but in Dukaghini and Pulati, in spite of all the priests, it is quite common. Throughout the Moslem tribes this practice prevails; otherwise it is said to be rare for a Moslem tribesman to have more than one wife at a time.

(I was told in Montenegro that a hundred years ago it was not uncommon for a man to have two wives. Possibly it was this same custom.) Should a woman bear her husband only daughters, the family on his death have the right to turn her out penniless, though they have sold all the daughters at good prices. A woman believed capable of producing only daughters is valueless, and cannot hope to marry again. Should her own people be too poor to take her in, her lot is most miserable. On this point humaner feelings are beginning to prevail. The birth of a daughter is still considered a misfortune. Yet I was assured everywhere that there were more men than women in the land, and young marriageable widows when for sale are snapped up at once, often fetching more than maidens.

The rule as to whom a childless widow belongs seems to vary in different parts. In Kastrati and in Vukli (Maltsia e madhe) I was told she was the property of her father or, in case of his decease, his next heir male. Should she have children, she must remain with her husband's family to bring them up. The children belong to the family–not to her.

In Dukaghini, should she not be taken on as concubine by a member of her husband's family, his family and her family share the price for which they sell her again.

No man may strike a woman but her husband–or, if she be unmarried, her father. To do so entails blood.

A woman in the mountains, in spite of the severe work she is forced to do, is in many ways freer than the women of Scutari. She speaks freely to the men; is often very bright and intelligent, and her opinion may be asked and taken. I have seen a man bring his wife to give evidence in some case under dispute. I have also seen the women interfere to stop a quarrel, but where the family honour is concerned they are as anxious that blood should be taken as are the men.

The fact that a wife cannot be obtained without paying for her among the mountain tribes is one of the frequent causes of abduction.

In Maltsia e madhe a girl who has sworn virginity–"an Albanian virgin"–can, if her father leave no son, inherit land and work it. At her death it goes to her father's nearest heir male. These women as a rule wear male dress and may carry arms.

The practice of women wearing male dress existed also in that part of Montenegro known as the Brda, which includes those tribes that are according to tradition allied by blood to those of Albania. Medakovich, a Russian traveller, records meeting one at Rovac in 1855. She had sworn virginity and ranked as her father's son, he having none.

In Dukaghini, though I met several Albanian Virgins, I neither saw nor heard of an instance of a maiden in male dress.

Space does not permit further details. I have given sufficient only to make the following travels comprehensible.

04-26-2010, 04:32 PM

"In a Somer Sesun whan softe was the Sonne
Went I widen in the Worlde, Wonders to here."

IT was Friday, May 8, 1908, and Scutari was asleep–even the dogs were still curled up tight in the gutters–when we started on foot and purposely oozed out of the town by the wrong road in the grey dawning. The kirijee and the two horses met us in the open. It was not until we had mounted that I felt the journey had really begun at last.

There is a peculiar pleasure in riding out into the unknown–a pleasure which no second journey on the same trail ever affords.

The great mountains towered mauve in the beyond across the plain. We turned our horses off the rough track, and, following the kirijee, plunged them breast-deep into pink asphodel, hoary with dew, forcing a passage through it in a wide circuit over Fusha Stojit till we struck the Serb village of Vraka and were well beyond the gendarmerie outposts. Whether this elaborate precaution were necessary I doubt. To me it was unpleasing, but I had been assured by all the consulates I consulted that it was the only way. It lost us an hour and a half but afforded great satisfaction to the kirijee and certainly added a Near Eastern flavour to the expedition.

Vraka greeted me cheerfully, but we left the cowrie-decked women behind us and pushed on. Beyond Kopliku–a small Moslem tribe–the plain rises and is rocky in parts. Its name, Pustopoj, an obvious corruption of the Servian pustopolje (desert land), tells of Servian days.

The kirijee here lost the track. We wandered fruitlessly for an hour and a half till we struck the dry bed of the Proni Thaat, and following it up, came to the bridge that spans it–Ura Zais–and to the han.

What with dodging Ezzad Bey's gendarmerie and losing the way, we had made little progress, but it was noon and past, so we halted for a midday meal.

A han is usually a ramshackle shanty that in England would not be thought fit for a cow of good family. Its window is iron-barred, and the wooden flap that shuts it by night lets down by day, and forms a shelf on which folk sit cross-legged. Within, rows of bottles and a barrel or two loom through the darkness. Furniture it has none, and its floor is mother earth.

A friend in need is a friend indeed. Travellers make a point of abusing "the miserable Turkish han." I forget all its shortcomings and only remember the many times I have stumbled in storm-drenched and exhausted, and it has warmed and dried me and revived me with coffee and rakia. It has done all it could for me–which is more than can be said for any hotel starred by Baedeker.

We sat beneath a rude pergola of branches with other wayfarers, Skreli men. We were now in the lands of Skreli. The lively hanjee rattled away in Albanian and Servian. His predecessor had been shot for blood, thirteen years ago–there was his grave by the path. Talk ran on ghak (blood). They treated it from all points of view, from the serious to the humorous, but most of all from the point of view of the man that is born to it.

And from this point of view must it be seen to be understood. It is the fashion among journalists and others to talk of the "lawless Albanians"; but there is perhaps no other people in Europe so much under the tyranny of laws.

The unwritten law of blood is to the Albanian as is the Fury of Greek tragedy. It drives him inexorably to his doom. The curse of blood is upon him when he is born, and it sends him to an early grave. So much accustomed is he to the knowledge that he must shoot or be shot, that it affects his spirits no more than does the fact that "Man is mortal" spoil the dinner of a plump tradesman in West Europe.

The man whose honour has been soiled must cleanse it. Until he has done so he is degraded in the eyes of all–an outcast from his fellows, treated contemptuously at all gatherings. When finally folk pass him the glass of rakia behind their backs, he can show his face no more among them–and to clean his honour he kills.

And lest you that read this book should cry out at the "customs of savages," I would remind you that we play the same game on a much larger scale and call it war. And neither is "blood" or war sweepingly to be condemned.

The hanjee told how a few days ago two men (whom he named), blood foes, had accidentally met at his han. Being with friends and meeting under one roof, it was not etiquette to shoot. They drank coffee together and became so friendly they swore peace for six weeks. The company thought this an excellent joke and laughed heartily.

Having finished our scrambled eggs and fried slices of sheep cheese, we set out again for Bratoshi in Kastrati Sypermi (Upper Kastrati) and soon entered Kastrati land.

The track wound up a mountain-side of bare grey rocks. The horses, sorry beasts at best, were wearied out and the rest of the way had to be tramped. Down below lay, like a garden, the fertile plain of Lower Kastrati, and Scutari Lake blazed silver in the afternoon light. It was aksham, past–we had been thirteen hours on the way–when we finally came to the church of Bratoshi.

The young Franciscan in charge made us very welcome, and his charming old mother bustled round to make ready supper.

The name Kastrati is said to derive from the Latin castrum, which is not impossible, for the main road from Scodra to Dioclea must have passed through Lower Kastrati and have needed guards to protect it.

The tribesmen, however, relate that their name comes from their hero, George Kastrioti, the great Skenderbeg. "When Skenderbeg died we sat by the wayside and wept. The Turk came by and said, 'Why weep ye?' and we said, 'We weep because we have lost our sword!' And he said, 'I will be your chief sword'" (Sergherdé).

"Then he read us the Sheriat (Turkish Law) and said, 'You must cease your grief. Take off your black Ghurdi'" (the black, short jacket which, according to tradition, is mourning for George Skenderbeg and named after him) "'and put on the Turkish Ghiubé.'

"But we answered, 'Christians are we, and Christians have we ever been! We cannot take Turkish law. Neither can we wear Turkish garb. We are ruled by the Canon of Lek Dukaghin.' Then he offered us the waistcoat that we still call Jelek, saying, 'Je Lek'" (Thou art Lek.) "So came we under the Turk."

This curious little tale with its fantastic etymology is of great interest, inasmuch as it definitely connects Skenderbeg with a northern tribe. For it is more probable that he should have taken his name from the place than the place from him.

Members of the Kastrati Tribe.

Kastrati consists of one bariak of five hundred houses and, as do all tribes, has a definite tale of origin. It traces descent from the famous fighting stock, Drekalovich of Kuchi, which in turn derives from Berisha, by tradition one of the oldest of all Albanian tribes. Kuchi, since the war of '76 –'77, has been included politically within the Montenegrin frontier. Actually, it first threw in its lot with Montenegro in 1835, but–together with Piperi, another tribe of at any rate partially Albanian blood–revolted in 1845 when Prince Danilo tried to make them pay taxes. The rising was suppressed, but Kuchi revolted again later. Montenegro owes the subsequent acquistion of the territory to the heroism and military skill of Marko Drekalovich, who with his tribe, after harrying the Turks of Podgoritza for many years, sick of Turkish rule, joined forces with Prince Nikola when war against the Turks was proclaimed. He lies buried on the heights of Medun, the Turkish stronghold which he captured after a heavy siege, and his name is famous alike in Albania and Montenegro.

The Kuchi are now largely (entirely?) Serbophone and Orthodox. When they became so I do not know.

From Drekalovich, then, "a long while ago" came one Delti with his seven sons to the land of Kastrati. They fought the people they found there, said to be Serbs, beat them, took land and settled. And from Delti and his seven sons descend three hundred houses of Kastrati. The remaining two hundred are of mixed origin; some, doubtless with truth, are said to derive from the conquered Serbs. They are all now Catholic or Moslem, and Albanophone but Serb names, notably Popovich, show they have not always been so.

The nearest approach to a date that I obtained was that the Church of Gruda was the oldest in Maltsia e madhe, and was 380 years old, and that the Church of Bratoshi Kastrati–third oldest–was built soon after the Delti settled. This definite statement, that the Delti arrived less than 380 years ago, is of much interest, as in spite of the Skenderbeg story in the land, it makes their arrival subsequent to Skenderbeg's death (1467).

Skenderbeg's place of origin is wrapped in mystery. Many places claim him. According to the most recent research (see Pastor's Lives of the Popes, and Hertzburg's Byzantiner und Osmanen), Skenderbeg was of Slav origin, passed his life in his native mountains, and first leapt to fame when he beat the Turks at Debra in 1444, and inaugurated Albanian independence; and the tale of his captivity among the Turks is mythical. Dufresne du Cange, quoting Flavius Comnenus, gives as Skenderbeg's great-grandfather, one "Constantinus Castriotus, cognomento Meserechus, Æmathiæ et Castoriæ Princeps."

Meserechus must be surely the modern Mazreku, now a parish of Pulati; and if Æmathiæ may be taken as Matija, it would account entirely for Skenderbeg's father being Lord of Kroja, since Matija lies just behind Kroja. These two names, and the fact that he was a Catholic, connect him entirely with the North, and make the popular tale that he derived from Castoria, in the south-east, highly improbable.

Whereas, if the family originated from Kastrati, the tradition that the Slav inhabitants there were overwhelmed and displaced by the Albanian Kuchi, would account for the fact that no more definite tale of Skenderbeg, than the one quoted, exists there.

It is an interesting fact that most of the celebrated leaders of North Albania and Montenegro seem to have been of mixed Serbo-Albanian blood.

I found Kastrati ruing the day when it had accepted the mixed rule of tribe and Djibal.

Already at the han I had learned why Scutari was refusing permission to travel in the mountains. The tribes of Maltsia e madhe, exasperated against Schahir Bey, the then Sergherdé, were in open defiance. Their charges against him were many and bitter, and they swore they would have no more of him.

I had planned to stay some days at Bratoshi, but was urged to go at once to Skreli to the Feast of the Translation of St. Nikolas, the tribal saint, where the tribes would gather in their best array. So, as all the world was going to Skreli, to Skreli I went. Among our company was a Kastrati man from Podgoritza in Montenegro, whither he had fled from blood some years ago. He spoke Serb well, and was in the highest spirits, for the fact that by coming to the feast he risked his life, added much spice to the outing.

"How many have you killed?" I asked. "Eight–up till to-day," said he cheerfully. A Moslem had shot one of his sons, whereon he had shot four of that Moslem's near relatives, and flitted over the border. It pleased him much. The Moslem would mind it far more than being shot himself. He joked about his fellow-tribesmen: "Wild people," said he.

"Art thou wild, too?" I asked. "No, no," said he, adding with a beaming smile: "I've killed many men though, Christians and Moslems, and God willing, I will shoot some more. Now I am going to pray to St. Nikola."

He had a son in training as a Montenegrin officer, and was loud in praise of Prince Nikola. His grand-children will probably be Orthodox and Serbophone, and his great-grandchildren swear they have been Serb from the beginning of time. And thus for centuries have the Balkan races been made.

The track to Brzheta led up over stones to the ridge of the mountain, where a rough wall marked the frontier of Kastrati and Skreli, and then down a stony zigzag, too steep for the horses, which were led round. The church and church-house stand in the valley of the Proni Thaat. The priest of Skreli, whose own bishop describes him as "tiny but terrible," brimming with energy and hospitality, was making great preparations for guests. On a feast-day, he declared, two or three more or less made no difference, he could find room for me somewhere.

Beyond the green bed of the valley rose, snow-capped, the wall of mountain that parts Skreli from the Pulati tribes. Skreli tells a tale of origin from Bosnia.

I paid visits. The people, most friendly, were delighted to let me "write" their houses. They are of stone with tiled roof. The ground floor is stable. The dwelling-room above is approached by an outside staircase of stone or wood, which leads often to a large covered balcony. The windows are few and small. The fire is lit on an open hearth at one end, the smoke escaping through the unceiled roof. Behind the hearth is a recess in the wall to contain cooking utensils. Many houses have a wattled larder standing on posts in the yard, especially to keep milk in. Every house expected guests.


In the evening the priest's guests began arriving–two Franciscans, two priests, and last not least, the deputy Archbishop of Scutari–and the fun began. As each and his retainers got within howling distance they yelled aloud, hailing their host.

The priest of Skreli then dashed wildly to the window, leaned perilously far out, and hurled his voice back, at the same time emptying a revolver. The visitor replied with a volley, rode up full clatter, rushed upstairs and helped to yell and fire greetings at the next comer. They were all young, and were in the highest spirits–for a mountain mission priest gets very little fun in his life–when the Archbishop turned up. Finding them there, he pretended at first to be severe, for the feast-day to-morrow was a Sunday, and without his permission none were supposed to absent themselves from their own parishes on a Sunday. However, they all vowed that all their own parishioners were coming to the feast, and that it was their duty to come and look after them, and the Archbishop was soon as festive as every one else. Meantime guests were arriving at all the other houses, and a continuous rifle-fire swished and tore down the valley. We sat down to supper, a most ecclesiastical party. I found myself on the right hand of the Archbishop, the solitary female among six churchmen. But they all spoke some language I did, were immensely kind, and all invited me to visit their tribes.

After supper was a sing-song, the typical Albanian songs that are like nothing else. The Albanian scale is not as the modern European scale, but is all semi-tones and fractional tones. Nor has the music regular time. Its rhythm is hurried or slackened according to the singer's dramatic instinct, and the words are incredibly drawn out over long minor turns and ups and downs that few English throats could imitate. To the uninitiated it seems to begin nowhere and leave off anywhere, until, after a few weeks, the ear, accustomed as it were to a new language, recognises both tune and rhythm, and airs that at first seemed all alike become distinct. They are national and original and not without charm, and are sung always at the top of the voice, and that an artificial one, high for men, low for women. The two sexes sing so much alike that I once mistook the voice of a little girl of thirteen singing in the next room for that of a man. Her delighted parents said, "She has indeed a very beautiful voice."

Marko and the churchmen all had huge voices and the roof rang. One song was of a widow who had two sons. The elder went to the mountain and turned robber. His mother believed him dead. The younger stayed with her, but having to cross the mountains for business was shot at from behind a rock and mortally wounded. As he lay dying the two brothers recognised one another. Horrified, the elder was about to shoot himself, when the younger cried, "Do not kill both our mother's sons. Go to her and tell her I have gone to a far country, and that you will stay with her." He died, and the robber returned home.

Another was of a youth who had gone to visit a friend. He rapped on the door with the butt of his revolver. It went off and killed him, and the song mourned his fate.

The feast really fell on the Saturday. It was kept on Sunday because Saturday is a fast-day, and you cannot feast without roast mutton. Early Sunday morning the guests poured down the zig-zag in a living cataract on the one side, and flocked from the valleys on the other–from Hoti, from Kastrati and Boga, all in their best–men first, their women following. As each batch came in sight of the church they yelled for the priest; bang, bang went fifty rifles at once; swish-ish-ish flew the bullets; pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop replied the priest's old six-shooter. Before midday the meeting-ground round the church was packed with magnificent specimens of humanity. The visitor to Scutari rarely sees the really fine mountain man–he is either at feud with the Government or owes blood, and sends his women to the town when business is necessary.

Etiquette demanded that the Skreli people, being the hosts, should not wear their best clothes, it is for the guests to do all the peacocking. And peacock they did. Many carried splendid silver-mounted weapons, and even though wearing revolvers, thrust great silver ramrods in their belts, for "swagger." Snow-white headwraps dazzled in the sun–crimson and gold djemadans and jeleks, the short black ghurdi, and the splendidly decorative black braiding of the tight-fitting chakshir (trousers), and the heavy silver watch and pistol chains–set lavishly with the false rubies and turquoise loved of the mountain man–set off the lean supple figures to the greatest advantage. The majority belonged to the long-faced, aquiline-nosed type, with long, well-cut jawbone, eyebrows that slope downwards, and either hazel eyes and brown hair, or grey-blue eyes and fair hair. All had shaven heads, the unshaven patch varying in shape and position. To study head-tufts one must go to church festivals. Only then are a number seen uncovered.

Notes of Variety of Head-shaves in Kastrati and Skreli.

04-26-2010, 04:37 PM
Of the headwrap the Scutari Christians always say, "They took it from the Turks." But Henry Blunt, writing in 1650, gives a curious legend to the effect that it originated at the battle of Thermopylæ, had been worn ever since, and was adopted by the Turks. This, though the Thermopylæ part is doubtless fabulous, is of interest as showing so early as 1650 a belief that the headwrap was long pre-Turkish, in Europe.

The women, who trooped after their men, also wrap the head. They too are shaven all round the temples and their faces look extraordinarily large and blank. Some are also shaven in a strip along the top of the forehead, but the shaven strip is often covered by a fringe brought down over it. This is all the hair that shows, and is darkened by dye or oil. Unmarried girls have often quite fair hair.

Girls and women are differently dressed. The girls' dress is of thick, stiff, white wool with horizontal black stripes. The skirt and bodice are joined, and the bodice is open at the sides. The outer garments of both men and women are commonly open under the armpits for ventilation.

Under the dress the girls and women of these parts wear a shirt with long sleeves, and no other garment save the long stockings knitted in fancy patterns of red and black or black and white. Married women wear a black bell-shaped skirt of stiff, heavy wool, striped with dull crimson (native dyed) or purple (bought in Scutari). The bodice is open at the side, and a thick epaulette, heavily fringed, covers the shoulder. Over the skirt is a heavy striped apron of the same stuff. And round the waist is a great leathern belt five or six inches wide, studded thickly with small nails. More inappropriate wear for a married woman could hardly be invented. On the head is a flat black cap on the crown of which is sewn a crescent, or a double crescent, of silver-gilt filagree. Or a similar design is worked in gold thread. This crescent the Christian women say they have always worn, and that it is not Turkish. In this they are probably correct. The crescent and sun are very commonly tattooed together with the cross on all these Christian tribes-folk, men and women. This seems to be the remnant of some old pre-Christian belief not connected with Mahomedanism at all. The Moslems do not tattoo the crescent but a double triangle.

The church-bell rang, the church was packed, Place was given to visitors, and most of the Skreli tribe knelt on the ground outside.

A week's besa had been sworn for the festival, so that all blood foes could meet as friends.

After church there was a rush for the rifles, stacked outside; a shooting competition began, accompanied by a general fusillade. And all were so gay and friendly it was hard to believe that they nearly all owed, or were owed, blood.

About three o'clock the whole gathering broke up with amazing speed, to dine with their Skreli hosts. Firing continued light-heartedly till late at night, but no accident marred the festa. Festas do not always pass off so well among the wilder tribes. The Archbishop told how, when he was parish priest in a Pulati tribe, he once had seven shot dead just outside his church on the feast of the patron saint.

There being no hay or corn, the horses of the entire party had been turned loose to browse in the copses. Consequently we awoke to a horseless dawn. The sturdy ecclesiastical steeds, not seeing the fun of fasting on a feast-day, had all bolted in search of richer fare, the Archbishop's along with the rest.

My humble kirijee horses, having no superfluous energy, were found after an hour's search. Leaving the horseless churchmen disconsolate on the balcony, we started for Lower Kastrati with a Kastrati man–brother of the one who had brought us–a lively fellow, with shaven temples and hair plastered down in a straight fringe over his shaven forehead.

He had enjoyed the festa vastly, and fired off his whole belt of cartridges–forty. This is all that most men possess. They buy caps and powder, cast their own bullets, and perpetually refill their empty cartridge-cases. The ease with which a Martini cartridge is filled is the main reason of that weapon's popularity. As a quick firer it cannot of course compare with the Mauser. But it wounds far more severely, and drops its man when the Mauser fails to stop him, and, as there is always plenty of cover from which to get a near shot, it has many admirers. Many people told me that for a real good old-fashioned wound the good old flintlock with a dram of powder well rammed down, carrying a huge bullet, nails, and other fancy articles, was a sure thing at close range.

We walked all down the valley of the Proni Thaat, a strip of cultivated land sown with maize and tobacco, flanked by grey, grim Karst, which nought but centuries of foresting can hope to tame. By the track side we passed a Christian grave, adorned with a cross and a rude relief of a saddle-horse. Both guide and kirijee said it was customary to carve a man's favourite horse on his grave. Does it tell of the days when a warrior's horse was buried with him?

I saw other examples.

We turned off Proni Thaat at Ura Zais, and struck over the flat plain to Baitza, past rich fields where the crops were guarded from the Evil Eye by horses' skulls set on poles, or their modern substitutes, twisted petroleum cans whitewashed. A cross gave yet further protection.

The church and priest's house of Baitza stand on a fair plain that lies but little above the lake level, and smiles with crops, cherries, figs, and almonds, but is malarious in summer.

The church-tower is marked by the builder's name, Selim, Debra.

The best builders in North Albania are Moslems from Debra: dark, short men–Albanophone, but wearing the dolama (long coat) of the Slav, belted with an orange sash.

Though possibly of mixed blood, the Moslems of Debra are some of the Slavs' worst persecutors, and are mainly responsible for the Albanian's sinister reputation in England.

In the graveyard is a cross of a type common in many parts of the country. Three rudely carved birds are perched, one on either arm, and one on the top. The natives say the bird is pllum (dove), and that it is per bukur (for beauty). It is, however, only another way of keeping off Syy kec (Evil Eye). The cock, throughout the Balkan Peninsula, is the bird famed for this. A grotesque cockyolybird adorned the headbands of the Herzegovinian women. It is possible that on Christian graves the dove–the conventional emblem of the Holy Ghost–is a substitute for the former bird of magic. But dove-like bronze annulets occur in early Bosnian graves.


04-26-2010, 04:44 PM
Christians and Moslems, of which there are a good many in Lower Kastrati, live together on perfectly friendly terms. Religious persecution never takes place within a tribe. It is intertribal when it occurs.

We strolled round. Folk were as eager to see me as I, them. We entered the first house that asked us, and climbed up to the dark dwelling-room.

It was full of people whose talk was bitter lament. All the five large tribes having refused further obedience to the Sergherdé, the men could no longer go to the bazar. They were fierce, hopeless, sullen. Last year the Sultan had wished to cede part of Kilmeni's best grazing land to Montenegro, to please the Powers. What right had the Sultan to cede their territory? If he wanted to give land, let him give Stamboul that belonged to him, not land that had belonged to Albania before ever the Turks came. What has the Turkish Government ever done for us? There is not a road in the country. Give us a just government. We are poor and ignorant. The Turks will do nothing except for bribes. We shall never have justice from them. They vowed they would be loyal to any foreign prince that would lead them. Twenty-five years ago, they had believed that salvation was in sight, but Austria had betrayed them. Now they knew not to whom to turn nor whence to obtain ammunition with which to fight free.

Two of the melancholy household were guests, flying from blood, the burden of their maintenance falling on their hosts. Once was but fifteen, from Skreli, and had just killed his first man. He was a big, dark boy, who did not look his age. I think his first blood lay heavy on him–not as a crime, but as a momentous act that had brought him up suddenly against the raw facts of life. He sat silent. The first flush of victory had worn off. We spoke with him. He had been to school in Scutari, and could read and write a little. Now he could return there no more. An outcast, dependent on charity for his bread, his steps were dogged by the avenger of blood. The situation dazed him. Why did he kill his man? He was obliged to by the law. His hosts added that the Turkish authorities had ordered his parents' house (as he had not one of his own) to be burnt down, but, as the tribe was at feud with Scutari they would not obey.

The second guest was a weary-looking man of about forty. He too said he "had been obliged to kill. is no government, God help us! You must kill the man that injures you yourself by the Old Law or he will treat you worse and worse." The family sheltering the two, was also at blood, and only the women could go out and about. They discussed which Power could save them. The Austrian consul, they said, was no use. He had lately visited them and was a coward. "We made coffee for him and he let his wife take it first. He was afraid of a woman!"

"That," said Marko, "is the custom alla franga."

"I would never let my wife eat with me," said the man that owed blood. "She must stand and wait till I have finished. Consul indeed!" And he roared with laughter–a momentary flash in the general gloom.

We left the dreary, blood-stricken house and went on, to be stopped very shortly by a party of men and women, whom the appearance of a total stranger greatly alarmed. They stopped me to learn what I was about. We sat down obediently, and made a solemn declaration that I had not come to seek treasure, and did not propose to remove untold sums of gold in the night. Their minds relieved on this point, an old man at once asked us to his house, a miserable one-roomed hut with a mud floor, and windowless. The loom, with a strip of cotton half-woven, stood in the doorway, where alone there was light enough to work by. The ragged lean old man led us in with a courtly grace, gave us the only two stools, and set his son to make coffee. I meanwhile drew the loom. They were delighted. They had never before seen a woman who could write, and never any one that could "write" a loom. In the mountains folk never differentiate between writing and drawing, I am not sure if they realise they are different processes. One suggested that a "writing woman" would be a good sort to marry, but Marko said that kind would not fetch wood and water, which damped the enthusiasm.

When I rose to go the old man asked if we had a roof for the night. "We are poor. Bread, salt, and our hearts is all we can offer, but you are welcome to stay as long as you wish."

It gave me joy to know that even in the bitterest corners of the earth there is so much of human kindness.

At even I sat with my three men on the grass before the church and watched the stars come out in the cloudless sky. Then there came a woman whom they called in jest a "nun"; one of those sworn to virginity because she has refused to marry the man to whom she was betrothed as a child. This "nun" sat along with us and chaffed the men in a very worldly style. The kirijee, roaring with laughter, told how such a nun had been servant to a priest in the neighbourhood. So spotless was her character, and so devout was she, that all said she would be taken straight to Paradise when she died. On the priest's death she shocked the whole tribe by marrying a Moslem from Gusinje! Now she could never come back with her husband, for it meant blood.

I asked her age when she married. She was forty, and her first betrothed had married another long ago. I said it was most unjust that a woman of forty should be bound by a promise made for her before she was born. She had been driven to the sin–if sin it were–of marrying a Moslem because no Christian had been brave enough to marry her. They replied indignantly that she had blackened the honour of her first betrothed, and also that of the twelve witnesses before whom she had sworn virginity, and they hoped, most uncharitably, that by this time she was miserable and repentant. But she was away on the other side of the Prokletija (Accursed Mountains), and I never learnt how the tale of the woman that married a Moslem ended.

Our Kastrati guide offered to lead us on to Bridzha in Hoti, whither we were bound. We started in the early morning. The track over the lower Kastrati plain is good–the red earth, well cleansed of pebbles, is sown where there is enough of it. Wych elm and scrub oak grow in the rocky parts. We struck inland, riding parallel with Licheni Hotit (Lake of Hoti), a long swampy arm of the lake that runs into the plain, and here divides Kastrati from Hoti. Along it, on the Kastrati side, are the low hills, the scene of the hapless rising of May 1883, to which the people refer when they declare that "Austria betrayed them." Thus runs the tale. An "Hungarian," calling himself Delmotzi or Lemass in various places, journeyed through the Great Mountains and spoke everywhere of freedom. A commission was then on foot to determine the Albano-Montenegrin frontier. He told them more land would be torn from them. If they would rise and save it they should have the support of the Austro-Hungarian Government, which did not wish Slav borders extended.

"I believed him," said an old man who had guided the stranger. "O God, I believed him! I believed we were to win freedom from the Turks. He asked how long our ammunition would hold out, and we said, 'Two weeks.' 'Help will come in four days,' he told us."

Then Kastrati and Hoti rose and took the Turkish authorities unawares. Had all the tribes risen at once there is little doubt that, for a time at any rate, they could have swept all before them. But either the "Hungarian's" promises were unauthorised or Austria's plans changed. Most of the priests then were foreigners under Austrian influence. They held back their flocks, who were eager to fly to the rescue, and said the orders had not yet come. Meanwhile the Turkish troops hastened to the spot. The luckless insurgents held the low range of hills, defending themselves with the ferocity born of despair. When their ammunition was all but exhausted they hurled themselves in a final frenzy on the soldiers, dragged in dead bodies and tore cartridges from the belts of the living and the dead. The Austrian consul, Lippich, and the French consul intervened to stay the final massacre. An armistice was proclaimed, and the survivors, under promise of safe-conduct, were persuaded to go to their homes. Then the Turks fell on them separately, slaughtered many, and burnt their houses. "May God slay him that putteth his trust in a Turk," says the Balkan proverb.

What was behind it all we shall never know. That Austria was implicated the people say is proved. For one of the leaders–furious at betrayal–went straight to Vienna to demand compensation. A card given him by the "Hungarian" obtained him an immediate interview with Baron Kallay, who offered him a post in the Bosnian gendarmerie (which he indignantly refused, for he would not leave his native land), and gave him a small sum of money. The "Hungarian" has never been heard of since, but the people still talk much of the railways and roads that he promised them.

We crossed the border of Kastrati and Hoti. The church of Bridzha showed a solitary speck of white high up at the end of the valley. It seemed miles from anywhere. I asked if any house of those clustered at the mountain's foot would give us a midday meal. To the Bariaktar's house, said the Kastrati guide decidedly, we would not go, because he was a Moslem. But he knew a large Christian house where we should be well entertained.

It was a mass of planks and poles, for the owner and the men of his house were busy enlarging it. We entered up a crazy ladder, through a hole in the wall, and plunged into a huge cavernous blackness lighted only through broken roof-tiles, by three Jacob's ladders of sunlight, up which smoke-angels twirled and twisted. The two tiny loopholes at the further end showed only as stars in the gloom

Our welcome was warm. Cushions and sheepskins were strewn for us, and a woman cast a great faggot on to the fire that glowed red under a huge hood at the far end of the room. Slowly, as my eyes grew used to the plunge from dazzle to darkness, I took in the wonderful scene in detail.

It was a vast room–so vast that, though stacked with goods, the twenty-seven persons in it only made a tiny group at either end. Far away at the great hooded fire the women, silhouetted black against the blaze, were making ready the midday meal.

The red flare danced on the smoke-blackened rafters of the roof. Rudely painted chests, twenty or more, containing the belongings of the family, were piled and ranged everywhere. Arms and field tools hung on the walls and from the tie-beams on wooden hooks. Flour and much of the food-stuffs were in large hollow tree-trunks–dug-out barrels. An indescribable jumble of old clothes, saddles, bridles, cartridge-belts, was strewn over all in wild confusion.

The bedding–thick sheets of white home-woven felt, pillows of red cotton, and plaited reed-mats–was stacked on the chests.

The floor was of thick, short, axe-hewn planks; the mighty walls, against which nothing less than artillery would be of any use, were of bare, rough stone. Dried meat hung from above, and long festoons of little dried fish for fast-days.

It was more like a cave than a house. There was something even majestic and primeval in its size, its gloom and chaos. Nor did even cavemen live with much less luxury.

At midday the men trooped in from building. Coffee and rakia flowed. The sofra (low round table) was brought and a large salt sheep-cheese, cut in chunks, put in the middle, to help down the rakia.

The Kastrati man was specially pressed to drink; his presence caused great mirth. The "joke" was a peculiarly Albanian one. Not only was Kastrati at blood with Hoti, but Kastrati had blackened the honour of the very house in which we were sitting, so bitterly, that the whole of both tribes was involved. Except with safe-conduct of a Hoti man–or under the protection of a stranger, as was the case–my gay young Kastrati could not have crossed the border-line save at the peril of his life. But he had chosen to come right into the lion's jaws, and the "cheek" of him pleased every one immensely. All drank healths with him, he was the honoured guest, and they discussed pleasantly how many bloods would be required before peace could be made. The house-master was quite frank; five was the number he thought necessary. And the Kastrati thought that five would satisfy them too. He was told, however, that this visit was all very fine, but that, though he might carry out his bargain and take me as far as Bridzha, he was to go no farther. I asked rather anxiously how he was to get back, as I did not want to have to return in order to shelter him. They laughed and promised him safe-conduct. It was "all in the game."

Our host was lavish in his hospitality–proud of being a Hoti man, proud of his large house, and delighted to tell all about it.

Thank God, he had not only enough for his family but for all his friends. I was welcome to stay as long as I liked. Flocks had he in plenty. His fields, when rain fell, yielded eight horse-loads of maize. (A tovar–horse-load–is 100 okes. An oke is nearly 2 1/2 pounds). If there were only a decent government and a man could be sure of his own, they would be very well off. The Turks?–he hated them. No justice to be hoped there. He deplored the blood system, but with no government a man must protect his honour and his goods according to the usage of the mountains. His house contained eight men-at-arms, six women, and eight children, also eight brand-new Mausers which had cost twelve napoleons a piece. (The amount spent on arms and ammunition is out of all proportion to other expenses). The Mausers and the new belts, full of glittering cartridges, were exhibited with pride–mainly, I believe, to properly impress the Kastrati and show him Hoti was ready. As he possessed nothing more modern than a Martini, he was deeply interested.

Four of the eight armed men were young and unmarried. Of the six women, one, an active and wiry old lady, was the family's grandmother; another, the widow of our host's brother, who had been shot a few months ago.

Our host was house-master, and had the fates of all in his hands. I asked him the price of a wife in these parts. "Twenty napoleons for one from my house," he said; "some will take as low as sixteen. I call that giving a girl away. You don't get one from me at that price. This one here," he pointed to an infant of eight months tightly swaddled in a large wooden cradle, "is already sold. I've had fifty florins down, the balance to follow when I send her to her husband."

At what age did he send a girl?

"Never under sixteen. It isn't healthy. Many people give them younger, I don't."

"And when do you give a boy a wife?"

"Never under eighteen. I would only marry a boy at sixteen if there were not enough women to do the work of the house, and I had to take another. But it is better not."

Nor would he admit that there was anything wrong in the system of infant betrothal, though Marko pointed out that the Church had recently forbidden it. He regarded his women as chattels, and would allow them no opinion.

Only if a woman were sworn to virginity did he allow her equal rights with a man. He knew one who was forty now. Her only brother had been shot when she was ten. Since that she had always worn male garb. She had a house and a good deal of land. I asked if the men ate with her. He slapped his thigh and said: "Of course! she has breeches on just like mine and. a revolver."

Of the strength of the mountain women he boasted greatly. Any one of them, he declared, could start from here with a heavy load of wood to sell in the bazar of Scutari, be delivered of a child without any help by the wayside, take child and wood to the bazar, sell the wood, make purchases, and return home all right.

Some one told the tale of a Pasha of Scutari. Having met upon the road a heavily-laden woman carrying the child she had just borne, he questioned her, and at once returned to his wife, who was expecting a child shortly. "Look here," said the Pasha, "I know all about it this time; I'll have no more fuss! The mountain women can shift for themselves, and you must too." His wife, a wise woman, said nothing, but waited till the Pasha had gone out. Then she bade the servant saddle the Pasha's Arab steed with a wooden samar and take it to the mountains to fetch firewood. When the Pasha came home he found his beautiful Arab raw-backed, broken-kneed, and exhausted. Furious, he asked his wife how she had dared treat it so.

"My dear lord," she replied, "you said I must do as the mountain women, so I thought of course your horse could do as the mountain horses."

Every one laughed. The women brought warm water in an ibrik and soap, and a clean towel for each. We washed our hands, the sofra was spread with the men's dinner. We squatted round (I am always classed with the buck-herd) and the women withdrew to a respectful distance.

The soup, fowl, eggs, and milk were excellent. We ate with wooden ladles from a common platter. The Kastrati took the breast-bone of the fowl and held it against the light, scrutinised its markings, and declared it foretold no evil to this house–which was very polite of him.

The Hoti took this stiffly and made no comment.

Gruda is reckoned at five hundred families. About half of them are Moslem. But there is no difficulty between them and the Christians.

I asked how long these of Gruda had been Moslem.

"They have stunk for seven generations," said the Franciscan.

"Stunk?" said I.

He explained, and the rest of the company agreed, that all Moslems stink. You could tell by the smell as soon as a Moslem entered the room. He was amazed I had not remarked it. I ventured that in some districts Moslems washed more than Christians, but was told that washing has nothing to do with it. It is the Islamism that stinks. And this is the common belief of the mountain Christians.

About eighty houses of Gruda spring from Berisha, reputed one of the oldest, if not the very oldest, Albanian tribe–a tribe that does not tell of immigration but claims to have been always in its present home. The rest of Gruda came from the Herzegovina between three and four hundred years ago. The church of Gruda, Prifti, is said to be the oldest in Maltsia e madhe, founded by the Herzegovinian branch, which is called Djell, and claims to have been Catholic when it came.

The house-building men corroborated the old man's tale. He had heard it all as a boy from his grandfather.

"It is true that we cannot write in a book," he said, "but we have it all written here." He tapped his forehead. "We are an old people. The Romans were in this land a long time ago. They fought the Mirdite tribe on the plain of Podgoritza." The Franciscan laughed at him, but the old man stuck to his tale. "I had it from my grandfather, and he from his. And the ruins of the Roman town are there now."

As I jotted down all the talk in the cover of my sketchbook, I had hanging over me, like a Damocles' sword, that I must start next day and retramp that weary way back to where we had left the horses. I could not trespass longer on the Franciscan's hospitality.

It was near midnight when we turned in, and we turned out in the grey dawn. We descended the cliff, and were up the other side before the sun's rays penetrated the vale, and reached Treboina in less than half the time we had taken the day before.

Poor Marko never forgot the climb to Gruda, and referred to it as the "road to Calvary," for which he was severely taken to task by the Franciscans.

Treboina welcomed and fed us. The old man, who had been much distressed at my collapse the day before, wrapped me in a coat as soon as I arrived to prevent my being chilled, sat me by the window, gave me black coffee, and withheld cold water till he thought me cool enough.

Treboina asked how we had slept at Prifti. I said my sleep had been only a horrible dream of cliff-climbing in which I had grabbed at burning rocks, waking every time with spasmodic clutches. Nothing could be better, said the company. The dream of climbing-up was one of the very luckiest, even better than dreaming of fishing.

The return to Bridzha was largely uphill, and the horses were rested, so riding was possible. A thin film of cloud tempered the sun. A great glass-snake (Pseudopus pallasi ) hurried out of our way, and to my surprise the old man correctly said that it was not a real snake but only like one. There was a smaller kind, he added (i.e. the Blindworm)–quite harmless and blind, but it was said that on Fridays it could see for a few hours. The old man and Marko agreed that the common land-tortoise, boiled in oil, was not only good eating but very efficacious in cases of lung disease.

The Catholics of Dalmatia also eat land-tortoises. The Orthodox peasants, on the other hand, I have found regard them as most unclean.

We arrived early at Bridzha, and all my desire was for a night's rest.

The Albanians have a custom, cruel to those that are not to the manner born. No matter what is the time of year, they eat rather before midday and again one hour after sunset, or even later. This means that in the summer it is rarely before ten, and one goes eleven or even twelve hours between meals.

Sunset in Turkish time is twelve o'clock. They therefore maintain, nor could I ever convince them to the contrary, that supper is always at the same hour all the year round. As soon as they have eaten they lie down to sleep, and they get up with or rather before the sun. In the summer you get no food till too tired to eat it–and almost no s1eep. Whereas in the winter your supper is ready at 5.30 or 6, and your host, dropping with sleep at 8 P.M., quite puzzled, says reproachfully: "You used to say one hour after aksham was too late. Now you say it is too early!"

How the people exist in summer on the small amount of sleep they take, I cannot imagine; they do not seem to require a siesta.

The sleep I needed was a standing joke–no one really believed it, and they conspired to prevent me at first, without the least idea of the torture they inflicted.

At Bridzha I had a room to myself and could undress. Supper of course was late, but I meant to sleep out my sleep next morning.

It was but 5:30 A.M. when I was waked by a thunderous banging at the door.

"What is the matter?" I asked.

"Are you ill?"

"Ill? No. What do you mean?"

"The sun has been up more than an hour. Why don't you get up?"

"Because I want to sleep. Go away."

"But it is so late. You must be ill. Let me fetch you some rakia."

"Go away."

04-26-2010, 04:47 PM

We left early next morning for Seltze-Kilmeni, piloted by the old man, and followed a stony track to Rapsha, whose people derive from Laj Gheg, son of Gheg Laz.

Here we found one of the Albanian virgins who wear male attire. While we halted to water the horses she came up–a lean, wiry, active woman of forty-seven, clad in very ragged garments, breeches and coat. She was highly amused at being photographed, and the men chaffed her about her "beauty." Had dressed as a boy, she said, ever since she was quite a child because she had wanted to, and her father had let her. Of matrimony she was very derisive–all her sisters were married, but she had known better. Her brother, with whom she lived–a delicate-looking fellow, much younger than she–came up to see what was happening. She treated me with the contempt she appeared to think all petticoats deserved–turned her back on me, and exchanged cigarettes with the men, with whom she was hail-fellow-well-met. In a land where each man wears a moustache, her little, hairless, wizened face looked very odd above masculine garb, as did also the fact that she was unarmed.

From Rapsha we made a tremendous descent on foot, zigzagging through fine beechwood down a bad stony track to the river Tsem in the land of the Kilmeni–a descent of not much less than 2000 feet. Beyond the river was Montenegrin territory, the land of the Triepshi tribe. From far above, the old man pointed out the spot on the right bank of the green torrent, where two Franciscans were cut to pieces by Moslems two hundred years ago. A crude chromolithograph of their martyrdom, widely scattered among the Christian tribes, still cries to the people for blood-vengeance. In the mountains there is no Deus caritas, but only the God of battles. The ensanguined figure of Christ on the Cross calls up no image of redemption by suffering, but only the stern cry: "We are at blood with the Chifuts (Jews), for they slew our Christ. We are at blood with the Turks because they insult Him. We are at blood with the Shkyars (Orthodox) because they do not pray to Him properly." And strong in this faith, the mountain man is equally ready to shoot or be shot for Him.

I thought, then, rather of the martyrdom I should have to suffer in crawling up this height on the return journey. The Franciscans were out of their pain, and had done with Albania, and I was not yet half-way round.

Han Grabom, at the bottom on the river's edge, welcomed us heartily. There was a large company of men and beasts.

Montenegro was but a few yards away across the Tsem. Hard by were the ruins of a Turkish blockhouse, attacked and destroyed last summer (1907) by the Montenegrin troops, who, at the same time, plundered the han. The people complained bitterly of Montenegrin aggression. Nor could I learn the rights and wrongs of this frontier fray. Montenegrin officials replied to me that the kula was burnt because it was on Montenegrin territory, but its ruins are certainly–according even to their own maps–on the Albanian side of the border.

The han was plundered because the Kilmeni helped the Turkish Nizams in the kula's defence. I asked why–as they so hated the Turks–they had given help. It was because Montenegro was Kilmeni's worst enemy. They could not let Montenegrin troops come over their border without fighting them. "It was for our own land that we were fighting." The Kilmeni-Montenegrin frontier, drawn arbitrarily by the Powers after the Berlin Treaty, is one of the many running sores then created; frontiers that seem to have been designed only in order to make lasting peace impossible.

The border, said Kilmeni, was properly marked with stones where it was not river, but the Montenegrins never kept to it.

It is interesting to hear both sides of a case.

I had heard another version of the same tale five years ago on the other side of the line which blamed Kilmeni.

A local hero at the han insisted on standing us drinks. He had roused great excitement last year by challenging a man of another tribe to fight a duel, a rare thing now, though it was common thirty years ago, when each man wore a yataghan. People were braver then, he said. "Now it was thought a fine thing to pick off a man from behind a rock; that has been brought in by civilisation. "

Four or five hundred armed men, of either tribe, flocked to see the fun. It seemed certain the "duel" would end in a pitched battle between the tribes. The Elders, greatly anxious, made a sitting, and saved the situation by inducing the two foes to swear brotherhood.

Having eaten, I lay down on some planks outside the han, meaning to have an hour's sleep while the men fed within.

But the first Englishwoman at Han Grabom was too great a novelty to be wasted. I was just "off" when I was poked up by the kirijee. He had told the company that I could "write" (i.e. draw) people. They had never seen people written, and I must come and write some to prove the truth of his words.

Following the Tsem's left bank to where Tsem Seltzit and Tsem Vuklit meet, we crossed Tsem Vuklit on a fine stone bridge–Ura Tamara: old Turkish work, which seems to show that the Tsem valley was formerly a much more important thoroughfare than now–and went up the valley of the Seltzit; the track, remarkably good, having been lately put in complete repair by a tribesman at his own expense. The scattered houses of Seltze lie at the valley's head, where it widens and is fertile. Springs gush freely from the ground. A cataract leaps from the mountain above.

The houses are well built of hewn stone. Seltze has a greater air of well-being than any other district of Maltsia e madhe.

The people are of a fine type and most industrious. The cultivable land is well watered by little canals, but there is not enough to provide corn for all. Seltze lives mainly on its flocks. Each autumn the tribesmen migrate with great herds of goat, cattle, and sheep to seek winter pasture on the plains near Alessio, where the tribe owns land, the women carrying their children and their scant chattels upon their backs; and toil back again in summer to the pastures of the high mountains a long four days' march with the weary beasts.

Blood feuds among the Seltze folk are almost nonexistent. This is due largely to the sweet influence of the Franciscan, their Padre, a man much beloved, who has been twenty years among them, and refused lately to be made bishop for he would not leave his flock.

Upon the Montenegrin frontier he admitted sadly there was much trouble. Either party appropriates the beasts that it finds on what it claims as its own side of that "floating" frontier. And there is naturally a flavour about mutton so obtained which the home-grown does not possess.

So was it on the borders of Scotland and England "in the brave days of old." Seltze rejoiced at having captured a hundred and fifty sheep; the Vasojevich across the border retorted by lifting a hundred and ten. The hundred and ten belonged not to Seltze but to the next bariak, Vukli. "We scored," said Seltze, greatly contented. Two years ago matters culminated in a fight; Seltze repulsed two Montenegrin battalions and killed sixteen of the enemy.

The Padre had very many times kept the peace.

His church was crowded on Sunday, though it was not a feast day. And the eager attention with which his flock, asquat on the floor, listened to a very long sermon, showed he had chosen well when he refused to leave them.

An Albanian congregation is a quaint one to preach to. When it is moved, it groans in sympathy and assents loudly. And when it does not agree–it says so.

After church, to the Padre's great entertainment, the congregation mobbed me, as pleased as children with a new toy.

Specially introduced to me by the men was one of the "Albanian virgins," a very bright, clean woman of about forty, clad in enteri and cotton breeches and a white cotton headwrap like a man's. She was most friendly, said she had no brothers, but stood as brother to her sister who was married. She had never meant to marry, and had always dressed as a man. Had a gun at home, but rarely carried it as she was afraid. She thought for women "this was best." She fumbled in her breast, and pulled out a crucifix and rosary which she held up as a defence. The men indignantly said this was not true–she was as brave as a man really.

The Padre said a herdsman's life was the only way to get a living. A woman who will not marry must adopt it, and is safer in a man's dress from the border Moslems. Formerly a great many women went thus as herds. He had now only a few in his parish.

A girl from the neighbourhood of Djakova is said to have served undetected many years in the Turkish army.

This is the tale of Kilmeni as told by the Padre, some Kilmeni men, and the old man.

It is a large tribe of four bariaks, Seltze, Vukli, Boga, and Nikshi, and is descended from one Kilmeni (Clementi), who had four sons, from whom the four bariaks originated.

Most families, said the Padre, can give complete genealogies.

There is also other blood in the tribe. The bariak of Seltze is divided into two groups, of which the one Djenovich Seltze is brother to Vukli. The other, Rabijeni Seltze, is of another blood, and came, according to the old man, from Montenegro near Rijeka, but this the Padre strenuously denied, saying its origin was not known.

The four bariaks are intermarriageable one with another.

The tribe holds much ground, occupying three valleys that, roughly speaking, lie parallel with one another–Seltze in the valley of Tsem Seltzet, Vukli and Nikshi in the valley of Tsem Vuklit, and Boga at the head of the valley of the Proni Thaat. Seltze (300 houses) is entirely Catholic, as are Vukli (94 families) and Boga (75 families). Nikshi out of 94 families has 10 Moslem.

Kilmeni's adventures have been many. Never content to submit to Turkish rule and fearful of its extension, the tribe, seizing the opportunity when Suliman Pasha, beaten in Montenegro, was in hot retreat (1623), swooped down on him from the mountains and cut the Turkish army to pieces.

The Turks sent a punitive force. The headmen of Kilmeni were executed, and the tribe expelled. But with unbroken courage it bolted back on the first opportunity, and again attacked the Turks in 1683, when they were fighting Austria. Later, in 1737, when Austria was striving to wrest from the Turks that portion of Servian territory which she still desires to posses, she called on Kilmeni to help. But in the fight at Valjevo Austria lost very heavily. The surviving Kilmeni troops dared not return home and face Turkish vengeance, but fled with their allies and settled in Hungary.

Some of their descendants visited Seltze two years ago, and told how they still married according to Kilmeni customs. The bride is led three times round the bridegroom's house, an apple is thrown over the roof, she is given corn, and as she enters the house must step over the threshold with the right foot, and beware of stumbling; and must take a little boy in her arms (this is to ensure bearing a male child, and is common to Montenegro and Albania). Then she is led three times round the hearth.

04-26-2010, 04:56 PM
The corn recalls the confarreatio of the Romans.

Seltze was half empty, folk having not yet returned from the plains. Such as were there received me very hospitably. I sat by many an open hearth, and heard of Kilmeni life. Much we talked of that dire being the Shtriga, the vampire woman that sucks the blood of children, and bewitches even grown folk, so that they shrivel and die. All Kilmeni, and indeed all the tribes, believe in her. She may live in a village for years undetected, working her vile will.

Kilmeni had a sure way of catching her. It is to keep the bones of the last pig you ate at carnival, and with these to make a cross on the door of the church upon Easter Sunday, when it is full of people. Then if the Shtriga be within, she cannot come out, save on the shoulders of the man that made the cross. She is seen, terrified, vainly trying to cross the threshold, and can be caught.

She, and she alone, can heal the victim, who withers and pines as she secretly sucks its blood.

A Djakova man told vividly how his father had saved a child.

"It was the child of a neighbour. I saw it. It was dead–white and cold. And my father cried, 'I know who has done this.' He ran out and seized an old woman, and dragged her in.

"'You have killed this child,' he roared, 'and you must bring it to life again!' My God, how she screamed, and cried by all the saints that she was innocent! 'Spit in its mouth!' cried my father, and he held her by the neck–'Spit, spit!'

"For if she did not spit before the sun went down, it would be too late and the child could not live again. But she still screamed, and would not. And my father drew one of his pistols and clapped it to her head–'Spit, or I shoot!'

"She spat, and he threw her outside and she ran away. We waited, and after an hour some colour came to the child's face, and slowly it came to life. My father had saved it. And I swear by God this is true, for I saw it with my own eyes."

The Shtriga can torment her victim by aches and pains. The wife of this same Djakova man was horribly overlooked, and had pains in her joints and limbs so that she could scarcely walk. Nor could they find the guilty Shtriga. All remedies failing, in despair, though Christians, they sought help of a Dervish well versed in spells. He cut some hair from the top of her head and some from each armpit, and burnt it, saying some words of power. And as the hair burnt, the pains fled and came back no more.

A grim safeguard there is against Shtrigas, but it is hard to get. You must secretly and at night track a woman you believe is a Shtriga. If she have been sucking blood, she goes out stealthily to vomit it, where no one sees. You must scrape up some of the vomited blood on a silver coin, wrap it up and wear it always, and no Shtriga will have power over you.

A hapless woman in Seltze had lost all her children, and believed that her mother-in-law was the Shtriga that slew them. Infant mortality in North Albania is cruelly high. The wretched mother that sees one little one after another pine and die knows not that they are victims of ignorance–the cruellest of all Shtrigas. The child, tight swaddled, lies always in a wooden cradle, over which is bound, with cords, a thick and heavy woollen cover, the gift of the maternal grandmother when the first child is born. It is as thick as an ordinary hearthrug, and shuts out almost all air. If the child be a healthy one, it is taken out of doors and carried about a good deal, and as soon as it can crawl has plenty of fresh air, but if sickly it is released only from its prison by death. It is always indoors; the unhappy mother takes the most jealous care that not for a single moment shall it be uncovered. She even gives it suck by taking the whole cradle on her knee, and lifting only the tiniest corner of the fatal cover. To touch it with water she thinks would be fatal. Filthy, blanched by want of light, and poisoned by vitiated air, the child fades and dies in spite of the amulets hung round its head and neck to ward off the Shtriga and the Evil Eye.

One mother had lost all seven of her children, each under two years; and another five, and was in agony over the sixth. She believed her breast had been bewitched and that her milk was poisonous. She turned back the suffocating cover for me to see the child. It had no symptoms, so far as I could learn, of its food not agreeing. But it was white as a plant grown under a pot. I begged her to uncover it, wash it with warm water, and take it out of doors. In vain. Children were never uncovered; it is adet (the custom). And what is adet is unchangeable. Only the very strong survive, and they become extremely enduring.

No words can tell the misery of the sick in these lands, who, swarming with lice, rot helpless on a heap of ferns or filthy rags in a dark corner till death releases them. No doctor has penetrated these wilds, nor any teacher save the Franciscans, whose medical knowledge is usually of the slightest.

Seltze told me a quaint moon superstition. Hair, if cut at the new moon, soon turns white. It must be cut with the moon on the wane, and then always keeps its colour. A man with a white mustache said it was owing to his having clipped it at the wrong time.

The houses are a far better type that those of Kastrati and Hoti. Solidly built, with two rooms–one often ceiled and with shelves–with high-pitched shingled roofs, some even with a chimney–and seldom with a stable under. They are some of the cleanest I met with.

Seltze is the only place in Maltsia e madhe that has a school–built and taught by the Padre, the Man-who-would-not-be-bishop.

He stood, a dark figure, against the church as I left. I turned in the saddle at the top of the slope to shout "a riverderci" to him, with the hope that it may come true. For he is one of those who have made a small corner of the world the sweeter for his presence.

Vukli was my destination. But the snow lay thick on the pass 'twixt it and Seltze, half-molten, unpassable for horses. We had to return down the valley to Ura Tamara, and ascend the valley of Tsem Vuklit–the track fair and the vale wide and grassy, a great loneliness upon it, for neither man nor beast had come up from the plains. Some primitive dwellings, made by walling up the front of caves in the cliff high above, caught my eye. At the head the valley is wide and undulating. We rode straight to the little church and its house, which formed one building. Out came the most jovial of all Franciscans, Padre Giovanni, stout and white moustachioed, but bearing his seventy-five years lightly. An Italian by birth, one of the few foreigners left in the Albanian Church, he has spent forty years at Vukli–said he was now Albanian, was priest, doctor, and judge, and that in Vukli he meant to end his days.

We sat on the doorstep, while he made hospitable preparations within.

The old man was heartily welcomed as a legal expert. He was honoured and respected everywhere. Vukli, as Seltze, was almost free from blood within the bariak, but one of the few cases of blood was at once laid before him for his opinion.

We sat round, while the Man-that-claimed-blood told his tale. His only son had wished to marry a certain widow, and gave her in token thereof a ring and £T.I. But her parents, whose property she was, would not recognise this betrothal, and sold her to another.

"My son," said the man, "would have paid for her fully, and she wished to marry him. Then was he very angry, and would shoot her husband. But he bethought him, the husband was not guilty, for perhaps he knew not of her betrothal. The guilty ones were the men of her family who sold her. To clear his honour, he shot one of her brothers. Then another brother shot my son, and I have no other. I want blood for my son's blood. They are to blame. They first put shame on him, and then killed him."

The old man thought long over the case, and asked questions. Then he said one was dead on either side, and it were better the blood were laid. He advised a sitting of Elders (a medjliss ) to compound the feud–which was also the Padre's advice. All who heard agreed with the old man, save him who heard the cry of his son's blood, and he would hearken to nothing else.

What was the woman's point of view? In these tales, she has neither voice nor choice–adet (custom) passes over her like a Juggernaut car.

To judge by a twentieth century and West European standard the feelings of a people in such a primitive state of human development would be foolish. It is perhaps equally foolish to attempt to analyse them at all. Here, as in Montenegro, women tell you frankly that, of course, a woman loves her brother better than her husband. She can have another husband and another child, but a brother can never be replaced. Her brother is of her own blood–her own tribe.

On the deck of an Adriatic steamer, at night under the stars, an Albanian once told me the Tale of the Mirdite Woman, with a convincing force which I cannot hope to repeat.

The Mirdite woman was sent down from the mountains and married to a Scutarene. She dwelt with him in Scutari, and bore him two sons. Now the brother of the woman was a sworn foe to the Turks, plundering and slaying them whenever chance allowed. And they outlawed him and put a price upon his head. But he feared no man, and would come at night into the town to sup with his sister and return safely ere dawn. The Turks heard this, and went to the woman's husband with a bag of gold–two hundred Turkish pounds–and tempted him. He had never before seen so much gold. And they said, "It is thine when thou tellest us that thy brother-in-law is here."

On a certain night the outlaw came down from the mountains to the house, and, as is the custom, he disarmed in token of peace. Scarcely had he given up his pistols, gun, and yataghan, when the Turkish soldiers rushed in and slew him, helpless.

His sister, weeping in wild despair, went back with his body to the mountains of Mirdita, singing the death-wail. And they buried him with his people. She came back, still mourning, to her home. And lo! Her husband was counting gold upon his knees. She looked at it and asked him, "Whence comes this gold?"

Then he was afraid, for he saw in her eyes that she knew it was the price of her brother's blood. And he spoke her softly, saying: "All knew of thy brother's coming. If he did not wish to lose his life, why came he? Sooner or later the Turks would have slain him. It is better that we have the gold than another."

But she answered not. Then he told her of the much good that the gold would buy, and she answered "Aye" dully–as one that speaks in sleep. But ever she heard the cry of her brother's blood. And when it was midnight and all was still, she arose and took her dead brother's yataghan. She called on God to strengthen her arm–she swung it over her sleeping husband and she hewed the head from off his body. Then she looked at her two sleeping children. "Seed of a serpent," she cried, "ye shall never live to betray your people!" and them too she slew. And she fled with the bloody yataghan into the night and into the mountains of Mirdita.

It is an old tale. I cannot fix its date. In its raw simplicity it is monumental, and embodies all that there is of tribal instinct and the call of blood.

The Man-that-claimed-blood rose, unconvinced by the old man's judgment, and went away to his lonely hut. The talk, from blood, naturally drifted to wounds. The old man was not only a legal authority but a surgeon of repute. He had recently gained much fame and the large fee of thirty florins–the largest he had ever received–for saving a soldier's leg, and told the tale with modest pride. The soldier was kicked by a horse; the result was a compound comminuted fracture with both bones badly shattered. He demonstrated on his own leg the position of the bones and the point of fracture. The Turkish military doctor wished to amputate–the wound was very foul. The soldier refused to lose his leg, left the hospital, and sent for the old man.

"If the ankle is broken," said the old man judicially, "you can never make it right again. If a man is shot through the knee he generally dies–but three finger-breadths above the ankle and below the knee is safe. You can always save the leg if you are careful."

With his home-made forceps he removed seventeen splinters of bone. When he was sure he had removed all, he washed out the wound thoroughly with rakia. (Rakia is distilled from grape juice; when double-distilled it contains a considerable amount of alcohol.) Never, said he, should a wound be touched with water–always with strong rakia. He then plugged and dressed the wound with a salve of his own making–the ingredients are extract of pine resin, the green bark of elder twigs, white beeswax, and olive oil. The property of the elder bark I do not know. The pine resin would provide a strong antiseptic. He brought the ends of the bones together, bound the leg to a piece of wood, the bones united in three weeks, and in six the man was walking about again with a rather shortened but very serviceable leg.

In gunshot wounds he was expert. For "first aid" his prescription was: Take the white of an egg and a lot of salt, pour on to the wound as soon as possible and bandage. This, only temporary till the patient could be properly treated with rakia and pine salve as above. The wound to be plugged with sheep wool, cleaned and soaked in the salve. The dressing to be changed at night and morning, and at midday also if the weather be very hot. Should the wound show signs of becoming foul, wash again with rakia as often as necessary.

This treatment he had inherited from his grandfather, who had had it from his. The exact proportions and way of making the salve he begged to be excused from telling, as they were a family secret.

It is an interesting fact that antiseptic surgery should have been practised in the Balkan peninsula a couple of generations, and who knows how much more, ago, while West Europe was still washing out wounds with dirty water.

Rechi we reached through a forest of monumental chestnuts. The church and house, which are new, stand high on a shelf with a great free view over the sweep of plain and the lake of Scutari. The priest of Rechi, a keen student of Albanian custom, was full of information both about Rechi and Pulati, where he had spent several years.

He told us of oaths which, if very solemn ones, are always sworn in Rechi and among all the Pulati tribes on a stone as well as on the cross: "Per guri e per kruch " (By the stone and the cross). The stone is the more important and comes first. At a gathering of Elders to try a case, the accused will often throw a stone into the middle of the circle, swearing his innocence upon it.

A man when he has confessed something extra bad, and received absolution, generally says, "I suppose I must bring a stone to church next Sunday?" The stone is carried on the shoulder as a public sign of repentance. And, though told it is not necessary, he usually prefers to bring it. The priest of another district held that the publicity of stone-bringing had such a good moral effect that he never discouraged it. His parishioners sometimes brought very large ones. Whether in proportion to the sin, I know not.

The priests say that, in spite of all their efforts, their parishioners all regard the shooting of a man as nothing compared to the crime of breaking a fast–eating an egg on a Saturday. Fasting in Albania means complete abstinence from any kind of animal food.

In the autumn of 1906 the Albanian clergy went to Ragusa to greet the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who represented the Emperor Franz Josef, Protector of the Catholic Church in Albania. It was arranged that on Saturday they should dine with the priests of Austria, and upon the same fare. This made something like a scandal among their Albanian parishioners, who thought it a plot to seduce their priests from the right path. "That Pope," said a man to me, "is only an Italian after all!"

We talked of soothsaying–the reading of bones–a custom I first saw in the mountains of Shpata, near Elbasan. The bone must be either the breastbone of a fowl or the scapula of a sheep or goat. No other will serve. It is hard to get people to explain the manner. Putting together facts obtained from the Rechi priest, a man from Djakova, and others, the result is as follows.

To read your own future the bone must be that of an animal you have bred. One bought is useless. A fowl must be decapitated; if its neck be wrung, said the Djakovan, the blood will go the wrong way and spoil the marks.

A good seer can tell at once if the beast be bought or bred.

The bone is held up against the light and the markings of marrow, &c., in it interpreted. The art of how to apply them correctly is jealously concealed.

"I asked a man," said the Rechi priest, "how he read the bones. He said, 'When you see little black marks on paper you know they mean "God," "man," and so forth. I cannot read them, but when I see little marks in the bones I can read them and you cannot.'"

The very best is the breastbone of a black cock with no white feathers on him. The keel is the part used. The fate of the owner of the cock and that of his family is read in the thickness at the end (A)–up it runs a line of marrow; a hole in this indicates his death; a break, an illness, or catastrophe. Their situation shows the time at which they will take place. Deaths or accidents to the family are shown in branches of this main line. Red spots mean blood. Public events are foretold on the sides of the keel (B). Marvellous tales are told of the truth of these prophecies, and they are widely believed. So absolutely indeed, that there seems little reason to doubt that the terror they inspire has actually caused death.

An only son, well known to the Djakova man, was at a family feast. He held up a fowl's breastbone, and threw it down with a cry. His father asked what was the matter. The son said, "In three days you will bury me." The horrified father picked up the bone, and saw it was only too true. He wailed aloud, "In three days we shall bury you!" All his kin cried over him, the youth blenched and sickened, and could not eat. And in three days he was dead, and they buried him.

"When he read in the bone that he must die, he died," said the Djakova man.

Seeing that I looked sceptical he added, with very much more truth than he was aware of, "It would not kill you because you do not believe it. We believe it, and so it is true to us."

It is conceivable that the panic wrought by a vivid imagination and the pitiless insistence of all his family, would kill a subject with a weak heart–the condemned man dying, so to speak, of "Christian Science."

When Shakir Pasha was made Vali of Scutari, a mountain man, picking up a bone, cried out, "He will only be Vali six months!" This was so unusually short a time that the man was laughed at, but the Vali was transferred in six months' time.

At a wedding feast the bone said that one of those present would be found dead near a rock in a short time. A fortnight later the bridegroom fell over a precipice and was killed. And so forth.

Such is the faith in the bones, that I have more than once been met with a refusal to read them on the grounds that it is better not to know the worst.

As I write the rough draught of this, in Scutari, at the end of November 1908, with war clouds thick on all the frontiers, and discontent already smouldering against the Young Turks, the mountain men are seeing blood in all the bones, "perhaps before Christmas, certainly by Easter." 1 When the elements of war are near, the balance of power may be upset by such a trifle as a fowl's breastbone, and things come "true because we believe them."

The people, said the priest, still hold many pagan beliefs of which they will not talk. They put a coin in the mouth of a corpse previous to burial, but seem unable to give any explanation beyond that it is adet (custom). There is also, he said, a lingering belief in lares. He had seen a vacant place for the spirits of the dead left at family feasts. And at Pulati he had found traces of a belief in two powers, one of light and one of darkness, and thought that the sun- and moon-like figures found as a tattoo pattern are concerned with this.

On Sunday the sick and the afflicted flocked from an early hour. The priest had had several years' medical training, and cares for the bodies as well as the souls of his people. His church is always well filled. A crowd of out-patients waited at the door on Sunday. Mass on Sundays is not celebrated in the mountain churches till eleven or later, to give the scattered parishioners time to come. While waiting, we were interviewed by a local celebrity, an old man of Lohja, who boasted that, though a hundred and ten years old, he had sinned but twice in his life. Nor would he admit that in either case he had been guilty. The sin each time was theft, and he had been led astray by bad people. I asked how many men he had killed. He said with a cheerful grin, "Plenty, but not one for money or dishonourably." He was an alert, hooky-nosed old man with humorous grey eyes. When some one doubted his age, he poured out a torrent of historic events which he vowed he recollected. It was suggested then that I should "write" old Lohja. He was immensely flattered, and sat a few moments. When every one recognised the sketch a look of great anxiety came over his face, and most earnestly he prayed me never to destroy what I "had written about him." The same moment the sketch was torn he was certain he should drop down dead–and after living a hundred and ten years that would be a great pity. I duly promised never to part with it and relieved his mind.

The priest chaffed him about his "two sins," saying he was a very bad old boy and had done all the things he should have left undone, and never came to confession. The latter charge he admitted very cheerily–after a hundred years, confession was not necessary; moreover, he had confessed his only two sins years ago, so had no more to say.

We left that afternoon for Rioli, but a two and a half hours' walk over a ridge and up the valley of a crystal-clear stream that turns many corn-grinding and wool-fulling mills, both of the usual Balkan pattern. In the fulling mill a large wooden axle, bearing two flanges, is turned by a water-wheel. The flanges, as they turn, catch and raise alternately two large and heavy wooden mallets, made preferably of walnut, which falling, pound and hammer the yards of wet hand-woven woollen material (shiak) which is heaped in a box beneath them. In forty-eight hours it is beaten into the cloth that is the common wear of Bosnia, Montenegro, and North Albania.

Corn-mills are often very small–a tiny shed on posts over a little cataract that shoots with great force through a pipe, made of a hollowed tree-trunk–the exit hole very small–against a small turbine wheel. The upright axle passes through the two stones, turning the upper one. The corn is fed from a wooden hopper, its flow ingeniously regulated by a twig that plays on the surface of the upper stone. Mills are generally private property of a group of families, each grinding its own corn in turn.

The church of Rioli stands high on the right bank of the valley, that is here richly wooded. In the cliff on the opposite side is the cave in which Bishop Bogdan refuged from the Turks in the seventeenth century.

Rioli is a small tribe of one bariak, I believe of mixed origin. It belongs to the diocese of Scutari.

04-26-2010, 05:00 PM

PULATI is divided into Upper and Lower Pulati. It is not one tribe, but a large group of tribes under one Bishop. Lower Pulati consists of four tribes, Ghoanni, Plani, Kiri, and Mgula, each of one bariak. Upper Pulati consists of the large tribes, Shala, Shoshi, Merturi, Toplana, and Nikaj. These form also part of the group called Dukaghini, the district that was ruled by Lek, and they cling tenaciously to his law.

Pulati seems to be mainly an ecclesiastical division–the Polat major and minor described by the French priest in the fourteenth century.

The tale that the name derives from a man who possessed nothing but one hen (pulé ) is scarcely worth repeating.

The Pulati people differ considerably from those of Maltsia e madhe, partly because they are even less in touch with the outer world; partly, undoubtedly, because of some difference in blood.

As a whole, the physical type is not so fine in Pulati. The big, fair, grey-eyed man is less common–the small, dark, round-headed type very frequent. Costume, especially that of the women, differs much. Custom differs also. But it is always possible that Maltsia e madhe has grown out of customs still existing in Pulati.

The priest of Rioli sent a woman with us as guide, no man being handy. In times of blood between two tribes, a woman guide is far safer. In this case it was peace.

The mountain ridge that here forms the frontier of Pulati rose like a wall. Even the pass–Chafa Biskasit–looked unpassable from below. The track is very rough, loose stones and large rocks, nearly all unrideable. The heat was intense, the air heavy and thunderous. But for the shade of the woods that clothe the heights I could not have got up. The two men sweated freely; the young woman, used to crossing such tracks with 40 or 50 lbs. of maize on her back, never "turned a hair."

Some people find mountain air exhilarating. I am only conscious of the lack of oxygen, and climb with the sad certainty that the higher I go the less there will be. What is a pleasant exercise at sea-level is a painful toil on the heights when gasping like a landed fish.

The way to Paradise is hard, says Marko.

The top of Chafa Biskasit is about 4500 feet. Then came the joy of the descent. Below lay the valley of the Kiri, in which live the four tribes of Lower Pulati. The farther side of the valley, the great range of mountains that is the watershed of the Kiri and the Lumi Shalit, forms the frontier of the tribes of Shala-Shoshi.

Tribe frontiers have never yet been mapped. They are very well known to the people, who point out some tree or stone as one crosses the line. I am not able to do more than roughly indicate their position.

We came late to Ghoanni, though the distance was little. The track was broken away; the horses had to slide down what looked like an impossible slope, with a man hanging on to the head and tail of each to break the speed, and we made a long circuit. When we came finally to the Palace of the Bishop of Pulati–a ramshackle little place in native style, with a crazy wooden balcony–his Grace was having an afternoon siesta. To my horror he was waked up to receive me, but such was his Christian spirit that he took me in and fed me.

Women of Shala

The Palace is snugly stowed among trees, and running water in plenty flows hard by. It is characteristic of the land that no decent path leads to it. I lay and lounged in the meadow at the side. The air was leaden-heavy, there were lordly chestnut trees near, and a drowsy humming of bees. All the world seemed dozing. The peace was broken suddenly by two gunshots that thudded dully down in the valley–then two more–and silence.

"What is that?" I asked, mildly interested.

"A wedding, probably," said Marko. "It is Monday–the marrying day with us."

We strolled from the field, and scrambled along the hillside towards a group of cottages. The first woman we met asked us in to hers at once–a most miserable hovel, windowless, pitch-dark in the corners; a sheep was penned in one and a pig wandered loose. She began to blow up the ashes and make coffee. Life was hard, she said–maize dreadfully dear. You had to drive ten kids all the way to Scutari and sell them to get as much maize as you could carry back. Shouts rang up the valley; a lad dashed in with the news. The shots we heard had carried death. At a spot just over an hour away an unhappy little boy, unarmed and but eight years old, had been shot for blood, while watching his father's sheep on the hillside, by a Shoshi man.

The Shoshi man had quarrelled some time ago with a Ghoanni man, who in the end had snatched a burning brand from the hearth and thrown it at him. A blow is an unpardonable insult. The Shoshi man demanded blood and refused to swear besa.

He had now washed his honour in the blood of a helpless victim, whose only crime was that he belonged to the same tribe as the offender.

The child was the elder of two. The father, very poor and a cripple, had gone to Scutari to seek work. Ghoanni was filled with rage. That Shoshi had the right to take blood of any man of the tribe they freely admitted, but to kill a child was dishonourable. They would not do it.

I discussed this case in many places afterwards. Feeling on the whole was against it. Many who thought the law actually justified it considered it a dirty trick. Others held that male blood of the tribe (this is the old usage) is what is required, and in whose veins it runs is a matter of no moment–it is the tribe that must be punished. Even an infant in the cradle has been sacrificed in obedience to the primitive law.

By recent legislation some tribes now restrict blood-guiltiness to the actual offender (as in Mirdita) or his house (as Shala). A Shala man said the Ghoanni case was a bad one. He would not like to have to kill a child, but "if it is the law to kill one of the same house, and the murderer has fled and left no male but a child, then you must. It is a pity, but it is the law."

Could he not wait the return of the offender, or till the child was of age to bear arms? "No; you could not wait because of your honour. Only blood can clean it." I suggested it was the honour of the wolf to the lamb, which surprised him, but he stuck to his point. "Till you had taken blood every one would talk about you. You could not live like that." Mrs. Grundy is all powerful even in Albania!

A man may be shot for blood though ignorant that his tribe owes it. When working elsewhere he will often alter his costume that the district he hails from may not be recognised at sight, lest he have to pay for a crime of which he has not yet heard. Blood seekers, suspecting the origin of such a man, will challenge him, "Whence art thou?" It is not etiquette to lie. Moreover, to proclaim a false origin, if ignorant of the latest blood feuds, might equally make him liable for blood. He may reply:

"From wherever you like."

"What is your name?"

"I was baptized once," and so forth. Answers of this type are given by men on their way home after a long absence, if unaware of the local political situation.

One must not trespass on any one's hospitality, much less on that of a Bishop. At 6 A.M. next day my horses were ready. The Bishop assured me that the track was excellent to Plani, and jocularly promised to call on me "next time he came to London."

As we started, the mountains rang with the shouts that summoned the tribe to the funeral of the slaughtered child. This, our guide remarked, would complete the ruin of the family. Honour compelled it to supply meat and drink to all comers. Some districts, Thethi, for example, have made a law to restrict the number of such guests to near relatives, and so limit expenses.

04-26-2010, 05:02 PM
Shala, Shoshi, and Mirdita, says tradition, descend from three brothers, who came from Rashia to escape Turkish oppression, shortly after that district was occupied by the Turks.

One of the brethren possessed a saddle (shala ); the second a winnowing sieve (shosh ); the third had nothing, so he said "good-day" (mir dit ) and withdrew. The tale as it stands is doubtless fabulous, but the fact that to this day Mirdita does not intermarry with either Shala or Shoshi is, to my mind, conclusive proof of original close consanguinity.

When Shala and Shoshi settled, they found inhabitants already in the land, who, they tell, were small and dark. In Shala, eight families are still recognised as of this other blood. The rest, a very large number, migrated "a long time ago" (probably when the Serbs evacuated the district), to Dechani and its neighbourhood, and are now all Moslem.

I remember in 1903, when at Dechani, being much struck with the small, dark-eyed Albanians there, for then I was familiar only with the fair, grey-eyed type.

As the Turks overcame Rashia earlier than they did Bosnia, it is likely that the emigration of Shala-Shoshi's forefathers from Rashia was earlier than the Bosnian migrations into Maltsia e madhe, already noted.

It may even have been at the end of the fourteenth or beginning of the fifteenth century. Local tradition in Shala tells that three hundred and seventy-six years ago (i.e. in 1532) the bariak of Shala had sufficiently increased in numbers to be divided into three main "houses"–Petsaj, Lothaj, and Lekaj–which, as separate bariaks, still exist. This is evidence that at that date they must have been settled for some time. Lothaj and Lekaj have recently decided that they are sufficiently far removed to be intermarriageable. But Petsaj still refuses on the ground of consanguinity.

The bariak of Thethi consists of 180 houses, of which 80 form the village of Okolo at the extreme end of the valley.

Thethi can, and does, grow enough corn for its own support, and has passed a law strictly forbidding the export of any, as has all Shala. The only near corn-supply is the Moslem Gusinje, and in case of that being cut off by "blood" or war, there is no nearer supply than Scutari, a dear and distant market.

Life at Thethi was of absorbing interest. I forgot all about the rest of the world, and having paid off and dismissed the kirijee and horses, there seemed no reason why I should ever return.

It was the time of ploughing and harrowing. The harrow is a large bundle of brushwood, on which some one squats to weight it down.

All day long folk came and holloaed under the window, "Oy Padre," and received spiritual consolation, or doses of Epsom salts. Often they came merely to see me, in which case their curiosity was satisfied.

The relations of a parish to its priest are amusing. They refuse to call him by his name, if they do not like it; hold a medjliss, and solemnly decide on a better one, by which he is henceforth known. I came across no less than four of the mountain priests thus renamed.

Numbers of sick came for help. In spite of the magnificent air, the death-rate is appallingly high. Thethi had been devastated four years ago by smallpox, which rages every few years through the unvaccinated Turkish Empire, while vaccinated Montenegro next door goes scot-free. No medical assistance came to the wretched people, who died in great numbers. Only the plucky Franciscan trudged from one deathbed to another, and kept up the courage of the survivors. And this they have never forgotten.

Under the awful conditions of life all epidemics–cholera, typhus, smallpox, even influenza–assume terrible proportions whenever they occur in the mountains. Neither isolation (in a house with one dwelling-room, where perhaps thirty people sleep together), diet, or nursing are possible. The children die off like flies in autumn. Helpless and powerless, the people wait for the storm to pass over. Eghel –"It is written."

But apart from epidemics the death-rate in the mountains is high. The blood-feud system accounts for the death of many men, some in feud within the tribe, more in feuds with neighbour tribes.

Baron Nopesa, a most careful observer, after collecting the list of killed in a large number of tribes, estimates the average in the Christian tribes as 19 per cent. of the total male deaths. This list includes the wildest of the Christian tribes, and does not include some of the quieter ones, so that the average for the whole is probably rather lower. Shala-Shoshi and Mirdita stand high on the list–Toplana, highest of all. Of the Moslem tribes no statistics have been taken. Matija has the worst reputation. The Moslem average probably does not differ from the Christian one; religion does not affect national custom.

As for the statement recently published by a self-styled "Observer," that many people are daily shot in Scutari, I can only say that some one had been "pulling the poor gentleman's leg" very badly, and not on that subject only.

In spite of the shooting, there are more men than women. People say it is because God in His infinite wisdom sends an extra supply to Albania, where He knows they are needed.

It is more probably because there is a very high death-rate of women. The very young age at which girls are married–often at thirteen–and ignorant treatment causes great mortality at childbirth; also much evil arises from working too soon afterwards.

Shala is one of the tribes that suffers much from a form of syphilis said to have been recently introduced, as do all the tribes with which it intermarries. In some places I was told that there are scarcely any healthy married women. Mirdita, on the other hand, which is consanguineous, is said to be quite free.

When a blood feud is compounded in Thethi with a family not consanguineous, it is usual to cement the friendship by a marriage–not always successfully. A man some years ago, when laying a feud, sold his daughter to a Gusinje Moslem in spite of her protests. She managed, when fetching water, to induce her companions to go into a house. She then fled and hid, and by night got over into a Christian tribe, where the Padre helped her to get to Scutari. A blood feud was the result.

04-26-2010, 05:05 PM

"Ah, 'tis an excellent race, and even under old degradation,
Even under hodja and Turk, a nice and natural people."

AS far as Okolo it was easy going; there we lost over an hour waiting for our escort, who was waiting for a mule, which was waiting for a man, who was unavoidably delayed because, &c. &c. By the time we got to the mountain-foot it was hot. It had not occurred to me before that it was possible to find a way over what looked like a wall at the end of all the world, but I followed the Padre, who rode the Moslem's horse, and we started up a steep, very steep trail that zigzagged over masses of loose rock and boulder that had crashed down from the mountain above. The higher we got, the steeper was the track that crawled on a narrow edge. I wondered each time we turned a corner where my beast would find footing for his four hoofs, and the loose stones bounded into space.

About half-way up is a great cavern formed by a mass of overhanging strata, and blackened by the fires of the wayfarers who rest here. We dismounted. Above us rose a cliff with sprawling pine trees here and there. Nevertheless, except that the trail crawled along edges with a sheer drop, and was very narrow, it was not bad, for pine logs laid across it in all the steepest parts made a rude staircase. We climbed it on foot, and the mules followed; the Franciscan was by this time enjoying himself extremely. He flew ahead, reached the top of the pass, and roused the echoes by yelling a demoniac laugh of his own invention till the mountains rang with gigantic mirth. I struggled up the rocky steep, happily believing that we were at the top and only had to trot down into Vuthaj, and turned the corner to find the Franciscan, his brown habit girded to his knees, rejoicing in front of a wall of snow, some twelve or fifteen feet high, that blocked the pass. I was astonished–Marko aghast. "Oh, it's nothing; you wait and see!" cried the Padre. He proposed the local drink–snow beaten up in milk–which, by the way, is very good–and mixed some. We started again, and scrambled up on the top of the snow. It was thawing in the sun, soft and very heavy. I was wearing native raw-hide opanke, and was soon wet half-way up to the knee. The dazzling snow-slope cut sharp against the sky. A few yards more ploughing upwards and we should be really over the pass; but we got to the top, and, behold, a white desert of snow–a deep, snow-clad hollow, a sharp rise, snow-peak over snow-peak–snow as far as could be seen. The Franciscan gathered his skirts around him, squatted, gave a yell, and shot down the slope, and ran round and round at the bottom in wild circles like a playful dog, shouting German and Albanian equivalents for "Oh, let us be joyful!" The mules tried zigzagging, gathered speed rapidly, and landed in a heap. So did I. Marko was indignant. "Why didn't you tell us there was snow?" he asked.

"Because I knew you would not let her come, and now she is going to Vuthaj! Going to Vuthaj," he sang. "Oh, there's lots more of it! I don't suppose we shall arrive till late in the evening. We aren't half-way yet."

"But you said six hours!" said Marko.

"I said six hours if you went very fast! and in this snow, of course, you can't."

We ploughed on up the next slope. The hollow was a sun-trap. I clawed and slithered on the molten surface, sometimes going in knee-deep. My feet were dead with cold, and the sun was scorching my back.

We came out on a hard snow level, mounted, and rode over a considerable piece–much to my relief, though a bit risky. The snow, where it had in places melted away from the side-walls of rock, showed twenty and more feet deep. Then came another long slither through wet snow, ankle-deep. Getting off the snow on to terra-firma took time, as in places it was thin, and it was possible to fall through into deep holes between the rocks.

We got down into a valley where grass sprouted through puddles of snow-water among great boulders, and halted to feed man and beast.

There came a long descent on foot, zigzag through magnificent beechwood, and out into the valley below. Along this we rode cheerfully, passing a small lake, very blue and deep, but made, I was assured, entirely of snow-water, and dried up in the summer. We were now in the Forbidden Land, the Prokletija. Marko was anxious; the Padre carolled gaily–sang "The English are going to Vuthaj," and became more and more festive.

In all that happens in the Balkan Peninsula there is more than meets the eye. I now learned the wheels-within-wheels that worked this expedition. A certain Austrian some time previously had given dire offence to a native of Thethi, and blackened his honour. The said Austrian had tried to get to Gusinje, and failed. It was believed that if an Englishwoman got farther than he had, he would be most intensely annoyed. I was a pawn in the game of annoying Austria. Nor was the game to be so easy as had been said.

A halt was called. I was told that I figured as the sister-in-law of one of the party, and that I must take off my kodak and fountain pen, as they were not in keeping with the part. Also, though the people of Vuthaj mostly spoke some Serb, I had better remember that I was in a Moslem land, and hold my tongue.

We went through a high gateway into a walled yard–which stank, and enclosed a smaller house and a stable–and were led upstairs into a fine room on the upper floor of the big house.

A goat-hair matting covered the floor with gay red rugs upon it. A fretwork and carved screen on one side formed the front of sundry cupboards and niches. The walls were clean white-wash, and the hearth open. A showy European chiming clock stood on a carved bracket, and a smart paraffin-lamp hung from the ceiling. All glass either comes from Scutari by the same route as I had, or comes up from Cattaro viâ Montenegro and Gusinje, as does everything else imported. How it arrives intact is a marvel–but Wedgwood used after all to send his china on mule-packs not so very long ago in England.

The head of the house received us most courteously. Of course it was not etiquette for him to take notice of me. I sat on the floor in a corner as bidden, held my tongue, and looked on.

The room was light, for the windows on the yard side were large. Some millstones lay handy, to fortify them at a moment's notice. The shutters were well chip-carved.

We were in a fine Moslem stronghold in the Prokletija, the Forbidden Land.

The sick swarmed in to consult the Padre, who was kept busy writing prescriptions and brevets, marked with a cross and beginning "Excellentium crucis," for which there was great demand. And quite a crowd came merely to look at us, for I was said to be the first foreign female and the first female dressed alla franga, in Vuthaj; and the first foreigner of any sort that had come right into Vuthaj.

The housemaster made and handed round coffee and tobacco incessantly. The room was crowded with tall, lean men, few, if any, under six feet–many over–all belted with Mauser cartridges; the Mauser tale was true. The men are of a marked type–very long-necked, often very weak-chinned, with a beaky nose that gives an odd, goose-like effect. I saw this type later among the Hashi and Djakova Moslems. Many were weedy and weakly in appearance, but swagger in bearing. I wondered if this marked type were produced by constant in-and-in marrying on the female side. The costume increases the long, lean appearance. The tight trousers are worn very low–only just to the top of the pelvis–and the waistcoat exceedingly short, so that there is an interval of twelve or eighteen inches between the two which is tightly swathed in sashes and belts, sometimes three broad ones, one above the other, with spaces of shirt between. This gives an extraordinarily long-waisted look, as of having double the proper number of lumbar vertebræ.

The Franciscan suggested that we should go for a stroll, but it was negatived firmly. We were to stay on show, and write prescriptions. The air was stifling; often as many as thirty visitors crowded the room, and stared.

The Franciscan had boasted, just previous to reaching Vuthaj, that he would walk me down to Gusinje, and that we should start back to Thethi about noon next day. But he had reckoned without his Moslems. In a lull in the prescriptions he whispered to me that we must stay all next day at Vuthaj. If we persisted in leaving perhaps we should be fetched back. What did I think? The headman next in importance to our host wanted us to pass the next night at his house. I agreed to stay.

Much talk of ghak followed. Our house was in blood with that just over the way, within easy gunshot, and they had been peppering one another from the windows; whence the millstones. The centre hole in a millstone serves admirably to fire through. Their new Mausers had been "blooded."

They fell into blood thus. The other man's haystacks had been burnt; he accused our house. A council of twenty-four Elders had tried the case, and acquitted our housemaster. Over-the-way persisted in the charge, and, on various pretexts, had the case twice re-tried, always with the same result. Our house was exasperated with the constant re-trying. A free fight took place, and one of Over-the-way was killed. They fired at each other's houses many days. Our house had spent over 600 piastres in cartridges. Now a fortnight's besa had been given, and the case was to be shortly re-tried. Our housemaster lamented bitterly the conditions that made such things possible–the absence of a decent Government and the amount of money that had to be wasted in weapons for self-defence. "Where there is no proper Government, the bad rule," he said.

04-26-2010, 05:10 PM
More visitors streamed in. They sent for rakia, and in consideration of our feelings, drank the first glass ceremonially–"Kiofte levduar Christi " (May Christ have praise). I know no Christian village anywhere that would be similarly considerate of Moslems.
A theological discussion began. One of the guests had a friend who had been to Jerusalem and heard on good authority that Christ had not been crucified, but had gone straight to Heaven, and that another had been crucified in His place. The Franciscan, in a whisper, asked me if he should argue the point and improve the occasion. I said, "Don't. They have received us as their guests, and we must not make trouble." And the subject dropped.

It was now 10 P.M., and we had eaten nothing since noon. But still we continued to attract spectators who came, gazed, and commented and threw cigarettes at me, all of which were duly collected and smoked by Marko and the Franciscan. A man–a most weird creature, with dark eyes, a great pallid face and clean-shaven skull–came in with a tamboora and played and sang interminable ballads, his lean fingers plucking strange trills and wonderful shakes from the slim, tinkling instrument. The room was foggy with tobacco smoke and reeked of humanity. I rocked and dozed in my corner. The Franciscan whimpered pitifully, "Oh, I am so hungry." Marko looked careworn. At last the women–who had long been peering at us through the door-way–came in, unveiled as are all the mountain Moslems–and laid the sofra. They fingered me curiously, and spoke freely to many of the men, brought the ibrik and soap; we washed, and I was invited to eat with the men of the house, and Marko and the Franciscan. The head dealt round wooden spoons, and gave us each a huge chunk of hot maize bread. The women set a large bowl of boiled lamb and pillaf (rice) on the table. Some one recounted that the former Padishah, Abdul Aziz, used to have twenty-four fowls stewed down daily to make the juice for his pillaf to be cooked in.

The Franciscan then asked leave to go for a stroll. A great debate ensued. Then a large company came out with us, and walked some hundred yards to a plum tree. Here we were told to sit down, and sit we did, encircled by our escort. And after half-an-hour we were taken back again.

Incarcerated once more in the room upstairs and left with instructions to stay there, Marko became very anxious. "You would come," he said; "now we are prisoners, and God knows what will happen."

I was obsessed with the idea of seeing Gusinje–harped only on that, and thought of nothing else.

The Franciscan looked odd and anxious, but industriously kept up rather forced merriment.

Dinner was the same as supper. We were again left alone, and. told to wait till the other house was ready for us. So I went to sleep, and Marko whiled away the time by blaming the Franciscan for getting us into this mess. When I was waked at three o'clock, and told the horses were ready, they were both cross and depressed.

We were escorted downstairs. Our host, courteous and dignified to the last, said good-bye at the gateway, and pointed out how the angle of the wall had been whipped and chipped by Mauser balls in the recent fight. Some men of the house walked with us, and handed us over to men sent to meet us.

Our new host was in his "country house," for the purpose of pasturing his flocks. It was in the valley along which we had come.

When we had gone a short way, the Franciscan told the men to go on with the horses, and said we would follow. No objection was made. We climbed a rocky hillock in the middle of the valley, and followed its ridge till we could see round the corner.

"Is there light enough to photo?" he asked.

"Photo what?" said I.


And there across the fertile plains, half-buried in trees, lay the little town about two miles away.

I had by now given up all hope of seeing it and stared amazed.

"Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came," flashed most inappropriately into my mind, for the spot was sunny, cheerful, and verdant. The river serpentined towards it. The plain was scattered with little white houses.

It was five years since I had first tried to see this Promised Land and now I had to be satisfied with seeing it from the heights. But I had seen it at last.

Before four the women were already making the daily bread, wrestling with the dough in a big dug-out trough as the grey dawn struggled through the chinks in the roof. The atmosphere of the yet unopened house was asphyxiating. I strode over the bodies of the sleeping men and hurried to the door. Marko followed, rousing up our guide and sending him to catch and saddle the mules. We had meant to start at five. We did not. The Franciscan had gone to sleep, at last, in spite of his fears, and now nothing would make him arise. When we brutally woke him, he said he was going to sleep again, and did so. By the time he emerged and was ready, a large party of excited men had arrived from Gusinje. A noisy parley ensued. No stranger, they said, ought to have been admitted into the district. Marko became very anxious, and was sure we should be detained. The leader of the party had me asked if I had "anything written that showed where treasure was hidden." Countless treasure was buried somewhere near. I was not to take it. After a long hour's pow-wow they trooped off back to Gusinje, and as soon as they had turned the corner we mounted and rode quickly away. Nor was it too soon, for men were sent out from Gusinje two hours later to capture us.

Valley of Gusinje

04-26-2010, 05:12 PM
I left Thethi early next morning from Lower Shala with two fine white mules, and their owners, who lived in a kula, high on a crag. The trail along the left bank of the Shala River is good, rising higher and higher on the mountain-side. About half-way our two men suggested a halt at a big kula –for water and a rest–a great rude four-square tower, with a stone staircase outside to the first floor.

The xoti i shpis (lord of the house), a tall, lean, eagle-eyed old man, welcomed us to his eyrie.

A wooden ladder led up inside to the top floor–the family dwelling-room, where thirty-one human beings lived together under the autocratic rule of the old man. The sickening stench of crowded humanity was heightened by the presence of two large sheep, penned fetlock-deep in manure, on one side, and two small loopholes were the sole means of light and ventilation. Fresh brushwood was cast on the half-dead embers of the hearth in the centre, and the dense resultant smoke temporarily overcame the other odours. The heat under the stone sunbaked roof was suffocating.

The house-lord, as is etiquette, himself made coffee.

There was a confused din of squalling children. Three, all under two years old, alternately made staggering rushes to the edge of the unguarded trap-door–and were rescued just in time to prevent their committing suicide in the depths–and rushes to obtain refreshment from the breasts of their mothers, which were conveniently exposed.

The men listened eagerly to the questions which the house-lord showered upon us–on the injustice of the Government, the miserable state of the Christians–the hopelessness of any improvement so long as the Turks governed–what did I think and advise? I said the first thing to do was to check the blood feuds.

The old man looked up keenly. "Have you a King in your country?" he asked.–"Yes." "Can he read and write?"–"Yes."

"And he makes war on his enemies?"–"Yes."

"Well," said the old man firmly–"we are all poor men. We have no school, we know nothing. If your King, who can read and write, kills his enemies, why should not we poor men kill ours?" This sentiment was greatly applauded. "If one man shoots another man in your country, what does your King do?"

"He sends the suvarris to catch the murderer, a medjliss is made to judge, and he is hanged."

This the old man considered a dirty trick. Shooting is far better. As for trusting the arrest to gendarmes–every one knows what gendarmes are! They would catch any one, and swear he was the man. Nor had he any opinion of a medjliss made by the Government. He knew what governments were. I assured him our medjliss was conducted justly. He replied, "Why spend all this time when it is far more convenient and satisfactory to shoot your enemy yourself?" I told him that in our land people do not carry guns always. He could not understand how in that case a man could protect himself from horse-stealers from over the border. Nor could he realise a state of society where such things do not happen. It filled him with respect for my King, who, he opined, must have killed vast quantities of thieves to have produced such a result. And he begged me to tell my King of the sad state of Albania, and ask him what could be done. If he were really very rich, and would do a lot for the country, perhaps he could be King of Albania too. The great thing was to get rid of the Turks. Any of the Seven Kings would be better than that.

So deeply interested was the old man that he begged us to stay till to-morrow to discourse on these subjects. The extreme filth made this unthinkable, but I left regretfully, for the shrewd old man, with the extraordinary dignity and state with which he offered hospitality and the unhesitating obedience that his subjects all gave to his stern commands, was a human document worth studying. In flocks he was wealthy, his kula fit to stand a long siege, and he had goodly store of wine and rakia. The family lived in one room simply because it was comfortable and convenient, and not from necessity, and, lastly, the sheep lived with them because they bring fertility.

We drank many noble sentiments in strong rakia, among them the health of my King, and I rode away.

Descending, we crossed a small stream, a tributary of the Shala River, ascended, and arrived at Kisha Shoshit, the church of Shoshi.

The Franciscan (a Tyrolese from the Italian-speaking district), who has spent a large part of his life with Shala-Shoshi, has been collecting and transcribing manuscripts from the churches, and painfully putting together details that throw light on the history of the country. But so many churches have been burned, with all that they contained, that records are few. The earliest he showed me was of 1648, and recorded the assassination that year of five Franciscans; one at Podgoritza.

The Podgoritza Moslems–renegade Serbs and Albanians–were famed for ferocity. Under Montenegrin rule a curious thing has happened. When the town first became Montenegrin a very large part of the Albanian inhabitants retired to Turkish territory. Since then Albanians have been slowly and peacefully reconquering their lost town. The Moslem left, but the Catholic tradesman has taken his place. Almost all the trade of Montenegro is in his hands, and he it is, chiefly, that is employed by the Italian tobacco company there. For the Montenegrin has no genius for trade. Podgoritza is the richest town in Montenegro, but the money is mostly in Albanian hands. The conquered is eating up the conqueror.

According to local tradition, it was to Shoshi that the hero, Lek Dukaghin, came on fleeing from Rashia. A rock–Guri Lek Dukaghinit–that stands high on the hillside across the valley, marks the spot where he first stayed.

Next Sunday was Whit Sunday. The little church was crowded. Many had come a four-hours' tramp.

And always when I went to mass I asked myself fruitlessly, "What does their religion mean to these people?"

That they place great importance on its symbols there is no doubt. The cross is a sort of a charm, marked on bread, planted on every hill, scratched or painted on every door, set on the gable of roofs, worn round every neck, and tattooed on the hand, arm, or breast of the greater part of the Catholic population as a protective charm. But of the real teaching of Christianity they seem to have no idea. The Jesuits have, unfortunately, made an appalling and revolting series of pictures, showing the tortures to which the sinful mountaineer will be subjected, and with these strive to terrify him into obedience. Of Deus caritas I fear he has heard little.

And the pictures defeat their object. When I once heard a man threatened with hell-fire for taking his sister-in-law as concubine, he replied, "We should not be so cruel, and God is not crueller than we are."

The Padre of Shoshi has great understanding of and sympathy with his people. I heard more than one tale of how in mid-winter he had risked his life, fighting his way through snow and swollen torrents, to reach a dying man.

The congregation filed out into the sunshine before I had come to a conclusion about them.

On the space in front of the church a great medjliss took place. The Elders sat in a circle on the ground or on stones. The subject of debate was the case of the child who had been shot at Ghoanni by the Shoshi man. Shoshi, to its credit be it said, was violently indignant over the affair, and public opinion ran so high that the ghaksur had not dared to remain in the tribe, but had fled. The medjliss now was held to decide whether his house should be burnt as punishment.

Many were in favour of this. The difficulty was that there was no law under which this could be done. The blood had been taken outside the tribe, therefore was not a crime against the tribe, and not punishable by it. The duty of vengeance lay with the dead boy's family. All agreed that if they liked to come and fire the house, Shoshi would not oppose them. But, as the near relatives were a crippled father and a child, they were incapable of executing justice.

The question caused great excitement. The burning of the house would entail passing a new law to punish a man for a crime against another tribe. This would mean an entire reconstruction of the code, and nothing less than considering. themselves as a nation, and not as detached tribes.

I asked whether it were not possible at least to pass a law to punish any man killing a child not of age to bear arms.

It was pointed out that if Shoshi did so, and neighbour tribes did not, Shoshi would be at a disadvantage. I asked whether the punishing in this particular case could be trusted to the Turkish Government, but was told that the man had fled none knew where, so that he could not be given up, and that to invite Turkish soldiers in to burn a Shoshi house would be a bad precedent.

The question was discussed for two days, and was undecided when I left.

04-26-2010, 05:14 PM

"The thing that hath been is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done."

A few days in Scutari sufficed to reply to a very belated correspondence and gather an idea of what had been happening in Europe, also to have the girths, crupper, and breast-strap of my saddle looked to–for one's life may depend on the strength of a couple of buckles–and I was ready to start again for the wilderness.

The Vali's opinion, after his recent humiliation, was considered of no importance, so leaving the town righteously and as bold as lions–with two very good horses and an excellent kirijee –before 6 A.M. we were well on our way to Shlaku.

Following up and then fording the Kiri, we struck up country by a narrow shady lane, near Muselimi, rich with great clusters of wild purple clematis. Green and steel-blue dragon-flies flashed in the sun, and countless big scarlet-winged grasshoppers danced in dizzy round, whirring harshly. All nature seemed full of the joy of life. The maize grew fat and luxuriant in the well-tilled fields. There were great fig and olive gardens, and the few vineyards looked flourishing. This, some years ago, the best wine-growing land of the district, was devastated by Phylloxera, and replanting has but just begun. It belongs partly to Moslems and partly to Christians. The desolate stony wastes that now border the Kiri were similarly rich, but floods have torn down all the soil and left ruin behind.

We ascended the valley of a small tributary, and cultivation ceased. The low hills of crumbly red soil are fairly clothed with vegetation and the track good; but neither a house, nor a beast, nor a soul was to be seen, nor any sign of man. Higher up was some cultivated ground, and some men hard at work making an aqueduct, leading water from the stream through a channel they had banked along the hillside and bridging a gap with dug-out wooden troughs on trestles.

To the right of the track, on a wooded, hill, stand the ruins of an old church, Kisha Shatit. Deserted churches throughout Albania often stand in thick woods, as some superstition prevents even the Moslems from cutting wood near them.

The ruins are large. The remains of a tower still stand, and walls of large buildings, said to have been a bishop's palace and a monastery, cover all the hilltop. Within the church lay heaps of human bones, for the natives have grubbed up all the floor in vain search of hidden treasure.

A rude altar, built with sticks and boards against a tree, showed where mass is still served once a year. It is not known when the church fell into ruin, but it must have been long ago. The present church of the district is at Mazreku, hard by, and is included in the diocese (but not the district) of Pulati.

At the top of the hill we were hospitably entertained by the owner of a small house. Marko had expected to find an acquaintance here, but he had gone the way of many a maltsor (mountain man), and had been shot a year or two ago. Half the house–it had been two cottages in one block–was a heap of ruins: burned for "blood." Its owner, our host's cousin, had fled.

We rested under a large mulberry tree. A most primitive ladder, like the bears' pole at the Zoo, served as a way up it, and the kirijee feasted largely on the sickly-sweet white mulberries.

From here onward the country was barer and barer, rocky and waterless; the houses were few and wretched. And we came to Kisha Shlakut (Church of Shlaku) about five in the evening. The village–some dozen scattered houses–is called Lot Gegaj.

The priest was absent–had been sent for up country.

I have been in many melancholy spots, but Lot Gegaj is one of the worst. All around the parsonage was a desolation of huge slabs of rock. It splits in narrow strata, and the cleavage is so sharp that it appears machine-cut–the remnants of a giant factory of roofing slabs. Only the scantiest vegetation manages to cling in the crevices. Deep down below flowed the Drin, turbid and yellow, half empty, with bare tracts of shingle on either side, but still flowing rapidly between the forbidding flanks of the grim valley. I thought of the Lake of Ochrida, whence Drin springs, of the squalid dens of misery on its shores, of fever-stricken refugees and putrid gunshot wounds in the spring of 1904, after the Bulgarian revolution, till Drin seemed one of the rivers of Hades, and its waters flowed only to mock the parched and starving heights.

Three months' unbroken drought, destined to last three more, had already brought the people to dire straits. It took two hours to fetch a small barrel of water to the church, and other houses were much farther away. The wretched, half-starved goats and sheep were driven to water once in twenty-four hours. Shlaku tribe consists of about three hundred houses, all Christian. It is an offshoot of the tribe of Toplana. A third of it lives by charcoal-burning, the others by keeping goats. There is very little cultivable land.

One sample of the life of grinding misery will suffice. A man–most honest and hard-working–supported himself, his widowed sister-in-law, and her child, by charcoal-burning. Weekly, he took as much as he could carry, and drove a loaded donkey down to Scutari, exchanging the charcoal for the maize upon which they lived. But he fell ill, and entrusted his donkey to a neighbour, who ill-treated it, and the wretched beast died. Ill, he crawled to Scutari with all the charcoal he could carry, but it was no longer enough to buy the week's food. Only by spending a whole day in the town and begging scraps of food, which he carried home, could they manage to live. A Scutarene took pity on him, and gave him enough maize to sow his little field. He sowed it, but the cruel drought killed almost the whole of it. The sickly, under-fed child and its mother–who was crippled with acute rheumatism–could do nothing to help in the charcoal-burning. And thus do folk in Shlaku drag out a miserable existence.

If this luckless family would turn Moslem they would almost certainly have their wants relieved. But this they will never do. Some poor wretches came and prayed me to tell them where they could find water. They did not mind how deeply they must dig, if I could only tell them where. And they were woefully disappointed.

I left Shlaku, glad to escape the sight of misery which I could not relieve.

04-26-2010, 05:20 PM
One of the tribe bloods has lasted for five generations. The chief man in this feud–grey-eyed and fair-haired, but with the other physical characteristics of the local dark type–lamented his position bitterly. Five generations were too much. The quarrel had had nothing whatever to do with him, but he was liable to be shot for it after all these years. I asked why he did not pay blood-gelt and compound the feud. He replied indignantly that his side was the innocent one, so why should it pay?

The Franciscan–priest of Dushmani–laughed heartily. "They are all innocent!" he said, "every one of them, according to their own account, and all at blood with some one or other." He added that because of "blood" they would very rarely come to confession. His own servant, for example, had killed three.

This youth was entirely delightful. Bubbling over with animal spirits, full of jokes, and most good-natured, he was wildly jealous of his honour, and had an almost tigerish thirst for blood. His instincts were primeval, and he rejoiced in his exploits so whole-heartedly that I could not but sympathise with even the bloodiest.

Aged two-and-twenty, dark, slight, active as a cat, with wide cheekbones and a sallow skin, he was no beauty, but his cheerful smile and his naughty, sparkling eyes, as he told his tales, made up for all deficiencies. He was one of the happiest creatures I ever met. He had drawn his first blood at the age of twelve, which is certainly something to be proud of. A Moslem derided Christianity in his presence, whereat he had at once whipped out his revolver and fired. The Moslem, slightly wounded, returned the fire at once, but missed clean. The little wild-cat then rushed in, fired four shots into the Moslem, dropped him severely wounded, and got away unhurt. As he sat asquat, with his rifle across his knees, he rolled with mirth at the mere recollection. After this exploit, it was thought as well that he should leave the scene of action for a while, so he went to Scutari, where–of all things in the world–he took service with a Moslem family that was unaware of his past history. Here he was so well fed and had such a fine time, that some of the priests in Scutari were afraid he would be persuaded to turn Turk. This struck him as peculiarly humorous. The idea of his being anything but a most exemplary Christian was too ridiculous. A fellow who has shot a Moslem at twelve turn Turk!! One of the Jesuits, intent on rescuing him, talked to him in the street and got him to walk to the Jesuits' school. Several came and spoke to him. They said he should live there; they would feed him just as well as the Moslems, and teach him how to read and write. He saw the other little boys. The door was shut. He felt like a fox in a trap. Never, never, could he bear such a life. But he was afraid to say so, lest they should refuse to let him out. He said, instead that his Moslem master owed him a napoleon: might he go and fetch it first? He would come back at once.

"And as soon as I was safe outside the door, I ran for my life and got away to the mountains. Oh, I kept out of the way of Jesuits, I can tell you! If I had stayed there, I daresay I should have been a priest by now–perhaps in this very parish! I am a good Christian–always have been and always shall be. No schools for me; I don't want to read or write–it is no use whatever."

I asked what would be of use.

"What we want," said the Primeval youth, "is a new Government–a good Government that would do something for us, a good King; any one so long as he is rich and not a Turk; your King, now–why can't he come?"

"You would not like it if he did," said I. "He would not allow you to take blood any more."

"What would he do?"

"He would send his suvarris to catch you, and you would be hanged."

This took every one aback.

"But if a man owed me blood?"

"Then you must tell the Governor, and the suvarris would catch the man and he would be hanged. You must not take the blood yourself."

"That would not clean my honour," said the Primæval one; he pondered. This idea of a Government was quite new to him.

"The King of England is very good," he suggested; "if he knew about the man that killed my cousin he would pardon me."

"No," said I.

"Well," said he resolutely; "after all"–he grasped his throat and squeezed it experimentally–"hanging is not much–one would die quickly. I would shoot my man first, and then your King could send his suvarris and hang me if he liked. I should know that my enemy was dead, and one must die some day."

"Your body must," said the Franciscan, "but your soul will not–what of your soul?"

"My soul? When I am dead, what does it matter to me?–my soul can fly wherever it likes!" He flapped his hands airily to illustrate his soul's departure, then he roared with laughter. "Do you know," he asked, "about the maltsori (mountain man) who was dying? He said to the Blessed Virgin: 'I know that I am much too bad to go to Paradise, but I pray you to put me there just to spite the devil; it will annoy him extremely.'" He was wholly content with himself and quite irrepressible. "I often think," he added cheerfully, "we maltsori will really find it very hard to get to heaven. When the Last Day comes, we shall have to have the most awful fight with Christ!"

And this was the man who had shot a Moslem for speaking ill of Christianity. Later in church I watched him, quite fascinated, as he robed the priest, lit the candles and censer, and assisted at the altar with incomparable precision and decorum. What ideas had he inside that shaven skull, on top of which a great shag of dark hair stood upright grotesquely?

The evening of the twenty-third of June was quite exciting. The Primeval had spent most of the previous evening filling blank cartridges to greet guests. The Franciscans of Berisha, Shoshi, and Toplana arrived in turn. Each hailed him of Dushmani from a distance, and greeted him with revolver shots. Out we rushed, the Primæval dancing and shrieking like a demon, with a revolver in each hand, both of which he fired at once. We had the liveliest supper–four Franciscans, Marko, and myself. The Padre of Toplana had brought a wonderful attendant with him–an elderly, most wiry creature, brave in a red djemadan, gayer and even more voluble than the Primæval. The two, who were supposed to wait at table, were inimitable–entered into the conversation, corrected their "masters," smoked, joked, laughed, and had drinks. Old Red Coat talked every one down, and boasted incessantly of his own merits, the chief being his stainless honour. He had shot four men in its defence, had his house burnt down four times, and flourished greatly, and was ready any day to shoot four more. He had rewarded his Martini for its part of the work, with four silver coins driven in between the stock and the barrel. He got on very well with his Padre–was not his servant, but his comrade. Outside, crowds of guests were arriving at various houses near, from Shlaku and Berisha and distant parts of Dushmani, all greeted by volleys of rifle and revolver shots, to which the Primæval replied with a revolverful of blank, and Old Red Coat with ball cartridge out of window, and both with piercing yells. And the little brothers of St. Francis sang songs at the top of their powerful voices. I thought how dull London dinner-parties are, and wondered why people ever think they would like to be civilised. This was as good as being Alice at the Mad Hatter's Tea-party. And so passed the Eve of St. John. No bonfire-burning took place, and I was assured that the custom is unknown in the mountains, though practised by some of the Scutarenes, which seems to show that it is not an Albanian custom, but brought in from abroad.

A great crowd came to church next day. There were stacks of rifles outside, and within their owners sang "Et in terra pax hominibus." The Padre of Berisha preached. I could not understand him, but reflected he could have no better subject than "The Voice of One crying in the Wilderness."

After mass there was a rush for the shooting-ground–the mark was a white stone, and the range short. The Primæval hit often, and a man with a Mauser every time he tried. Those that missed were very close. But it was not difficult, for I hit it myself, with the Primæval's beloved Martini, which he pressed upon me, adorned as it was with silver coins, to reward it for the lives it had taken.

Drunk with noise, excitement. and the smell of burnt powder, he drew out the hot empty cartridge-cases and breathed in their odour with ecstasy, gasping, "By God, it is good!" It was like blood to a tiger, and made him wild to kill his cousin's murderer, who had got safe away a year ago, was now in prison in Scutari on another charge, and to be released soon. I asked why he did not tell the Scutari authorities of the murder and let them punish him, but was told he would only get ten years, "and he deserves shooting, as the poor deserve bread." At this tense moment a rumour spread suddenly that the enemy had been released, and had been seen coming to the feast.

The Primæval dashed off with Martini and revolver, in spite of the shouts of the Franciscans, but it was a false alarm, and he returned unappeased and disappointed–his enemy was still in prison. "Never mind," said he, "he must come out some day." And he sat and nursed his Martini, crooning a song, in which he addressed it as his wife and his child, for he wanted no other–his life and his soul—"Not your soul," said the Padre sharply. "All the soul I want," said he, incorrigible. His "well-beloved" had cost twelve napoleons, the price of an ordinary wife, and he spent eighty guldens a year–exactly half his income–"feeding" it.

The company discussed weapons. The accuracy and repeating power of the Mauser were admitted, but its bullets were too small to be of any use. "They just go through you and don't hurt. You can go on fighting all the same."

A Mirdite had recently taken part in a general squabble, and walked home a long distance. He drank the usual cup of black coffee, and was about to drink a second, when he uttered a cry, collapsed, and died shortly. It was found that he had been shot clean through the body (through the stomach, I believe, from the account); the wound had closed, and there was scarcely any external bleeding. Presumably he was unaware that he had been hit.

To prove the harmlessness of small bullets, a man clapped his right hand against a tree and begged me to fire through the palm with a Mauser pistol; it would make no sort of difference to him. He was quite disappointed at my refusal.

The afternoon passed in paying visits–sitting on heaps of fern in dark dwellings, drinking healths in rakia, chewing sheep-cheese, and firing rifles and revolvers indoors; a noisy joy that peppers oneself and the refreshments with burnt powder and wads. In one yard two girls were slowly turning a whole sheep that, spitted lengthwise, was roasting over a large wood fire. It was stuffed with herbs and sewn up the belly, and of all ways of cooking mutton, this is the most excellent.

By night-time we were all too sleepy to do much sing-song. The Primæval had emptied all his cartridges, and was again busy refilling them.

We had passed a true Albanian day, said the Padre of Toplana:

"Duhan, rakia,
Pushke, dashtnia"
(Tobacco, brandy, guns, and love). I suggested that dashtnia should come first, because maxima est caritas. But they said, not in Albania.

And so ended St. John's Day.

04-26-2010, 05:24 PM

"For euery Wight that lovede Chyvalrye,
It were a lusty Sighté for to see."

IT was not till August 2nd that Scutari formally accepted the Constitution. We began early in the morning, trooping to the great drill-ground in front of the Government House, under a blazing sun, in a cloud of white dust. The crowd was largely Moslem; tentatively at first came town Christians, then more. A Turkish official on a platform read an inaudible proclamation in Turkish (a tongue understood by very few), a Hodja followed with another. Then a Catholic Albanian, a schoolmaster, leapt up and spoke in Albanian–an impromptu address–and the people found voice.

To the Christians, especially, the moment was supreme. "We are free! We are free!" cried an old man. "All my life I have waited for this moment. Now, thank God, I shall die happy!"

The impossible had happened. Albania's day had dawned. The pent-up emotions of centuries burst forth, and the child-people was whirled away in a torrent of joy and hope.

There is but one way in which joy can be expressed. That is by firing ball cartridge. Every one had weapons: every one fired. The dazzling white cotton and crimson fezzes of the Moslems, the orange barrack walls, the scarlet Turkish standards, the two bands that glared brass and blared different tunes at once, the shrieking pipe and throbbing tomtom of four black gypsies, the clouds of smoke and the showers of sparks from bad powder, and the heavy, cloudless, blue sky over all, were swept into one gorgeous, unforgettable whole.

There is an extraordinary exhilaration in the sound and concussion of continuous firing when you are in the thick of it. It was impossible not to be carried away by the general enthusiasm. By the light of history and experience, the thing was incredible. "The leopard does not change his spots nor the Ethiop his skin," said Reason–"the Turk is always a Turk." But Hope cried, "Albania is free!" And Hope prevailed.

We trooped back through the streets. The artillery that suddenly clattered by showed that the authorities were not, as yet, certain of the effect of the proclamation. But it was not needed. Scutari saw sights it had never seen before. The Moslem band played outside the Cathedral, and Christian and Moslem swore brotherhood on the Koran and a revolver–a sinister combination.

"Ah, la bella cosa, la Liberta!" cried a Christian. "We are united! Albania is free!" But the older Christians mostly kept aloof. "Thirty years ago we rejoiced for this same Constitution," said one, "and what came of it?" Another prayed me not to go into the streets at night. "The massacre will begin. I know it will. It is a Turkish trick to kill us all."

August 10th was the climax. All else was as naught compared to the Coming of the Christian tribesmen.

It was unrehearsed, undrilled, but no preparation could have made it more magnificent. Summoned by their chiefs, they came–chosen representatives of all the big tribes–one thousand five hundred strong, each tribe headed by its Bariaktar with the bullet-riven banner, and led by its priest or Franciscan–sons of the Church militant (a revolver peeped from the habit of more than one)–riding or marching in front of their men, and marshalling them with a precision that called forth general admiration. Keeping neither line nor step, but in perfect order, they swung down the street with the peculiar stride of the sandal-shod mountaineer.

It was a day of days for the missionaries. For the first time in the land's history they were entering the capital triumphant, with their flocks, to hail the Constitution that was to give equal rights to all nationalities, and to Christian and Moslem alike. Through a cloud of dust, sweltering heat–to the continuous roar of fifteen hundred rifles and the applause and revolvers of the onlookers–singing and shouting, the mass swept into the drill-ground.

Each well-known figure was hailed as he passed. There was the "tiny but terrible" priest of Skreli, a black bundle of energy, looking minute among his men; the priest of Rechi, soldierly, erect on his white horse, with his big hound following; the Bishop of Pulati, in Franciscan habit, but wearing a fez, to the joy of the Moslems; the fighting men of Shala-Shoshi, led by Padre Cirillo, happy and excited; Kastrati, Grudi, Hoti, Boga, Rioli, Plani–all with their priests, and brave in their best array, aglitter with silver chains and weapons.

They swung round in a great circle, in perfect order, and stood expectant. The Hodja and two Turkish officials read the inaudible Turkish proclamations that meant nothing to the tribesmen. But the priest of Rechi sprang to the platform, and, in a stentorian voice that rang clear everywhere, roared an impromptu speech, and cried, "Rrnoft Constitution! Rrnoft Padishah! Rrnoft Schyptarii!" (Long live the Constitution, &c.).

The tribesmen and their rifles roared applause, and, firing and shouting, the whole army rushed off to be fed, Christian Scutari "standing treat."

The addition next day of Dushmani, Shlaku, and Toplana, five hundred strong, taxed the lavish hospitality of the Christian townsfolk to its furthest limits. The Cathedral grounds were one vast picnic. No such sight had been seen in Scutari before. For two whole days and nights over two thousand heavily-armed men were loose in the town–nor was there either military or police force sufficient to have coped with an outbreak,–but not one incident occurred to mar the general joy. They rejoiced like children, too happy to be naughty. Even the representatives of two Consulates, who frankly detested the Albanians, said, "Mon Dieu, under a decent Government, what a people this would be!"

The tribesmen hailed me with joy, pressed weapons into my hands, and swept me away. Down the main street I went, blazing ball-cartridge from a Martini, and ran about the Cathedral grounds, firing any revolver handed me, while the populace applauded and the Archbishop laughed.

It came on me with a great crash that the simple mountaineers believed largely that I had worked this marvel–the dismissal of the Sergherdé and the change of Government. They had begged me to do it, and no sooner had I returned to Scutari than it was done! Some even declared that they would follow me and obey my King. I denied it vainly. Never before have I been so popular; never in my life shall I be so again.

The feasts were over. It was time to return to the mountains. Then came the dramatic climax. The prisoners still stared pitifully from the bars–daily expecting release, daily disappointed. I went to the governor of the prison for news; there was none. The mountain men began to leave the town. The prisoners were in despair. Two were Shala men, and they yelled to their tribe, "Shala, save us!" And all the two hundred prisoners took up the cry. Shala swore promptly not to leave the town till all were freed, and the remaining tribesmen swore to support Shala.

Scutari was anxious. Shala calmly drew up an ultimatum in the terms of "Forgive us our trespasses," saying: "We have been ordered to swear besa among ourselves, to pacify our blood fends, and forgive those that have broken our tribe-law. We obey. But you too must forgive. If the prison doors are not open by noon to-morrow–we force them!"

This was sent to the new Vali. We waited and asked, "Is it peace?" The tribesmen, quite calm, behaved as though nothing were happening. Only their priests, as go-betweens, hurried to and fro, from tribe to Vali, anxious, but conscious that they held the trump cards.

Finally, late in the evening I met a well-known priest coming from the Government House. "What news?" "We are sworn to tell nothing," said he. He looked at me with victory twinkling in his eyes, and burst out laughing. "Thank you!" said I, "I understand." And at midnight quietly the two hundred prisoners were freed.

At seven next morning was a final feast outside the Cathedral before an admiring crowd. The two released Shala men, clad in festal attire that had been brought for the purpose, and already fully armed, ran about madly embracing all their friends. Decked with a scarlet and white tie–the colours of the Constitution–I went round as madly, distributing cigarettes to all.

Shala then started a wondrous dance, the only mountain dance I have seen. Four men pranced grotesquely, stepping high and waving their arms, yelling the while, but unaccompanied with any music. One old boy, in a crimson djemadan, had lost one arm and brandished a sword with the other to make up. Prancing like a maniac, and uttering loud howls, he arrived opposite me. For the time being, at any rate, I belonged to the mountains. I yelled too. He yelled louder, pranced higher, and slashed wildly. I pranced, waved my arms, and shrieked. He shouted me down again. I screwed all my strength into one appalling scream, pitched high enough to carry over the general roar. The crowd of onlookers, including the assembled Churchmen, roared with laughter and applause. The old boy's delight was unbounded. He considered he had made the star performance. The nearest man handed me up bottles of rakia; quite a number thanked me for the beautiful addition I had made to the entertainment. I fired every revolver offered me.

The band played, and triumphant Shala returned to the wilderness. The last of the tribesmen disappeared in a cloud of dust, and Scutari sank into silence.

Twelve days had gone in a wild whirl. Constitution was a fact. It remained to see what it would do.

04-26-2010, 05:36 PM
The history of Lekë Dukagjini (1410-1481)

by Tonin Çobani


Lekë Dukagjini is a quite complex historical figure. Furthermore, this figure has also taken dimension of a myth, if the term is accepted when our National Hero Gjergj Kastrioti-Scanderbeg is regarded.

Lekë Dukagjini (1410-1481) was contemporary with Gjergj Kastrioti (1405-1468). History has known both of them as hereditary princes, who were heightened when they took reins of their respective homonymous princedoms: Leka - the Dukagjnini's, when his father, Pal Dukagjini died, (1446) and Gjergj - the Kastrioti's, eight years after his father's, Gjon Kastrioti, death (1443). Dukagjini's Princedom, with Lezha as its own capital city, included Zadrima, the areas in north and northeast of Shkodra and was extended in remote areas of present Serbia, having Ulpiana, near Prizren, as e second capital city. On the other hand, Kastrioti's Princedom, with Kruja as its capital, included Mat and Dibra region, reaching Rodon Castle on the Adriatic coast. Since before coronation Lekë Dukagjini had gained a comprehensive education under the spirit of Europian Renaissance in cities like Venice, Raguza or Shkodra; meanwhile Scanderbeg had achieved a fast and splendid military career in the Sultan's court of Istanbul. Leading the Lezha League (founded in Lezha in 1444) Scanderbeg sow Leka (initially his father Pal Dukagjini) beside him. They fought side by side (sometimes they opposed each other) until Scanderbeg died (1468). Lekë Dukagjini continued his deed leading Albanians in most difficult period of their anti-ottoman resistance, till the end of his life (1481).

Chroniclers and historians, beginning from contemporary Tivarasi/ Biemi, Frëngu, Barleti e Muzaka, up to Gegaj and Noli of 20-th Century, when enlightening the deeds of Gjergj Kastrioti, have rightly mentioned Lekë Dukagjini and other princes of that time. But we cannot say that they are right when groundlessly defamed Lekë Dukagjini, only because were enchanted by the by the main figure, Scanderbeg. Those anonymous, authors of myths have been more balanced. They identified Scanderbeg with a dragon-prince that, dared to fight and always to win against the monster, while they depicted Lekë Dukagjini as angel-prince, who, with courage and wisdom safeguards the continuity of Albanian cause.

Lekë Dukagjini was the most powerful Albanian prince after Scanderbeg. That is why his name became objective of intrigues by Venetian policy (and history) until La Signoria felt the risk from High Gate coming to the doorstep and really joined its forces with the Albanian resistance, declaring war to Ottoman Empire (1463). After that the Venetians ceased defaming Lekë Dukagjini. Its historians wrote for some deeds of Lekë Dukagjini, beside Scanderbeg until his death (1468) and later leading the Albanian troops beside Venetian forces until the sign of peace by Signoria and High Gate (1479). Afterwards they kept silence. Legend informs us that Lekë Dukagjini continued the resistance leading brave people of Princedom until his death.

The historians have defamed the name of Leke Dukagjin since the beginning, looking at him an antagonist personality to Scanderbeg, in order to make their stories about Scanderbeg, who was the only Albanian Hero, who Europe knew in the successful battles of Albanians against Ottoman invasion, more intriguing; but also because these historians refuse to blame Western Europe for not organizing an antiottoman coalition in the Balkans. They didn’t dare to judge especially the Republic of Venice, which not only didn’t stand allied to the Albanians when they were confronting an whole empire which was threating Europe, but made use of Albanian resistance for its commercial interests, intriguing to divide Albanian princes, making them confront each other with arms, or, when this was not possible, declaring them enemies of Venice and even of Christianity. Lekë Dukagjini was the most powerful and authoritative prince, second only to Scanderbeg; that is why he became objective of intrigues by the Venitian policy (and historians), until Signoria felt the Ottoman threat coming to its gate and joined forces with the Albanian resistance, declaring war to Instambul (1463). After that year the Venitian defamation towards Lekë Dukagjini was ceased. In the meantime historians described some deeds of Lekë Dukagjini beside Scanderbeg until Scanderbeg died (1468) and later leadindg Albanian troops in battles side by side with Venitian forces, until Venice made peace with High Gate (1479). Afterwards historians were silent. The legends inform us that Lekë Dukagjini continued his resistance until his death.

But defamation towards Lekë Dukagjini's name has continued even after his death, as the resistance in his Princedom and more extensively continued. The defamation after death has to do with his work Kanun, that Lekë Dukagjini left as inheritance to his subordinates, Albanians. The essence of Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini are his sentences kept and enriched generation after generation for nearly six centuries. This Homeric phenomenon has raised his name to a legend, turned it in a genuine myth, to a degrre that make difficult for scholars to accept it as e historical reality. That explains why some of them have continued to defame Lekë Dukagjini's name and his Kanun, as happened to Homer and his Iliad and Odyssey. (For similarity: even to Lekë Dukagjini was invented a blind brother). But the time and circumstances when the sentences of Kanun were conceived can be enlightened analysing documented biographical facts for Lekë Dukagjini.

By the end of 50-ies of 15-th century, Dukagjini Princedom had not any more any of its developed centres: Lezha was surrendered to Venetians (1393), Ulpiana, the capital of Princedom was destroyed to the soil by the Turks, since before Prizren, a developed centre of Princedom, was surrendered to them (1458). Under those circumstances Lekë Dukagjini seized the fortress of Shati in Zadrima, intending to have it as his princely residence, but he was attacked by Skanderbeg, who handed it back to Venetians. Without a princely residence and, for some time, being amidst three fires (Turks, Venetians, Skanderbeg) Lekë Dukagjini found shelter in the hinterland of Highlands of his Princedom, where he constructed fortresses and castles togother with the free inhabitants of those areas, who warmly welcomed and respected their overlord of Dukagjini Family, his lady, Teodora of Muzakaj from Berat and all his court. With highlanders of Princedom, well-known for their bravery, Leka, not only rebuilt his castle-towns, but to ensure to himself a permanent source for a sufficient army, which played an important role within framework of Lezha League Army under Skanderbeg in command and even later. In exchange Lekë Dukagjini guaranteed to the highlanders of the Princedom and to everyone who, especially after the death of Scanderbeg, joined him for procuring a defence to himself, freedom within their tribal organisation, which he, under the circumstances, raised to the institutional level by reorganizing the Councils of Elders on village and region basis. Kanuni got conceived during this period (1458-1481), when he leaded all the popular assemblies and Councils of Elders and was inherited generation after generation as a practice of judgement and, using sentences formulated by him or restated case by case, as juridical sentences. Kanun, remained unwritten, but was acting in centuries as English "Common Law" acted, until was gathered and codified by Shtjefën Gjeçovi during replacement of 19-th with the 20-th century.

When Gjeçovi was working on the gathered canon material, Kanuni, as its author were sanctified by all the Albanians, regardless their religion. The name of Lekë Dukagjini was not defame by the people; on the contrary, it was hightened to a hero’s level. The fact that a ruler turned to become a real, popular and national hero, could be explained by the theory which sustains that common people, accepting their rulers or knights as their heroes, "identified themselves with values of the leader and of the nobility, or, at least, because they needed to structure their world through models offered by the ruling group" (P. Burke: 169)

Kanuni of Lekë Dukagjini is an unique work in Albanian with the humanist spirit of European Renaissance period, which, despite the fact that was and still is defamed, remains valuated highly by serious scholars, both Albanian and foreign as an "monumental work" (A. Buda/ Gjeçovi-Kryeziu: 22), "contribution in the treasure of world culture" (C. Von Scherwin/Hylli i Dritës 1929: 502) and its author, Lekë Dukagjini is qualified a "imposing personality" (Edith Durham: 116 and "National Hero" of its people. (J. Hahn: 114) A lot of writers and artists dedicated their works to him; among them the novelist and poet Ditëro Agolli ("Wife, for you I fought with Lekë Dukagjini", poetry), the Arbëresh dramatist Anton Santori ("Alessio Ducagini", melodrama, written between 1855-1860, published in 1983), the painter Naxhi Bakalli (“Kuvendi i Dukagjinit”, tablo on the wall 4x3,2m in Burrel Historicaly Museum), the painter of Kosovo Engjëll Berisha (“Rrënjët e Dukagjinit”, vizatime 1950-1956), the painter Simon Rrota (Lekë Dukagjini, portrait-Art Gallery, Shkodër), the sculptor Sotir Kosta (“Lekë Dukagjini”, portrait in bronze in National Museum of Scanderbeg, Kruja, 1982) ect.

As apocrypha of Lekë Dukagjini is accepted the portrait of Simon Rrota (1887-1961), which introduce the author of Kanun in frontal view, having a sharp look, in which are joined together intelligence and wisdom, wearing the traditional waistcoat of costume of Albanian highlanders and a sword, holding a manuscript of Kanun in his left hand, which reminds the humanist intellectual of 15-th century. "An extraordinary personality", Lorenzo de Medici, with whom we wanted to compare Lekë Dukagjini since the beginning of this biography, was mentioned as "a genial politician, who could see the difference between the genuine power and its appearance". In the cover of his book he is depicted in the streets of Florence dressed as an ordinary citizen, encircled by girls singing his ballads… Lorenzo was really a good poet and the most generous patron of poets, scientists, and philosophers" (K, Clark: 106). To some extent, we can imagine like that even Lekë Dukagjini, whose poetry would be his sentences of Kanun. If this comparison, as every other comparison, would not be accepted, we, at least, can compare the Dukagjini Princedom with the small courts of Northern Italy in the last quarter of the 15-th century, to whom "the Renaissance owes nearly as much as Florence" (K. Clark: 107). In this case Leka could be compared with Duke of Urbino, Frederigo Montefeltro, who "was not only a man of extraordinarily learning and cleverness, but also the greatest strategist of his time, who managed to defend his possessions from surrounding criminals. He was a passionate collectioner of books and, in his valuable portraits, he is depicted reading one of his manuscripts. He is wearing armor and other military equipment… His palace was initially being built as an fortress on a insurmountable rock and only later, after having procured safety, was given this soft and refined look, which made of it one of most beautiful architectonic monuments in the world" (K.Clark: 107).

We are able nowadays to restore neither a castle nor a princely palace of Leka Dukagjini; far less we can evaluate what does not exist with superlatives:” the most beautiful in the world, in Mediterranean, or in the region”, because by that time " Albania was cancelled from the list of independent countries… every link with Europe was interrupted. Castles and flourishing cities… with palaces and monuments… were disappeared from the earth… remained as shadows of the ancient splendour. (F.S.Noli: 591-592). But Kanuni of Lekë Dukagjini is really the most important monument of Albanian culture during period of European Renaissance, which has lived for 6 centuries, playing such a extraordinary role in the life of the nation, of whose language is written.

04-26-2010, 05:41 PM
The criminal law in the "Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini"

- The Albanian customary law -


I. Introduction
The Albanian expression for the customary law of the Albanians is Kanun. This word was taken over out of Sumerian (gi, Rohr) over Acadian (qanu, Rohr) to the Hebrew (qane, Rohr) and from there to the Greek (kanna, Rohr) and to canons, where it was trained further and meant "rule, standard". The main meaning of the Kanun on Albanian, is the customary law.
The sources of the customary law of the Albanians are: Kanuni i Skënderbeut, Kanuni i Malsisë së Madhe, Kanuni i Labërisë, Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit (KLD). In this work, I will treat the most well-known customary law of the Albanians and/or the criminal law in the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini (KLD).
The admission of the KLD in written form from verbal excessive quantity was taken by the Franciscan Shtjefën Gjegjovi of Kosova. He began to publish the right statutes collected by him in the year 1913 in the magazine of the Albanian Franciscan "Hylli i Dritës". After its murder by Serbs on 14.10.1929, other Franciscans systematized the left material and published it under the name "Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit". The customary law "Kanuni" was divided in 1263 §§ and into twelve books. The Kanun regulated both civil and criminal questions. This Codex was at the same time the actual Albanian condition for many centuries up to the Second World War.

II. The criminal law in the "Kanun"

The penal jurisdiction of the Kanun was a mixture from more public and self law. The natural person alone was legally responsible after this customary law. With respect to the person one differentiated between this and their accessories.
Due to this distinction the Albanian customary law protected the following goods:
a. the goods of the body and
b. of the soul.

Under accessories of the person fall:
c. the actions and
d. conditions.

a. The goods of the body The goods of the body after the customary law of the Albanians could be hurt by impact, mutilating and by death.

a. a. The fight
The impact was a consequence of anger, a battle of words or a threat. Fights between the adults on the one hand and the children on the other hand, were treated differently. A fight, which happened between two adults, and if from it blood flowed, rather as honoring injury as bodily injury was considered. If the bodily injury were not so large, it was understood that the person who got hurt of the body could pay back in the same way. The fight in the public as well as that fight, which arrived at ears of the public, produced a rising hate.
The fight between children was not taken seriously. Even if the child were struck by a man from the relationship, it was presupposed that it had happened as a "punishment".

a. b. mutilating
By mutilating one understands a separating or the injury of any part of the body. In the Kanun a wound under peace, which was caused by the weapon, fell. The Albanian customary law did not make a large distinction between intentional and unintentional mutilating. Unintentional mutilating was measured with more indulgence. The reason for this indistinct distinction lay probably in the fact that the possibility should be taken to the author of being able to state to its defense that the act happened negligently for his part, even if it added deliberately the wound.
Intentional were the cases if someone directed deliberately the weapon against another and wounded it. On the other hand under unintentional (negligent) mutilating, one understood those by coincidence and without intention added wound. This occurred then, e.g. if someone wanted to meet the enemy however an indifferent one meets.
Independently of it, whether one added intentionally or unintentionally a wound to someone by the weapon, the wounded one had the right to revenge himself according to the principle "wound for wound".

a. c. the death and the blood revenge
Around the blood revenge under the Albanian trunks of "own 'category' of the blood revenge historiography developed, in which Austrian and German travelers and scientists were particularly active. The blood revenge was presented to the readers as something sensational." Depending upon the author, they aroused the impression that the life of the Albanians was only concerned around blood revenge. I do not share the same opinion.
The nature of the blood revenge existed therein that one had the right to revenge for the death of own blood relatives. According to the Kanun, one differentiated between retaliation (hakmarrja) and blood revenge (gjakmarrja). The retaliation came to the course, if someone were damaged by stealing at the fortune. The damaged one had the right for its stolen fortune, a retaliation to exercise after the maxim "stealing for stealing". The blood revenge was a consequence of the earlier committed murders or injuries of the honor. The author, supported by the rules of the Kanun, was that one, which killed with own hand (§ 848). Other involved one in a murder and/or a blood revenge was the aid/accomplice (§ 831), the accomplice (§ 766). In addition of this, more down follows.
A certain group of persons were preserved by the blood revenge, like women, children, the priest, old and ill humans as well as spirit patients.
The homicide without intention was not pursued. The author had to remain however hidden, for a long time, as it is called in the Kanun, "the blood is hot" (the excitation lasted) and the case was well examined and clarified (§ 933ff). Now the mediators (so-called "reasonable people") occurred, in order to confirm that really the homicide was unintentional. If the mediators stated that the homicide was without intention, the author had to pay only a blood penalty (§ 934).
After an execution of the blood revenge the author (dorasi) had to inform even the public and the family of the victim that he practiced blood revenge. In the case of a death or blood revenge, it was forbidden exercising massacre by the author to the victim. If someone added further wounds with a measurer after the death at the body of the victim, the author was charged with double murder, i.e. he had to be pulled for responsibility not only for a murder, but for two.
The woman remained exempted from blood revenge. Against them, none was allowed to exercise blood revenge. If no male person were in the house, and who has not yet carried out revenge, the woman had to revenge. She could be killed only in the case of adultery, otherwise killing a woman - it was intentional or unintentional - was a large dishonor. Even the weapons, by which a wound or a death of a woman was caused, were considered as "worthlessly" (unworthily) to be used for war purposes.
If the author without authorization (for someone else) exercised blood revenge, his house was burned and down-cleverly, the entire mobile fortune, as for instance furniture, grain, cattle was confiscated. He had to leave the dwelling and its master areas with the whole family and pay a penalty.

a. d. switching and peace vow
The mediator (ndermjetsi) is called that one, which interfered, in order of the "bad words to decide" (për me da fjalët e kqia) i.e. the risen tension as consequence of the disputes to turn gossip away, which could lead to the revenge, from the homicide and other spoiling development (§667). The mediator had admission everywhere. Mediator could be man and woman (very rarely and only into small things), also the priest (§ 669). In order to decide on an evil, the priest interfered not in the own name, but in the name of the parish or the trunk (§ 675). The experienced men were mostly mediators.
The murder could switching with any friend after committed an act around the relatives (family) of the killing, to ask for granting some sucked, and to be able to receive "days off" (vow) around the peace vow for some days. During the period of vow, no revenge could be exercised. The vow was extremely rarely granted to that person, who implemented the murder.
The God peace (besa) was in the Kanun one period of the liberty and the security, which granted the house of the killing to the author and his family members, in order to pursue it not immediately and a certain period ago for the blood. One regarded the grant of a peace vow, as obligation of the maleness (§ 854ff).
The Kanun knew two kinds of the peace vow: 24 hours and 30 days. The vow of 24 hours occurred, if the house of the killing granted peace vow to the author, then this (the author) participated at the dead celebration, although he had killed, and was charged for the kill. This peace vow did not last longer than 24 hours. The village could arrange an expiration of these 24 h. peace vow period over for the author and its house members an extract of a further vow of 30 days. If the house of the killing did not grant the village peace for the family of the author, the author with its house members had to remain enclosed, it stepped a kind of house arrest, house prison.
During the "weapon peace vow" reached by the mediator in a controversy, it was forbade the revenge exercising. However if the promised killed the enemy before the period of the armistice ran off, then revenge for the hurt vow was incumbent on to take to the vow receiver (i.e. the mediator).
Those, which went to parents and cousins of the killing, on behalf of the author and his house, the God peace attained, called one peace bringer (bestari). They were not considered as protectors of the author and his house, thus an evil could not happen within the peace vow (§851ff).

a. d. a. the switching of the blood (dorzanët e gjakut)
Another kind of the switching in the Kanun was the switching of the blood (dorzanët e gjakut). A mediator of the blood was that one, which himself endeavored in the house of the killing, he reconciled with the author. The mediator (several can be), was looked for and/or selected by the house of the author (§ 972ff). A reconciliation of the blood could be made on two levels:

1. as the heart friends went into the house of the killing and the catholic minister;
2. by money to the house of the killing.

The house of the killing selected the deviancy guarantees for the money of the blood. The citizen of the blood (dorzani i gjakut) was the mediator, who intervened, in order to prevent each "renewal of hate and fire" (§ 974ff). The oldest ones and the outstanding and reasonable men of the place determined the period for the payment of the money for the blood. The determined time fixed for payment for the blood could not be extended, neither changed.

a. d. b. the blood brother shank, the blood drinking (Vllaznimi, me pi gjak)
This happens, if the author himself with his house and the house of the killing reconciled. The involved ones soaked mutually their blood. Into two small glasses filled with liquor (Raki) or water; One of the friends (ndonjë prej dashamirësh) tied the small finger for the author and "master of the blood", and punctured it with a needle and let a blood drop to fall individually into the glasses. After mixture of the blood they exchanged the glasses and it was enough for them also to over-cross their hands, so that everyone drank the blood of the other one. With "1000 joy calls (congratulations, congratulations) they shot off with the cans" and became from enemies to brothers, as it meant in the Kanun: "new brothers of the same father, the same mother" (§988).

b. the property of the soul

By the property of the soul mainly the honor was understood. After Albanian customary law one bore rather death as the injury of the honor. An injury of the honor could take place on three levels:

a. violating of women,
b. removal of the weapon,
c. injury of the right of protection.

These kinds of the honor injuries were so heavy that they were to be washed off only with blood. For this injury of the goods of the soul there was neither grace still another possibility, whereby they could be settled with fine.

b. a. violating the women
This crime occurred rarely. But if it was noticed that a woman was raped, the rapist was pursued and punished. Sooner or later, the rapist had to penance for his act "with his own blood". However if adultery was stated that the sexual intercourse happened with agreement of the wife, then both paid for with own blood. If someone let himself in however with an engaged girl, then the family of the author stood in blood revenge with the family of the bridegroom. The honor of the woman was a property-part of the honor of the man. If he was dishonored, this was the heaviest injury of the honor of a man.

b. b. injury of the honor by weapon robbery
An injury of the honor by weapon robbery was in two different kinds: publicly or secretly. Public weapon robbery happened if one had to deliver the weapon with force or obligation. The secret weapon robbery on the other hand could be made according to a kind of thief on the nighttime or day. It is interesting that the public weapon robbery for the robbing was a dishonor. For the robbing the public weapon robbery was immediately also a shame. For this reason, it was not allowed to let the larger disgrace appear in the public, as log as he with blood "the greatest dishonor" had to whip out himself. The sanction for the secret weapon robbery was moderated. One could forgive the thief a tax however he had for it to carry out in the height as for a murder.
Honoring injuries could not be paid off by contributions of equipment. For the robbed honor there was no penalty. It could be replaced not by articles, but only by pouring the blood or by noble assigning after the switching of the friend of heart (§ 597 600).
A further distinction in the question of the honor devide the customary law of the Albanians between personal honor (ndera vetjake, § 593 to 601) and public honor (ndera shoqnore, § 602-639).

b. b. a. the personal honor
The Kanun of the Albanian mountains did not differentiate humans from humans (§ 593). For the injury of the personal honor the Kanun said: "whom you want, forgive him; if you like, then (or) wash the clouded forehead" (§ 595), i.e. revenge. After § 596 everyone had its own honor for himself, and nobody could interfere. There was a kind of the discrimination prohibition between the men. The life of the good one and the bad one had the same value: "the Kanun took (considered) both for (as) men" (§594). Supported by these two regulations, as well as by the rule in § 887, those means: "the price of human lives is alike for the good one as for the bad ones", is to be taken as a kind of equal treatment principle, which however was applied only between men. The robbed personal honor could not be restored by penalty, but only with blood (death) or assigning (Ndera e marrun nuk shpërblehet me gja, por a me të derdhun të gjakut, a me të falun fisnikërisht. § 598).

b. b. b. the public honor
The public honor covers the question of the guest in the house, hospitality and house right. By patent right it was understood protecting a guest (mikut). One differentiated between injury of hospitality and the house right. We will illustrate this distinction in two examples:

Example 1: House right
X comes into the house of Y. As long as X remained in the house of Y, Y was obligated for the security of X. If it happened something to Y in the house of the X, then X was obliged to revenge for him, because the act of violence at Y was considered as an injury of the house right.

Example 2: Hospitality
This case has to be understood, as injury of hospitality against someone: if Y was one of the authors, and he went in the house of X, he was allowed in no case to suffer damage from X, until he (Y) went to another house, because this meant an injury of the hospitality principle.

c. theft and robbery

In accordance with Kanun under robbery, the acquisition of the property was understand over a strange case by open force (§ book 768. h as well as § 777ff.), while the theft happens secretly. The thief was after Kanun that one, "that with own hand stolen the stranger" (§ 768). The robbery by open force was understood as injury of the honor.

c. a. aid/accomplice
As participants at a theft in accordance with Kanun were the thief (cubi), the aid (simahorët), that house, where the thieves of the stealing eat, or got bread. Aid or accomplice was also, who hid the stolen property ("the thief and aid are both guiltily", §768 book. d). If someone helped, which was not in the blood revenge, he fell in the blood revenge (§ 831). The sanction for a stolen property at fortunes was arranged after principle "two for one". "Two for unity" became both for cattle and for flock or for the stolen article.

If a thief stole a cow, the owner had the right to take it back, where always it was found, also when someone the stolen cow bought. If the salesman (the thief) were seized, he had to pay to the owner the value of two cows for the stolen cow, and/or which owners compensate according to the principle "two for unity", and the thief had to return the whole paid sum to the buyer.

b. The aid of aid
A form of the complicity in the Kanun was the accomplice. Accomplice was that one, who helped someone by criminal interference and commit a crime from behind (§ 766). The punishment for such assistance and acceptation of stolen goods was different. When helping during a woman kidnapping, it fell in the blood and had to pay to the village a penalty at a value of 100 groshs; it fell also with a murder in the blood and had to pay to the village 500 groshs, as well as each burglary and each property, which were stolen in the village, he had to paid for after the Kanun, "as soon as it became recognized (discovered)" (§ 767).

III. The jurisdiction
The customary law of the Albanians does not edge a court in the sense of the today's courts. As a court, it was considered the advice of the oldest ones (Kanuni i pleqnis). The oldest ones were either chiefs of the brother shank (të parët e vllaznive) or the heads of the kinships (Krenët e fiseve). Without their participation each decision or action applied as invalid (§993). To the oldest ones were included also the men, which were admit for their intelligence, and experience in jurisdiction questions the Council of Elders had. The Council of Elders - also mentioned judges of the people - were mostly completely usual humans, who differed neither by origin nor social layer or otherwise from the others. They became "people's judges" only by their special gift to understand circumstances fast and to interpret them as judges, honorably and plausibly after the rules of Kanun.

a. kinds of court

The Albanian customary law knew two kinds of the Councils of Elders. For the small Council of Elders (§ 999) the senior of the village was taken, after brother shank and kinships, which decided for less large disputes. Serious affairs, which hurt the honor of the village and trunk, were judged by the village elders and master heads (§1003). In order to be able to fall a judgment, the oldest ones and heads of the trunk the oldest ones and over-oldest of the village were referred, in which the suspicious one lived (§1004). If an old resolution concerned a whole village or a trunk, the individual people judges (oldest ones) did not have the right to take the thing into the hand. In such cases (circumstances), "the legal oldest ones of the village or trunk considered" (decided) (§1009). Under advice of the oldest ones all fell, i.e. even if it concerned outstanding families, or master chieftains (§ 1014).

b. The right and obligations of the oldest ones

Also the Elders, which exercised their work as judges, had rights and obligations after the Kanun.
In accordance with § 996 the Elders had the right, each threat and each controversy to simple, each from homicide adult claim, the mark by quality, other time by force, in community with the village, even when very serious threats (the order) could support it, the men of the trunk demand, around "the outer edge and to bring the case to a reason". Furthermore, if someone did not want to add himself to the impartial verdict, the oldest ones could meet the whole village. If a verdict pleases, and it repented the controversy parties that they had handed, the oldest one who became out of the pledge for subjecting, could not change this verdict (§ 1001).
The obligation of the oldest ones was the impartiality, and they could not be affected by gossip (§1015). If it happened that these obligations of the oldest ones were hurt by any of them, he was never more selected as honorees to the oldest one. Before one began with the process, the oldest ones had an oath that they would not judge with underhandedly and party manners, and the fact that they will not rotate the rules of Kanun (abuses), but a fair judgement after best knowledge and certain to fall.

c. Court instances

In the customary law of the Albanians the regulation applied for "oldest ones over the oldest one, judgement over judgement, oath over oath, were not given". Due to this regulation, is to be closed that the Kanun knew only one instance of the jurisdiction. An appointment against the judgements of the oldest ones was followed only in exceptional cases; it could not be raised on the part of the parties. Only in addition of the owners of the distrainer were entitled, if they stated that an unfair judgement was pleased. The oldest ones returned not the distrainer, but were obligated, like it were called "to clean-wash himself", i.e. in that they hands the distrainer to the selected oldest ones lay, and thus the judgement of the second oldest ones became pleases (§ 1038ff).

d. The voice of the people with (in) the court

If a decision of the heads and oldest ones did not please the people, or it found, they had wrongly decided, the people had the right to not follow (respect) it. In such a case, the heads and oldest one had to advise the case again, to treat it again.

e. The evidence

The Albanian customary law in the legal proceedings after Kanun knew the following evidence: Confession, the word of honor, the secret prosecutor (këpucari), (that person, who indicates someone debt, was as for instance a secret theft or murder), the oath, the oath aid, the witnesses, the trace-track (§ 769), the citizens of the village, as well as surprising at the scene (inflagranti).

f. Kinds of punishing

In accordance with § 13 of the Kanun, under punishment was understood that an evil was imposed by the legal force for making one debt. The kinds of the punishment into the Albanian customary law were: Death sentence, discharging from the trunk with members and possession, the burning of the house, the breaking and letting of the soil or cutting off fruit trees, the penalty with living cattle, the penalty by money, and the guilty one (the author) was explained by the trunk for bird free (expel, proclaimed, me e leçitë = out clips). Burning alive of a woman, a widow or girls, who showed themselves as violated.

IV. Comparative law: The German criminal jurisdiction and the Albanian customary law
The history of the German criminal jurisdiction contains some common elements with the Albanian customary law in addition, very large differences. While the German criminal jurisdiction developed from customary law to the positive right, which is Albanian customary law, today still, remained alive in north Albania parallel with the Albanian positive right (as for instance the blood revenge).
The revenge and feud, which similarities with those rules in the Kanun, were present also in the Germanic time. The sense of the revenge and feud was after Germanic view "humiliating the opponent and its kinship". The blood revenge was in German history on 16th Century. With the God peace movement of 11th Century, known as church movement, one has tried a pacification of certain persons to limit things, places as well as times with certain actions in relation to feud in order by the national peace to be replaced later.
The Albanian customary law did not know the Inquisition's process. And body-met, kinds of mutilating detention as in the German criminal jurisdiction and torture do not occur, because they would not be compatible with honour of the adults men. While the Catholic Church in German criminal law history in the Middle Ages played a role, the Albanian customary law made a separation between Kanun and church. In accordance with § 3 the church is not subordinate to the Kanun but its church court. For this reason the master court could not do it any read imposes. For misdemeanors of the priest, the Kanun said, raises the municipality complaint to the church-upper, with the bishop (§ 3 exp. 2.).
By the kinds of the death penalty in German punishing history such as slopes, beheading, buried alive, drowning, burning, wheels, simmering in water or oil, the Albanian customary law only knew burning. The mutilating punishments, which we know from German criminal law history, as for instance knocking the hand, knocking off individual fingers or finger limbs, knocking off a foot, cutting or peeling of the tongue, did not came in the Kanun forwards.

If we retrace Albanian history, we will state that the Albanian area was very closely with all peoples, who played a role on the Balkans, is spoiled. Beginning with the time of the Gaul, Romans, Goths, the immigration of the Slaves in Illyria, the Macedonian empire, the Byzantine Kingdom, as well as Normans, Venice, Serbs, Ottoman realm, Austrian Hungarian realm, Italy, who successively on the Albanian areas prevailed, the Albanian people, the descendants of the Illyrians, could not lead continuously a national independent existence. After 24 years resistance of the Albanians under guidance of Gjergj Katrioti against the Ottoman realm, the Albanian became a part of areas of the Ottoman realm from the Middle Ages to 20 Century. The customary law of the Albanians was always auxiliary and at the same time a competitive right to the national right, to that of the Turks, that of the Albanian state after 1912, for the right of the crew administrations in the I-st and II-nd world war.
Despite this strange history the Albanian people could develop its own culture of the right. Lately one very often confounded the usual criminality with the blood revenge. For the practice of a blood revenge, as we saw above, one had to adhere to certain rules. The blood revenge is an aspect of a comprehensive juridical system, the customary law.

The habit standards are today really outdated. The processing of the Kanun exhibits heavy errors. On the one hand it is considered as backwardly and medieval, in particular if the blood revenge comes to the language. In addition, on the other hand beautiful things are present, on which one is pride, like hospitality, Besa etc., which one would gladly still keep.

04-26-2010, 05:48 PM
Gjergj Fishta


By far the greatest and most influential figure of Albanian literature in the first half of the twentieth century was the Franciscan pater Gjergj Fishta (1871-1940) who more than any other writer gave artistic expression to the searching soul of the now sovereign Albanian nation. Lauded and celebrated up until the Second World War as the ‘national poet of Albania’ and the ‘Albanian Homer,’ Fishta was to fall into sudden oblivion when the communists took power in November 1944. The very mention of his name became taboo for forty-six years. Who was Gjergj Fishta and can he live up to his epithet as ‘poet laureate’ half a century later?

Fishta was born on 23 October 1871 in the Zadrima village of Fishta near Troshan in northern Albania where he was baptized by Franciscan missionary and poet Leonardo De Martino (1830-1923). He attended Franciscan schools in Troshan and Shkodra where as a child he was deeply influenced both by the talented De Martino and by a Bosnian missionary, pater Lovro Mihacevic, who instilled in the intelligent lad a love for literature and for his native language. In 1886, when he was fifteen, Fishta was sent by the Order of the Friars Minor to Bosnia, as were many young Albanians destined for the priesthood at the time. It was at Franciscan seminaries and institutions in Sutjeska, Livno and Kresevo that the young Fishta studied theology, philosophy and languages, in particular Latin, Italian and Serbo-Croatian, to prepare himself for his ecclesiastical and literary career. During his stay in Bosnia he came into contact with Bosnian writer Grga Martiƒc (1822-1905) and Croatian poet Silvije Strahimir Kranjcevic (1865-1908) with whom he became friends and who aroused a literary calling in him. In 1894 Gjergj Fishta was ordained as a priest and admitted to the Franciscan order. On his return to Albania in February of that year, he was given a teaching position at the Franciscan college in Troshan and subsequently a posting as parish priest in the village of Gomsiqja. In 1899, he collaborated with Preng Doçi , the influential abbot of Mirdita, with prose writer and priest Dom Ndoc Nikaj and with folklorist Pashko Bardhi (1870-1948) to found the Bashkimi (Unity) literary society of Shkodra which set out to tackle the thorny Albanian alphabet question. This society was subsequently instrumental in the publication of a number of Albanian-language school texts and of the Bashkimi Albanian-Italian dictionary of 1908, still the best dictionary of Gheg dialect. By this time Fishta had become a leading figure of cultural and public life in northern Albania and in particular in Shkodra.

In 1902, Fishta was appointed director of Franciscan schools in the district of Shkodra where he is remembered in particular for having replaced Italian by Albanian for the first time as the language of instruction there. This effectively put an end to the Italian cultural domination of northern Albanian Catholics and gave young Albanians studying at these schools a sense of national identity. On 14-22 November 1908 he participated in the Congress of Monastir as a representative of the Bashkimi literary society. This congress, attended by Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim delegates from Albania and abroad, was held to decide upon a definitive Albanian alphabet, a problem to which Fishta had given much thought. Indeed, the congress had elected Gjergj Fishta to preside over a committee of eleven delegates who were to make the choice. After three days of deliberations, Fishta and the committee resolved to support two alphabets: a modified form of Sami Frashëri’s Istanbul alphabet which, though impractical for printing, was most widely used at the time, and a new Latin alphabet almost identical to Fishta’s Bashkimi alphabet, in order to facilitate printing abroad.

In October 1913, almost a year after the declaration of Albanian independence in Vlora, Fishta founded and began editing the Franciscan monthly periodical Hylli i Dritës (The day-star) which was devoted to literature, politics, folklore and history. With the exception of the turbulent years of the First World War and its aftermath, 1915-1920, and the early years of the dictatorship of Ahmet Zogu, 1925-1929, this influential journal of high literary standing was published regularly until July 1944 and became as instrumental for the development of northern Albanian Gheg culture as Faik bey Konitza’s Brussels journal Albania had been for the Tosk culture of the south. From December 1916 to 1918 Fishta edited the Shkodra newspaper Posta e Shqypniës (The Albanian post), a political and cultural newspaper which was subsidized by Austria-Hungary under the auspices of the Kultusprotektorat, despite the fact that the occupying forces did not entirely trust Fishta because of his nationalist aspirations. Also in 1916, together with Luigj Gurakuqi, Ndre Mjeda and Mati Logoreci (1867-1941), Fishta played a leading role in the Albanian Literary Commission (Komisija Letrare Shqype) set up by the Austro-Hungarians on the suggestion of consul-general August Ritter von Kral (1859-1918) to decide on questions of orthography for official use and to encourage the publication of Albanian school texts. After some deliberation, the Commission sensibly decided to use the central dialect of Elbasan as a neutral compromise for a standard literary language. This was much against the wishes of Gjergj Fishta who regarded the dialect of Shkodra, in view of its strong contribution to Albanian culture at the time, as best suited. Fishta hoped that his northern Albanian koine would soon serve as a literary standard for the whole country much as Dante’s language had served as a guide for literary Italian. Throughout these years, Fishta continued teaching and running the Franciscan school in Shkodra, known from 1921 on as the Collegium Illyricum (Illyrian college), which had become the leading educational institution of northern Albania. He was now also an imposing figure of Albanian literature.

In August 1919, Gjergj Fishta served as secretary-general of the Albanian delegation attending the Paris Peace Conference and, in this capacity, was asked by the president of the delegation, Msgr. Luigj Bumçi (1872-1945), to take part in a special commission to be sent to the United States to attend to the interests of the young Albanian state. There he visited Boston, New York and Washington. In 1921, Fishta represented Shkodra in the Albanian parliament and was chosen in August of that year as vice-president of this assembly. His talent as an orator served him well in his functions both as a political figure and as a man of the cloth. In later years, he attended Balkan conferences in Athens (1930), Sofia (1931) and Bucharest (1932) before withdrawing from public life to devote his remaining years to the Franciscan order and to his writing. From 1935 to 1938 he held the office of provincial of the Albanian Franciscans. These most fruitful years of his life were now spent in the quiet seclusion of the Franciscan monastery of Gjuhadoll in Shkodra with its cloister, church and rose garden where Fishta would sit in the shade and reflect on his verse. As the poet laureate of his generation, Gjergj Fishta was honoured with various diplomas, awards and distinctions both at home and abroad. He was awarded the Austro-Hungarian Ritterkreuz in 1911, decorated by Pope Pius XI with the Al Merito award in 1925, given the prestigious Phoenix medal of the Greek government, honoured with the title Lector jubilatus honoris causae by the Franciscan order, and made a regular member of the Italian Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1939. He died in Shkodra on 30 December 1940.

Although Gjergj Fishta is the author of a total of thirty-seven literary publications, his name is indelibly linked to one great work, indeed to one of the most astounding creations in all the history of Albanian literature, Lahuta e malcís, Shkodra 1937 (The highland lute). ‘The highland lute’ is a 15,613-line historical verse epic focussing on the Albanian struggle for autonomy and independence. It constitutes a panorama of northern Albanian history from 1858 to 1913. This literary masterpiece was composed primarily between 1902 and 1909, though it was refined and amended by its author over a thirty year period. It constitutes the first Albanian-language contribution to world literature.

In 1902 Fishta had been sent to a little village to replace the local parish priest for a time. There he met and befriended the aging peasant Marash Uci (d. 1914) of Hoti, whom he was later to immortalize in verse. In their evenings together, Marash Uci told the young priest of the heroic battles between the Albanian highlanders and the Montenegrins, in particular of the famed battle at the Rrzhanica Bridge in which Marash Uci had taken part himself. The first parts of ‘The highland lute,’ subtitled ‘At the Rrzhanica Bridge,’ were published in Zadar in 1905 and 1907, with subsequent and enlarged editions appearing in 1912, 1923, 1931 and 1933. The definitive edition of the work in thirty cantos was presented in Shkodra in 1937 to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the declaration of Albanian independence. Despite the success of ‘The highland lute’ and the preeminence of its author, this and all other works by Gjergj Fishta were banned after the Second World War when the communists came to power. The epic was, however, republished in Rome 1958, Ljubljana 1990 and Rome 1991, and exists in German and Italian translations.

‘The highland lute’ is certainly the most powerful and effective epic to have been written in Albanian. Gjergj Fishta chose as his subject matter what he knew best: the heroic culture of his native northern Albanian mountains. It was his intention with this epic, an unprecedented achievement in Albanian letters, to present the lives of the northern Albanian tribes and of his people in general in a heroic setting.

In its historical dimensions, ‘The highland lute’ begins with border skirmishes between the Hoti and Gruda tribes and their equally fierce Montenegrin neighbours in 1858. The core of the work (cantos 6-25) is devoted to the events of 1878-1880, i.e. the Congress of Berlin which granted Albanian borderland to Montenegro, and the resultant creation of the League of Prizren to defend Albanian interests. Subsequent cantos cover the Revolution of the Young Turks which initially gave Albanian nationalists some hope of autonomy, and the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913 which led to the declaration of Albanian independence.

It was the author’s fortune at the time to have been at the source of the only intact heroic society in Europe. The tribal structure of the inhabitants of the northern Albanian Alps differed radically from the more advanced and ‘civilized’ regions of the Tosk south. What so fascinated foreign ethnographers and visitors to northern Albania at the turn of the century was the staunchly patriarchal society of the highlands, a system based on customs handed down for centuries by tribal law, in particular by the Code of Lekë Dukagjini. All the distinguishing features of this society are present in ‘The highland lute’: birth, marriage and funerary customs, beliefs, the generous hospitality of the tribes, their endemic blood-feuding, and the besa, absolute fidelity to one’s word, come what may.

‘The highland lute’ is strongly inspired by northern Albanian oral verse, both by the cycles of heroic verse, i.e. the octosyllabic Këngë kreshnikësh (Songs of the frontier warriors), similar to the Serbo-Croatian juna…ke pjesme, and by the equally popular cycles of historical verse of the eighteenth century, similar to Greek klephtic verse and to the haidutska pesen of the Bulgarians. Fishta knew this oral verse which was sung by the Gheg mountain tribes on their one-stringed lahutas, and relished its language and rhythm. The narrative of the epic is therefore replete with the rich, archaic vocabulary and colourful figures of speech used by the warring highland tribes of the north and does not make for easy reading nowadays, even for the northern Albanians themselves. An intimate link to oral literature is of course nothing unusual for an epic poem, though some authors have criticized Fishta for ‘folklorism,’ for imitating folklore instead of producing a truly literary epic. The standard meter of ‘The highland lute’ is a trochaic octameter or heptameter which is more in tune with Albanian oral verse than is the classical hexameter of Latin and Greek epics. The influence of the great epics of classical antiquity, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Vergil’s Aeneid, is nonetheless ubiquitous in ‘The highland lute,’ as a number of scholars, in particular Maximilian Lambertz and Giuseppe Gradilone, have pointed out. Many parallels in style and content have thus transcended the millennia. Fishta himself later translated book five of the Iliad into Albanian.

Among the major stylistic features which characterize ‘The highland lute,’ and no doubt most other epics, are metaphor, alliteration and assonance, as well as archaic figures of speech and hyperbole. The predominantly heroic character of the narrative with its extensive battle scenes is fortunately counterbalanced with lyric and idyllic descriptions of the natural beauty of the northern Albanian Alps which give ‘The highland lute’ a lightness and poetic grace it might otherwise lack.

‘The highland lute’ relies heavily on Albanian mythology and legend. The work is permeated with mythological figures of oral literature who, like the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece, observe and, where necessary, intervene in events. Among them are the zanas, dauntless mountain spirits who dwell near springs and torrents and who bestow their protection on Albanian warriors; the oras, female spirits whose very name is often taboo; the vampire-like lugats; the witch-like shtrigas; and the drangues, semi-human figures born with wings under their arms and with supernatural powers, whose prime objective in life is to combat and slay the seven-headed fire-spewing kulshedras.

The fusion of the heroic and the mythological is equally evident in a number of characters to whom Fishta attributes major roles in ‘The highland lute’: Oso Kuka, the fierce and valiant warrior who prefers death over surrender to his Slavic enemy; the old shepherd Marash Uci who admonishes the young fighters to preserve their freedom and not to forget the ancient ways and customs; and the valiant maiden Tringa, caring for her brother and resolved to defend her land.

The heroic aspect of life in the mountains is one of the many characteristics the northern Albanian tribes have in common with their southern Slavic, and in particular Montenegrin, neighbours. The two peoples, divided as they are by language and by the bitter course of history, have a largely common culture. Although the Montenegrins serve as ‘bad guys’ in the glorification of the author’s native land, Fishta was not uninfluenced or unmoved by the literary achievements of the southern Slavs in the second half of the nineteenth century, in particular by epic verse of Slavic resistance to the Turks. We have referred to the role played by Franciscan pater Grga Martic whose works served the young Fishta as a model while the latter was studying in Bosnia. Fishta was also influenced by the writings of an earlier Franciscan writer, Andrija Kacic-Miosic (1704-1760), Dalmatian poet and publicist of the Enlightenment who is remembered in particular for his Razgovor ugodni naroda slovinskoga, 1756 (Pleasant talk of Slavic folk), a collection of prose and poetry on Serbo-Croatian history, and by the works of Croatian poet Ivan Mazhuranic (1814-1890), author of the noted romantic epic Smrt Smail-age Cengica, 1846 (The death of Smail Aga). A further source of literary inspiration for Fishta was the Montenegrin poet-prince Petar Petrovic Njegos (1813-1851). It is no coincidence that the title ‘The highland (or mountain) lute’ is very similar to Gorski vijenac, 1847 (The mountain wreath), Njegos’ verse epic of Montenegro’s heroic resistance to the Turkish occupants, which is now generally regarded as the national epic of the Montenegrins and Serbs. Fishta proved that the Albanian language, too, was capable of a refined literary epic of equally heroic proportions.

Although Gjergj Fishta is remembered primarily as an epic poet, his achievements are actually no less impressive in other genres, in particular as a lyric and satirical poet. Indeed, his lyric verse is regarded by many scholars as his best.

Fishta’s first publication of lyric poetry, Vierrsha i pershpirteshem t’kthyem shcyp, Shkodra 1906 (Spiritual verse translated into Albanian), was of strong Catholic inspiration. Here we find translations of the great Italian poets such as the Arcadian Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782) of Rome, romantic novelist and poet Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873) of Milan whom Fishta greatly admired, the patriotic Silvio Pellico (1789-1845) of Turin, and lyricist and literary historian Giacomo Zanella (1820-1888) of Vicenza, etc.

Fishta’s first collection of original lyric verse was published under the title Pika voëset, Zadar 1909 (Dewdrops), and dedicated to his contemporary Luigj Gurakuqi. It was followed in 1913, at the dawn of Albanian independence, by the first edition of Mrizi i zâneve, Shkodra 1913 (Noonday rest of the Zanas), which includes some of the religious verse of Pika voëset. The general tone of Mrizi i zâneve is, however, much more nationalist than spiritual, the patriotic character of the collection being substantially underlined in the subsequent expanded editions of 1924, 1925 and in the definitive posthumous edition of 1941. Poems such as Shqypnija (Albania), Gjuha shqype (The Albanian language), Atdheut (To the fatherland), Shqypnija e lirë (Free Albania) and Hymni i flamurit kombtár (Hymn to the national flag) express Fishta’s satisfaction and pride in Albania’s history and in its new-found independence. Also included in this volume is the allegorical melodrama Shqyptari i gjytetnuem (The civilized Albanian man) and its sequel Shqyptarja e gjytetnueme (The civilized Albanian woman).

With his nationalist verse concentrated in the above volume, Fishta collected his religious poetry in the 235-page edition Vallja e Parrîzit, Shkodra 1925 (The dance of paradise). The verse in this collection, including poems such as Të kryqzuemt (The crucifixion), Të zânun e pafaj të Virgjërês Mri (The immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary), Nuntsiata (The annunciation) and Shë Françesku i Asizit (St Francis of Assisi), constitutes a zenith of Catholic literature in Albania.

Gjergj Fishta was also a consummate master of satirical verse, using his wit and sharpened quill to criticize the educational shortcomings and intellectual sloth of his Scutarine compatriots. His was not the benevolent, exhortative irony of Çajupi, but rather biting, pungent satire, often to the point of ruthlessness, the poetic equivalent of the blunt satirical prose of Faik bey Konitza. Fishta had printed many such poems in the periodical Albania using the telling pseudonym ‘Castigat ridendo.’ In 1907, he published, anonymously, the 67-page satirical collection Anxat e Parnasit, Sarajevo 1907 (The wasps of Parnassus), which laid the foundations for satire as a poetic genre in Albanian literature and which is regarded by many critics as the best poetry he ever produced. In the first of the satires, Nakdomonicipedija (A lesson for Nakdo Monici), he turns to his friend, Jesuit writer and publisher Dom Ndoc Nikaj, whom he affectionately calls by his pen name Nakdo Monici, to convey his sympathy that the latter’s 416-page Historia é Shcypniis (History of Albania), published in Brussels in 1902, had not received due attention among their compatriots. The Albanians were quite indifferent to their own history and indeed to their present sorry state in general. The reason for this indifference, Fishta tells us, was a contest between St Nicholas and the devil. St Nicholas had sailed the seas at the command of the Almighty to sell reason and taste. The devil, for his part, competed with a ship full of old boots which he offered for sale. When the two merchants arrived at the port of Shëngjin, the Albanians took counsel and decided to go for the boots on credit. With such uneducated masses, Fishta recommends that Nikaj take solace in the aloof and cynical attitude of Molière’s Tartuffe. Anxat e Parnasit, later spelled Anzat e Parnasit, which contains many a delightfully spicy expression normally unbecoming to a mild Franciscan priest, was republished in 1927, 1928, 1942 and 1990, and made Fishta many friends and enemies.

Gomari i Babatasit, Shkodra 1923 (Babatasi’s ass), is another volume of amusing satire, published under the pseudonym Gegë Toska while Fishta was a member of the Albanian parliament. In this work, which enjoyed great popularity at the time, he rants at false patriots and idlers.

Aside from the above-mentioned melodramas, Fishta was the author of several other works of theatre, including adaptations of a number of foreign classics, e.g., the three-act I ligu per mend, Shkodra 1931 (Le malade imaginaire), of Molière, and Ifigenija n’Aullí, Shkodra 1931 (Iphigenia in Aulis), of Euripides. Among other dramatic works he composed and/or adapted at a time when Albanian theatre was in its infancy are short plays of primarily religious inspiration, among them the three-act Christmas play Barìt e Betlêmit (The shepherds of Bethlehem); Sh’ Françesku i Asisit, Shkodra 1912 (St Francis of Assisi); the tragedy Juda Makabé, Shkodra 1923 (Judas Maccabaeus); Sh. Luigji Gonzaga, Shkodra 1927 (St Aloysius of Gonzaga); and Jerina, ase mbretnesha e luleve, Shkodra 1941 (Jerina or the queen of the flowers), the last of his works to be published during his lifetime.

The national literature of Albania had been something of a Tosk prerogative until the arrival of Gjergj Fishta on the literary scene. He proved that northern Albania could be an equal partner with the more advanced south in the creation of a national culture. The acclaim of ‘The highland lute’ has not been universal, though, in particular among Tosk critics. Some authors have regarded his blending of oral and written literature as disastrous and others have simply regarded such a literary epic with a virtually contemporary theme as an anachronism in the twentieth century. Only time will tell whether Fishta can regain his position as ‘national poet’ after half a century of politically motivated oblivion.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Gjergj Fishta was indeed universally recognized as the ‘national poet.’ Austrian Albanologist Maximilian Lambertz (1882-1963) described him as "the most ingenious poet Albania has ever produced" and Gabriele D’Annunzio called him "the great poet of the glorious people of Albania." For others he was the "Albanian Homer."

After the war, Fishta was nonetheless attacked and denigrated perhaps more than any other pre-war writer and fell into prompt oblivion. The national poet became an anathema. The official Tirana ‘History of Albanian Literature’ of 1983, which carried the blessing of the Albanian Party of Labour, restricted its treatment of Fishta to an absolute minimum: "The main representative of this clergy, Gjergj Fishta (1871-1940), poet, publicist, teacher and politician, ran the press of the Franciscan order and directed the cultural and educational activities of this order for a long time. For him, the interests of the church and of religion rose above those of the nation and the people, something he openly declared and defended with all his demagogy and cynicism, [a principle] upon which he based his literary work. His main work, the epic poem, Lahuta e Malësisë (The highland lute), while attacking the chauvinism of our northern neighbours, propagates anti-Slavic feelings and makes the struggle against the Ottoman occupants secondary. He raised a hymn to patriarchalism and feudalism, to religious obscurantism and clericalism, and speculated with patriotic sentiments wherever it was a question of highlighting the events and figures of the national history of our Rilindja period. His other works, such as the satirical poem Gomari i Babatasit (Babatasi’s ass), in which public schooling and democratic ideas were bitterly attacked, were characteristic of the savage struggle undertaken by the Catholic church to maintain and increase its influence in the intellectual life of the country. With his art, he endeavoured to pay service to a form close to folklore. It was often accompanied by prolixity, far-fetched effects, rhetoric, brutality of expression and style to the point of banality, false arguments which he intentionally endeavours to impose, and an exceptionally conservative attitude in the field of language. Fishta ended his days as a member of the academy of fascist Italy."

The real reason for Fishta’s fall from grace after the ‘liberation’ in 1944 is to be sought, however, not in his alleged pro-Italian or clerical proclivities, but in the origins of the Albanian Communist Party itself. The ACP, later to be called the Albanian Party of Labour, had been founded during the Second World War under the auspices of the Yugoslav envoys Dusan Mugosa (1914-1973) and Miladin Popovic (1910-1945). In July 1946, Albania and Yugoslavia signed a Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance and a number of other agreements which gave Yugoslavia effective control over all Albanian affairs, including the field of culture. Serbo-Croatian was introduced as a compulsory subject in all Albanian high schools and by the spring of 1948, plans were even under way for a merger of the two countries. It is no doubt the alleged anti-Slavic sentiments expressed in ‘The highland lute’ which caused the work and its author to be proscribed by the Yugoslav authorities, even though Fishta was educated in Bosnia and inspired by Serbian and Croatian literature. In fact, it is just as ridiculous to describe ‘The highland lute’ as anti-Slavic propaganda as it would be to describe El Cid and the Chanson de Roland as anti-Arab propaganda. They are all historical epics with heroes and foreign enemies. The so-called anti-Slavic element in Fishta’s work was also stressed in the first post-war edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia of Moscow, which reads as follows (March 1950): "The literary activities of the Catholic priest Gjergj Fishta reflect the role played by the Catholic clergy in preparing for Italian aggression against Albania. As a former agent of Austro-Hungarian imperialism, Fishta, in the early years of his literary activity, took a position against the Slavic peoples who opposed the rapacious plans of Austro-Hungarian imperialism in Albania. In his chauvinistic, anti-Slavic poem ‘The highland lute,’ this spy extolled the hostility of the Albanians towards the Slavic peoples, calling for an open fight against the Slavs."

After relations with Yugoslavia were broken off in 1948, it is quite likely that expressions of anti-Montenegrin or anti-Serb sentiment would no longer have been considered a major sin in Party thinking, but an official position had been taken with regard to Fishta and, possibly with deference to the new Slav allies in Moscow, it could not be renounced without a scandal. Gjergj Fishta , who but a few years earlier had been lauded as the national poet of Albania, disappeared from the literary scene, seemingly without a trace. Such was the fear of him in later years that his bones were even dug up and secretly thrown into the river.

Yet despite four decades of unrelenting Party harping and propaganda reducing Fishta to a ‘clerical and fascist poet,’ the people of northern Albania, and in particular the inhabitants of his native Shkodra, did not forget him. After almost half a century, Gjergj Fishta was commemorated openly for the first time on 5 January 1991 in Shkodra. During the first public recital of Fishta’s works in Albania in forty-five years, the actor at one point hesitated in his lines and was immediately and spontaneously assisted by members of the audience - who still knew many parts of ‘The highland lute’ by heart.

04-26-2010, 05:48 PM
Good post, its interesting to learn about the culture of the Albanians.
What are Muslim Albanians called though? I noticed Ghegs and toscs, but not a 3rd group.
Which group of Albanians do you belong to if you don't mind me asking?

04-26-2010, 06:03 PM
Good post, its interesting to learn about the culture of the Albanians.
What are Muslim Albanians called though? I noticed Ghegs and toscs, but not a 3rd group.
Which group of Albanians do you belong to if you don't mind me asking?

- Ghegh(North) and Tosk(South) are terms of the two main dialects of Albanians. There are both muslim Gheghs and Tosks. There is not any specific term give to people based on religion except "Christian" or "Muslim". People identify more with their regions/tribe than religion though.

Im from Kelmend in Northern Albania, so im a Ghegh. People from the area of Malesia e Madhe(which Kelmend is part of) in Northern Albania are usually referred to as "Malesors". Heres a site with some info about Kelmend:


04-26-2010, 10:18 PM
- Ghegh(North) and Tosk(South) are terms of the two main dialects of Albanians. There are both muslim Gheghs and Tosks. There is not any specific term give to people based on religion except "Christian" or "Muslim". People identify more with their regions/tribe than religion though.

Im from Kelmend in Northern Albania, so im a Ghegh. People from the area of Malesia e Madhe(which Kelmend is part of) in Northern Albania are usually referred to as "Malesors". Heres a site with some info about Kelmend:


Ah, I understand now. I presumed the groups were arranged by religion. I guess it helps in a way that the groups aren't based on religion, because if they were there might eventually be break-away ethnic groups.

Do the Gheghs inhabit Macedonia as well or is that a different group? I suppose in a way the only equiavlent to we have here in the UK to the Albanian groups are the Scottish clans, although they exist here today in name only really.

04-26-2010, 10:30 PM
Tonsor, can you provide some demographical data of Albanians by religion? I mean - is there a difference between the population growth of Muslims and Christians? :)

04-29-2010, 01:38 PM
Tonsor, can you provide some demographical data of Albanians by religion? I mean - is there a difference between the population growth of Muslims and Christians? :)

Census of population and religions will be calculated this year, and will included also atheist and agnostic (also protestants) which is expected to have a very large of %.

Do the Gheghs inhabit Macedonia as well or is that a different group? I suppose in a way the only equiavlent to we have here in the UK to the Albanian groups are the Scottish clans, although they exist here today in name only really.

In Macedonia are 85% Gegs speaking (North and Western part) and 15% Tosks speaking (Southern part)

Here are map of albanian dialects/sub-dialects.

04-29-2010, 01:59 PM
Tonsor, can you provide some demographical data of Albanians by religion? I mean - is there a difference between the population growth of Muslims and Christians? :)

- Well, traditionally Catholics lived in the Northern parts while Orthodox in the South, while Muslims inhabited central parts but also considerate populations living in both South and North. There are right now not any good data on this, most is outdated and not valid. But there has been much migrations and the demographics therefore have changed, as well as many don't have a religious affiliation like Prengs mentioned, which will affect a new statistic. Also Christian-Muslim marriages are not uncommon, and some tribes are both Muslim and Christian. As for population growth among the different religions i am not sure, because i haven't seen any good data on this yet.

05-01-2010, 10:14 PM
Albanian traditional dances


Traditional Albanian dances are part of the national artistic culture and are mainly associated with holiday celebrations. There are two genres of dance: lyric dance and epic dance.

Lyric dance takes a big place in the choreographic folklore. Most commonly, they are danced by women, although sometimes they can be danced by men and women together. Lyric dance branches in the following kinds: ritual dance, wedding dance, funny dance and pantomime dance.

Epic dances are characterized by strength, bravery, fighting and glory and they are usually danced by men.

Sometimes dances will combine both epic and lyric forms of dance, such as dances from Labinoti, Elbasani and Hasi.

Within its national elements, Albanian dance has characteristics of certain regions and dances of those regions have minor differences between them. Toskeria, Myzeqea, Laberia and Çameria dances are characterized by accompanying the dance with polyphonic singing. Dances of Lunxheria and Zagoria (etc) create choreographic unities according to geographic specifics. Dances of Shpatiti, Dumrea, Polisi (Elbasan) and etc are marked by accompanying polyphonic and homophonic vocals. Eastern regions of Central Albania (Çermenika, Gryka e Zaranikes, Polisi, Rajces, Tirana, Kruja, Martaneshi, Mati) are marked with dances featuring two men which are accompanied with drums and tzurle (an Albanian wind instrument). Regions of middle and northern Albania, including Kosova and other ethnic Albanian regions feature dances performed by many female dancers separated from each other in a free style dance.

The particularity of various dances can be observed in their motives and formations. Motives are expressed in three main types: a) two steps dance b) three steps dance, and c) four step dance. According to their formations, dances can be performed by large groups and by solo artists. There are three types of dance for large groups: a) dance in the closed circle, b) dance in the semi circle, and d) dance in two rows opposite to each other. Solo dances can be performed by just one person, but can also include dances by groups of any number of people, but who do not dance in unison.

In the frameworks of the syncrectis study of the folk choreographic art, special attention has been devoted to musical accompaniment. The close connection between music and dances is achieved, besides other things, through a very important means of expression, such as the rhythm. The latter could be produced by means of the voice(the song), musical instruments or, when they are lacking, by other means, by way of beatings. Just as in world choreography, in the Albanian folk dances, too, movement and rhythm are the fundamental structural units. The ratios between them are expressed in the indispensability of each movement executed at a given value of time.

The music of Albanian folk dances, as a component part of our whole folk music,
has a very rich rhythm. It is organized by a simple rhythmical measure( two units 2/8, 2/4; three units 3/8, 3/4), composite rhythmical measure(four units 4/8, 4/4; six units 6/8, 6/4), mixed-(five units 5/8, 5/4; seven units 7/8, 7/4; nine units 9/8, 9/4; twelve units 12/8) and at free rhytmical measure: rubato or ad libitum. Within this contexts, of course, the dances of each region has their own characteristics, too. On the other hand, the changes in the rhythm in the choreographic accompaniments are conditioned also by other indices. Thus, for instance, the womens dances are characterized by simple rhytms, whereas those for men by composite or mixed rhythms.

Several Albanian folk dances, which have entered the golden fund of our folklore, do not have musical accompaniments, and can be described as silent dances. However the truth is that they, too, have an internal rhythm, being an expression of the spiritual world of the dancers. Besides, here and there, in some cases, in such dances the people watching the dancers may sing, as well.
The group of the silent dances may also include those moments when, before musical accompaniment starts(which is usually performed by songs), the dancers dance in silence, and thus, by intuition, they assume precisely the rhythm which will accompany the dance later. Such choreographic creations are mainly executed in group in the zones of North-Western Albania.

05-01-2010, 10:24 PM
Albanian Sword Dance


Sword dances are recorded from throughout world history. There are various traditions of solo and mock battle (Pyrrhic) sword dances from Greece, to the Middle East, while all known linked ("hilt-and-point") sword dances are from Europe.

General sword dance forms includes:
Solo dancers around swords such as the traditional Scottish sword dances. This general form also encompasses non-sword dances such as the bacca pipes jig in Cotswold morris dance, mock battle dances, including many stick dances from non-sword traditions, and such common continental dances as Buffins or Matachin hilt-and-point sword dances where the dancers are linked together by their swords in a chain. These form the basis for rapper sword and long sword forms.

Mock battle

Mock battle sword dances are found worldwide, varying from the Greek Xiphism, the Saltatio Armatum of the ancient Romans, through Turkish, Persian and Middle Eastern traditions. Some European sword dances, such as the dance from the island of Korcula in Croatia, include both hilt-and-point and mock battle sequences.


Hilt-and-point sword dances are, or were, performed all over Europe. These are particularly concentrated in an area corresponding to the boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire at around 1400-1500, and many of these traditional dances are still performed in Germany, Austria and the Flanders. Linked sword dances were also found all over the Iberian Peninsula, and are still widely performed in the Basque Country.

Sword dances performed by the guilds of Smiths and Cutlers in Nuremberg are recorded from 1350. 16th century records of sword dances survive from all over Germany. Depictions of dances survive from Zürich (1578) and Nuremberg (1600)

Hilt-and-point sword dances traditional to England include rapper sword and long sword, although both of these are now also performed by revival teams outside their traditional areas, including teams in most of the English-speaking world. English sword dancing has also been brought to the New World, initially as part of the "morris revival" of the 1970s and 1980s. Teams are now extant in most major metropolitan areas in North America. The New York Sword Ale is an annual gathering over Presidents' Day weekend that brings together over a dozen sword teams form the east coast and around the world.

The Pyrrhic dance was introduced into Rome by Julius Caesar, who added it to the public games, and caused it to be performed by children. It was very popular among the Romans, and exhibitions of it were frequently given by the Emperors Nero, Caligula, and Adrian. The Pyrrhic dance was performed in Sparta, by boys of fifteen. This was in the third century. A martial dance, much of the character of the Pyrrhic, is said to be practised in the present day in Albania, and also in the Island of Candia.

Albanian Dance is usually danced by the Albanians in full armour, and is supposed to be the ancient Pyrrhic dance. Wilder groups amuse themselves in the Pyrrhic dance of the Spacchiotes, danced in short kirtles, long boots, with a quiver of arrows and bent bow. A man waves nods his head or waves a handkerchief, to mark the time.

05-01-2010, 10:59 PM
Albanian Iso-Polyphony music


It is commonly known that other art genres such as music, architecture, sculpture and painting were not unknown in Albania, and at some time even reached a high peak, as can be seen from the archeological data. Despite the romantic dressing of the following statement, it is said that in the old times “the Albanians dedicated the city of Apolonia to the Godess of music” and “the locals called their place Myzeqe”. According to Konica, a well-known Albanian man of letters, there is an assumption that the polyphonic music must have had its source in Albania, which did not fail to escape the attention of the Italian visitors. Further on, antiquity authors have mentioned common folk tales on the mythization of the music on the part of the Illyrians (forefathers to Albanians). One of these folk tales is related to the death of Great Pan. According to Pluto, a ship first announced his death by the Lake Pelod (Lake Butrinti, South Albania), which was followed by moaning in group, as if a number of humans were moaning in chorus. It is yet unclear why the reference is made to the Lake Butrinti, but it is thought that the polyphonic moaning would therefore be the most complete requiem for the famous Pan’s death.
By further looking into the documents from our musical archeology, I would also mention a ring dating as back as the XV century BC, on whose stone was carved the figure of Great Pan, with horns on his head and sheep’s legs, blowing a double-fluted musical instrument. This evidence confirms the existence of the polyphonic instruments right from the structure, such as the type of the double flute, in South-West Albania, in Apolonia, in the IV-III century BC. It has also been pointed out that the existence of the polyphony among the Arbereshi, (Albanian emigrants in Italy), confirms that in the XIV-XV century, the time when they emigrated to Italy, the polyphony used to be a musical reality common to all in South Albania.

Despite failing to have the evidence of the sound aspect of our polyphony in the ancient times, we may still say that the existence of certain genres in our polyphonic folk music, such as in the polyphonic songs of mythological origin or in the ritual dances, can prove that the polyphony has continually been co-existing side by side with the genre. We can notice in this kind of song, an ancient layer of mythological origin, a series of calls which bring the echo of the ancient ritual-magical practices. For instance we can mention such stereotype patterns at the beginning of the songs “Oy lia oy” / Vay lia vay / Vay duduk vay ! etc. Special attention would have to be paid to the ballads as well as lyrical songs which are sung and danced in polyphony. Among the most typical are Dhoqina’s song, to be found in a large area including Durres, Gramsh, Pogradec (its traces can be found in Korca too), Permet, Libohova, Gjirokastra, Berat, Fier, Vlora, Saranda, Cameria; as well as in the polyphonic songs “Scanderbeg, brave like a lion” and that of “Gjorg Golemi” etc.

The south folk culture has retained a number of other non-musical elements, which come from the distant past of these regions. From the clothes’ aspect, we may mention the men’s “fustanella” (kind of a kilt), which used to be widely used all over West Balkan, in particular in Illyria and Epirus. There is also archeological evidence from an item found in Maribor, Slovenia in the 5th century BC, followed by the figure of a man on a grave stone of the 3d century in Smokthine (Mesaplik, Vlora), a terracotta in the 4th century, found in Durres etc. Besides the “fustanelle”, we may mention one of the oldest garments for women, which is a kind of suit with a long shirt, a long front and a similar back. In these regions, they also mention the Illyrian “dalmatika”, which used to be a long shirt with sleeves, like the one worn by the master carved on a grave stone found in Drashovica, Vlora, dating in the 2nd century. Even on another gravestone of 2nd or 3d century, found in Korca, there are to smiths wearing “dalmatika”. Another ancient Illyrian element is the plain local “opinga”, (kind of mocassina). Besides, the unity of the common anthropological characteristics from the Illyrians to the Southern Albanians of nowadays, is an indicator to the bio-communicative continuity and a reason to use the anthropological data as historical source.

What should be mentioned concerning the study of polyphony, relates to the fact that the Albanian polyphonic folk music used to be almost unexplored until the 40s in the 20th century, because “ …prior to the country’s liberation, nobody had ever been involved in musical research, hence we inherited no scientific materials from the past”. The reasons to this fact may be various, but it should be pointed out that the Albanian folk music had not yet become a subject for research, and neither had the iso-polyphony, which still remains one of the most elite phenomena of our folk music. Nevertheless, despite the lack of genuine research on the folk polyphony, there used to be a general interest in the Albanian folk singing with many voices, often present in various works, either in fiction, visible arts or other genres or aspects of letters, which, as far as we have explored until nowadays, dates back as early as the early decades of the 17th century. This interest came from and was related to the fact that “Medieval Albania had the view of rough mountainous country, a typical zone to shelter “relics”, retaining archaic attributes of tangible and spiritual culture of the social organization”.

First of all, some important data for the identification of the polyphonic singing in South Albania, was given by Evlija Celebi Sejjahatnamesi, in his travel descriptions in 1660-1664. He wrote that “…the local people in Gjirokastra have another strange custom: they moan the people who deceased even 70 or 80 years before. Every Sunday, all relatives, assemble in a house to pay homage to the deceased, hiring moaners to moan with great grief and loud painful voice, with tears pouring from their eyes. On this day, the man can hardly stand the moaners’ agitation. I baptized Gjirokastra as the moaning city.”

From the Albanian authors, we mention the fresco painted by David Selenicasi, in 1715, which can be found in the monastery “Great Laura, virgin Kukuzelisa’s hat”, in Mount Athos. The fresco presents four women dancing accompanied by a small orchestra with two aerophones and two cordophones. According to F. Hudhri, in this work, you can notice a lively way of treating the figures, leaving aside the dogmas imposed by the Byzantine canons. After this, there is a single sentence taken from Marie Wortley Montague’s work, “Letters and works”, where, following her visit in Albania in 1817, she wrote about the Albanians that “They are all dressed and armed on their money, some really stately men, dressed in clean white linen, holding very long rifles as if not feeling their weight at all, with their leader giving off a rough, not unpleasant singing, and with the others making the chorus”.

We find polyphony traces in the arts even in two frescos painted by Albanian painters in 1744. The first presents a little shepherd playing his flute, painted by Konstandin Shpataraku, in the church of Saint Vasil in Voskopoja, and the second, painted by Zografi, presents two shepherds, with the second in the background, with the sheep around, also playing the flute in a typical background. In the works of F.C. Pouqeville “Voyage en Moree, a Constantinople, en Albanie” (pendant les annees 1789-1801), the author remarks about the dance in singing, writing that “… the people living by the mount Akroqerame, associate this dance with singing, which comes from the well known time of Scanderbeg, using it to provoke the Omans’ vanishing”. In the other work, “Voyage de la Greece”, published in 1826, he explains among others his impression from a song he had heard near Lukova, with the words: “…the Albanians sang with so loud a voice, that it could pierce your ears”, which we think is nothing but the singing in group of a polyphonic song.

Personally speaking, I think that the most adequate literary description of the Albanian polyphonic folk music is to be found in the work of J.C. Hobhouse “A journey through Albania and other provinces of Turkey during the year 1809-1810”. Polyphony has been referred to even in fictional works of autobiographical nature - by George Gordon Byron (1788-1824), in his work “Child Harold”. More general remarks for the polyphonic singing in the South and among the Arvanitas can be found in the work “Travel in the Ionian Isles, Albania, Thesaly, during the years 1812-1813”. Very interesting data with remarks on the polyphony in the first half of the 19th century, comes from the travel to Albania, actually in Ioannina, in the period September-October 1830 from the well-known Benjamin Disrael, who would later become the British Premier for 12 years. In one of his letter from Iannina to his father, he wrote “…, one night, Mehmet Aga brought a group of singers who sang a ballad with iso about the murder of Veli Bey and other rebels”.

Further on, in the visible arts, we shall find other examples of the Albanian polyphonic folk music. In those years, (1820-1840), there were also three foreign painters with their oil paintings on this topic; A.Deka (1803-1860), in his work “Albanian dancers”, which was also explained in the work of T.S. Huges, “Albanitico” or the national dance of the Albanians palikaris, L. Zherom (1824-1904) and K.Udvil (1856-1927), both having a common title for their paintings “The singing Albanians”. In the work of Ami Boue “La Turquie d’Europe” published in Paris in 1840, we find the explanatory notes on the ways of singing of various peoples. Among others he pointed out that “the Greeks and zinzars sing better than the Slavs and the Southern Albanians are in between”.

From the lot of the foreign collectors and publishers of the polyphonic folk music, I would mention J.G.Hahn with his work “Albanesischen Studien” in 1854, which includes the well-known song of “Qabeja’s bridge”. In his article “On the Albanian poetry and music”, the Albanian man of letters Zef Jubani (1818-1880) was among the first to notice the polyphonic music of Myzeqe. He remarked that the local people still keep that name for the place, as this name means that these people have an inclination for music, which is still confirmed nowadays. When they feel touched and full of inspiration they can be seen as if drunk, murmuring excitedly and then is the moment that they compose songs about the taste of the marriage, with very serious and strange concepts, adjusting the sweet pathetic music in an original way. From this point of view, the Central Albania’s songs, i.e. in Myzeqe, are the best and the most required of this country.

Among the Albanian folk music collectors, we mention Thimi Mitko with his work “The Albanian bee”, prepared for publication in 1874. The polyphonic songs take an important part in his collection, and “relying on the generosity and the loyalty of my compatriots” he said, “I will make an effort in the second collection, to shed more light on the substance echoing all over Albania”. Even Faik Konica, who used to say in 1887, that what might offer some new interest , are the moaning, the grievous loud lament, lamentations and screaming as rhythmed by the women who used to improvise on the deceased’s grave, with the casual visitors passing by greatly surprised at the sight. In 1879, it was A. Dozon with his work “Manuel de la langue Chkipe (Albanian)”, where, in one of the songs, “Marriage customs at Permet” we find for the first time, some explanation about the town songs of the polyphonic music of the polyphonic music group of shaire-saze (instruments), together with the poetry behind the songs.

In the introduction of his work “The sea waves”, published in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1908, the folk music researcher Spiro Dine, explained the way he proceeded with the collection of the folk music from the Albanians: “…everywhere I found Albanians, I would beg them to tell me just the way they might know. Fortunately there were a lot of Albanians in Egypt. Cairo’s clubs were full of Southern or Northern Albanians and the dances and songs never seemed to end”. The same situation has been described in a creation “The song” written by Lumo Skendo in Istanbul on 20.10.1910: “Meci, despite his leaving his 40s and approaching his 50s, started singing with the other joining according their specific voices, having thus the Laberia song echoing in this small shop of vast Istanbul.”

In the 1930s, there was some interest shown by the Albanian composers in the iso-polyphonic folk music. Thoma Nasi (1892-1964) composed several works with this alignment such as “Lamenting”, “The shepherd’s flute” or “Four dances”. Whereas the composer Kristo Kono (1907-1991) attempted to make music “.. with an inspiration from the folk music of our region (Korce actually), in particular from the one based on the pentatonic pattern. I had started to collect the folk music and study its patterns since I was in Gjirokastra, either the ones on melody, or the ones on polyphony.” In 1935, in an article not related to music, Mehdi Frasheri pointed out that : “when we hear a Lab or Tosk (in South Albania) song, it rings a dear bell from within, bringing back old times to us, when these types of songs used to be in the agenda; we view them in connection with the old green years, whose memory brings back thrill and excitement.”

Even in the State Central Archive, there are a number of documents of the 1930s, which show an increase in the interest on the Albanian folk music and polyphony, particularly on the part of the foreign researchers and media. In a letter dated 7 January 1930, sent by Heinrich Schatz, Innsbruc-Hotting Riedg 8, he asked for gramophone disc with Albanian folk music, to be presented in a conference on Albania, to be held at the University of Insbrook, at the end of that year. The same was required by a German folk music researcher and the Czech one Artus Cernik, in 1931. In 1934, we learn of the official visit of an American musician to study Albanian music and in 1935, there is some correspondence between the Foreign Ministry and the Albanian representations in Athens and Paris, concerning the interest shown by the French researchers in the Albanian folk music. In this year, “L’Institute International de Cooperation Intellectuelle” in Paris, requested cooperation with the Albanian authorities, concerning the delivery of comprehensive documentation on the Albanian folk music and songs, which would share a place in the world encyclopedia “Musique et Chansons populaires”. Besides, J.Arbatski published an article “The music in Albania” in the Albanian press in 1939.

Interest in the Albanian traditions and folk music, was shown by the foreign film companies in the first decades of the 20th century, which produced several documentaries, revealing Albanians’ ethnographic and ethnomusical theasurus. The first were the brothers Manaki in 1906 who shot a film “The game of folk costumes”; they also did similar shootings in Korce, Permet, Kelcyre, Iannina. In 1913, the American William Hovard shot a documentary about the customs, traditions and folk costumes. The German Kabinetfilm shot a voiced documentary in 1932 with original folk music accompanying it. In 1936, the German film director Karl Gelbermen shot the documentary “A dream travel through Albania” with views from Korca, Ohri etc., showing folk costumes, traditions, songs and dances. We should also mention the long documentary “The brethrens”, shot by the Germans too, full of folk tales. Further on, there is a documentary, “Luce”, in 1940, revealing a group of young women from Hocisht, dressed in folk costumes.

References and more comprehensive reviews of the polyphonic folk music, can be seen in 1939, in the work of Prof. Eqerem Cabej “On the genesis of Albanian fiction” published in the magazine “The Light’s Star” (“Hylli i Drites”), which widely identifies and deals with the polyphony, without claiming its strictly technical-musical analysis. Faik Konica offers a more general consideration on polyphony in 1939, when he wrote that “the songs themselves are somber and monotonous, but they are the only example of the old folk music with varius reciting parts, as in some other parts the folk songs are sung harmonically. The songs are commonly devided in three parts: with two men singing in different voices, although combined, and the group supporting with a sostenuto similar to point d’orgue”. We continue with Mitrush Kuteli, who, in 1944, presented the polyphonic songs’ verses in his work “Songs and screams in the burnt town” accompanied by a simple transcription in the musical publication “Albanian Lyra” of Pjeter Dungu in 1940. Hence, until the 40s, despite the lack of genuine research and musical transcriptions on the polyphonic folk music, the polyphony itself used to be a musical universe spreading from birth to death in the life of Southern Albanians, as such being present in all the joys and sorrows.

The first research on the folk polyphony was conducted by Ramadan Sokoli in 1959, in his work “Our folk poliphony”, first published separately and then as part of his book “Albanian folk music”, Tirana, 1965. Despite its being but several pages, it did set the first clues concerning the study of our folk polyphony. In a few words, the author describes its geographical spread, the peculiarities of building the multi-voice, the pentatonic pattern of the Southern polyphony and other interesting data about it, together with some transcriptions of the polyphonic folk music. In this publication about the Albanian folk music, from the classification viewpoint, the polyphony takes a central part and is then treated besides the other aspects of our folk. Following this pioneer work, we noticed a gradual increase of the interest of the researchers in the phenomenon of the Albanian folk polyphony. We also mention several research articles on the vocal and instrumental polyphony; Benjamin Kruta’s monography “The South Albania’s two-voiced poliphony” and Spiro Shtuni’s “The Lab poliphony” published in 1989, as well as several publications with polyphonic musical transcriptions. The main tendency in the ethnological works on the the study of our polyphony, was to proceed from the total to the details, which is the analysis of the folk iso-polyphony even in a strictly technical way.

It is clear that this period, (1950-1990) is the most intensive concerning the study of our folk polyphony and the interest in it, was revealed not only in the number of the works and articles on it, but also the extent of the polyphonic matter collected, studied and transcripted. At this point we should mention our remarks concerning the level of the polyphonic musical transcriptions, which at a great extent were unsatisfactory, as on the other hand we should praise the great volume of professional work in the collection, recording and storing of the polyphonic musical matter in the musical archive of the IKP and RTV (The Folk Music Institute and the Radio-Television). We also really evaluate the activities, which in the last 50 years supported the awakening of the polyphony and the polyphonic groups.

The studies on the Albanian folk polyphony were further enriched when the foreign ethnomusicologists acknowledged the fact that the study of the folk polyphony in a wider sense, could not be conducted without the Albanian ethnomusicological factor. This fact might not have been present or undervaluated until the first decades of the 20th centuries, but later on helped to lead a number of foreign researchers into getting further deep into the significance of the Albanian folk polyphony as the key to many of their theses.

It would be common for much of the interest to come from the Balkan ethnomusicologists but even farther, due to the fact that “…in the Albanian folk music, we notice old forms and practices surviving until nowadays, which allow us to draw conclusions concerning earlier development stages”. It is unquestionable that the direct interest of the foreign researchers in the Albanian folk music polyphony, started with the first Albanian-German expedition in 1957. As a result of the publication of the records together with the associated studies, in a number of the most important European ethnomusicological press, there began a new era in the study of the Albanian folk music polyphony. In these years, and only for the Cam music for instance, it was acknowledged that “.. its analysis (Cam music), may give an impact to further explain the inner Albanian relationships, among the vocal practices of the various folk groups in South Balkan, more than it had been done that far”, as well as to offer new material to comparative studies “.. concerning the complex of problems of the folk polyphony in Europe”. However, despite the studies conducted so far, the remark made by A. L. Lloyd in the 60s that the Albanian folk music has been less studied than the songs of the Eskimos or the highlanders in New Guinea, seems to be right.

With regard to the recordings of the Albanian folk musical polyphony, it should be said that they are not earlier. Until the moment of the musical recordings, “…orality used to be the way of the existence and its essential mechanism to convey the artistic information, either vertically, from one generation to another, or horizontally, among the contemporaries.”

From what we know so far, the polyphonic folk music recordings (vocal and instrumental) date back to the first decades of the 20th century, which were done by the Albanian and European recording companies, to be later followed by full intensity recording. It serves to indicate that the folk music polyphony first presented itself rather than be studied.

In these years, as a result of the pressure of the demand from a great number of common people, a lot of western recording companies made hundreds of discs with Southern polyphonic folk music, among the most outstanding being the folk singer Q.A. Ruka and the polyphonic group of the Coast’s nightningale, Neco Muka. It was later further intensified with polyphonic groups increasing and their singers being affirmed, for instance the Tosk polyphonic group of Demir Zyko or the Lab one of Xhevat Avdalli, the group of Gjirokastra’s old men, the Coast group of Dhimiter Varfi, Smokthina group of Hysen Ruka; Benca group in the 70s, Lapardha-Vlora group and that of the youth in Gjirokastra in the 80s, the Lab group of Vezhdanisht in the 90s etc. A CD of Albanian music recorded in the 30s in Albania by foreign recording companies is under preparation to come out into the world market.

05-01-2010, 11:04 PM

05-01-2010, 11:22 PM
Informative posts. It's a pity I lack the time to read through them.

What I am particularly interested in is if there are any similarities between Albanian culture and their neighboring ones. South Slavic (Serbian and Macedonian i.e.)? Or Greeks? Does it have deeper roots in Ottoman culture perhaps, or even in Caucassian (Armenian, Georgian etc)?

Maybe it's a mixture? If so, what is the proportion of each segment?

Thank you. I would appreciate an answer :)

05-01-2010, 11:42 PM
Informative posts. It's a pity I lack the time to read through them.

What I am particularly interested in is if there are any similarities between Albanian culture and their neighboring ones. South Slavic (Serbian and Macedonian i.e.)? Or Greeks? Does it have deeper roots in Ottoman culture perhaps, or even in Caucassian (Armenian, Georgian etc)?

Maybe it's a mixture? If so, what is the proportion of each segment?

Thank you. I would appreciate an answer :)

- Its late, and its a complicated question in a way, but here goes.

Similarities? I am not very familiar with South-Slavic cultures, but i know we share some similarities when it comes to musical instruments like the bagpipe/gajde, Lahuta,.. the Greeks as well have iso-polyphony and wear fustanella. Music style and dances share perhaps some similarities, but not very close i would say. Some influences from the Ottoman empire might be, but not affecting the folkmusic and costumes as far as i know. As for Caucasians(Are you asking this because of the theory of our origins supposedly in Caucasian lands? Which is not true nor proven) i don't know what would be similarities, except for the Sword dance perhaps. Even though we have had different kind of rulers through course of histoy religion has always been seperated from culture. The influences are small and not any dominating part.

05-03-2010, 09:29 PM
Albanian folk dance and music

Northern Albania


Central Albania


Southern Albania


05-04-2010, 09:22 PM
More folk music


05-08-2010, 11:07 PM

05-09-2010, 12:58 PM
I like this dude. Epic hero material.


05-12-2010, 01:10 AM
Nora of Kelmendi


Nora of Kelmendi can be called the Helen of Albania, for a great war was caused by her beauty. But she can also be called the Albanian Brunhilde too, for she herself was the greatest woman warrior in the history of Albania and further. There are two versions of Nora and both versions end with Nora killing the Pasha (a Bosnian man ) who has been documented to have been the leader of the Ottoman Army and who had taken a Public Oath to turn the whole Malesia into ashes if Nora did not become his wife.

The events happened around The Year of the Lord 1620. Nora’s father, a Noble Fighter wanted a son to help him fight against the Ottoman empire. When Nora, a girl was born, he took her to an orphanage in Shkodra city and left her there. His sister, knowing the doings of her brother, took Nora back and raised her as a boy. Nora's biological father, having the desire to train some young man to become a fighter, decided to train the adapted “son” of his sister. Hence, unknowingly, he trained his own daughter to become a fighter. But there is no way in fighting biology, so when Nora grew up, she become Malesias most beautiful girl. It is said that she was as pretty as a true Zane (mountain fairy). Her fame spread through the whole country. Pasha who resided at the Rozafati Castle in Shkodra City, heard of her too. One day Nora came down to the city with her parents. Pasha came out of Castle and saw her. He fell in love.

Initially, he wanted to marry her by the laws of the Albanian Kanun, which meant he would send a trusted man to Nora’s house and ask for her hand. The Pasha himself had grown up in a similar tradition since is he was from Balkans too. However, Nora's family replied that the Albanian Kanun did not allow for marriages with non-Albanians. Pasha was not used to be refused by his high ranked officers, and he had a harem full of women from all over the world. Hence, the Bosnian Pasha went mad. "I'll burn all of Malesia to ashes he said, or Nora will become my wife".

That was not the first or the last time for Malesia to be burned to the ground. It was bound to happen either for taxes, solders or the refusal to recognize the Ottoman legal system, anyway. But the Pasha was serious. He lead his huge army and besieged Malesia.

Nora had proved to be a warrior. As a young woman she had proved to be the noblest and the most beautiful girl of all. But life had thrown yet another challenge at her. She had to prove that she was wise too, for wisdom is the thing most appreciated by the Maltsia people. So she devised the plan how to kill the mad Bosnian Pasha.

This is what happened. Nora pretended to want to marry the Pasha without the permission of her family. Dressed with the djubletah, she went to Pasha's tent. Seeing her, the Pasha fell on his knees and began to pray to the divinities believing she was a true gift from heaven as a reward by the almighty Allah for his services to Him. Pasha ordered his troops to rest and prepare to go back to Shkodra city. The solders were happy to lay down their spears and get their noses into their bags of hashash (a kind of drug).

While everything was quiet around the Pasha's tent, Nora pulled a dagger that her father had given to her, which he had gotten as a gift from his own father, who had gotten it as a gift from his own father and the genealogy of Nora’s Knife stretches who knows how far back. Point being, however, the dagger was in the family longer than anyone could remember. It was used strictly in wars, that is to say, the dagger was used only to kill people, or enemies as they called them to make themselves feel better. Most importantly, it was believed the dagger had magic powers, for no one who had carried it had died from enemy’s wounds. Now that was unusual at that time for a warrior family like that of Nora.

This time, though, it turned out to be a regular dagger, made of steel, by a smith in the Middle Ages. She stabbed the Pasha a few times, kicked him around the back of his head, and choked him a little so he would not scream. The Pasha fell on his Persian rug.

At that point Nora could no longer stab him for he was laying on the floor. As the Albanian customs go, you cannot hit a man that is not standing and further, cannot hit a man that does not fight back. Nora ran. As planned, at this time the Malesor army attacked the Ottomans army and destroyed them for god knows which time. But they always came back with more ready meat for the swords of Malesia.

Pasha survived the stabs. He got his own special unit and followed Nora to her home.

There comes in the second legend. After this second version, Nora never went to the tent, but as the men were fighting on one side and the Ottomans had sneaked a part of their army to attack the villages, she led an army of 300 women against the Ottomans who had decided to burn, rob and rape. It is said that Nora had a duel with Pasha and she killed him.

In both versions, Nora kills the Pasha in a fair duel. And in both stories he is from Bosnia and is called Vutsi Pasha.

It is proven historically that around 1620, the Bosnian Pasha, Vutsi Pasha, lead an expedition against the Malesia people and there are documents that say that a woman was one of the most distinguished warriors.

05-12-2010, 01:35 AM

06-03-2010, 10:02 PM

06-03-2010, 10:08 PM

Ismail Kadare is a world renowned Albanian writer. He was born on January 28, 1936 in Gjirokastër, Albania. He first studied at the Faculty of History and Philology at the University of Tirana and later at the Gorky Institute of World Literature in Moscow.

There are different opinions on whether Kadare was a dissident during the communist period. Some of his works, such as The Palace of dreams make strong parallels to show the evilness of the communist regime of Albania. There are however other voices opposed to the idea that Kadare was a dissident. These are based on the fact that Kadare had the support of the leader of the communist state of Albania, Enver Hoxha.

In 1960, when Albania broke off relations with the Soviet Union, Kadare returned home. He first became known there as a poetry writer, but in 1963 he published his first novel, The General of the Dead Army, which established his name as one of the most talented Albanian novelists. Since then, he has been a leading figure of Albanian cultural life. During the terror of the Enver Hoxha communist regime, Kadaré attacked totalitarianism and the principles of socialist realism with subtle allegories, though publicly he remained a supporter of the communist party, in order to be able to continue his work.

In 1990, just before the fall of communism in Albania, Kadare sought asylum in France, stating that "Dictatorship and authentic literature are incompatible... The writer is the natural enemy of dictatorship." For the last ten years he has divided his time between France and Albania.

Kadare moved to France in October 1990, just before the collapse of the regime. He was able to go and stay in France because of his status of intellectual, and won acclaim and honors by using his "dissident" status. In 1999 (after the Communist regime), Kadare returned to Albania.

Kadare is published in over forty countries all over the world and is considered to be one of the greatest writers of our times and a literary classic of the 20th century. He has been a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature and in 2005 he received the inaugural Man Booker International Prize. Some of his greatest works (some published in France) include:

My Century (Shekulli Im) 1961
The General of the Dead Army (Gjenerali i Ushtrisë së Vdekur) 1963
Why These Mountains Brood (Përse Mendohen Këto Male) 1964
The Wedding (Dasma) 1968
The Castle (Kështjella) 1970
Chronicle in Stone (Kronikë në gurë) 1971
The Great Winter (Dimri i Madh) 1977
The Three-Arched Bridge (Ura Me Tri Harqe) 1978
Broken April (Përilli i Thyer) 1980
Gjakftohtësia 1980
Literary Works (Vepra Letrare) 1981-1989
The Concert at the End of the Winter (Koncert në Fund të Dimrit) 1988
The Pyramid (La Pyramide) 1992
Albanie 1995
Poèmes 1997
Froides Fleurs D'Avril (Spring Flower, Spring Frost)2000
Elegy for Kosovo 2000

Albanian author Ismail Kadare wins Spanish literature prize:

Albanian writer Ismail Kadare was awarded Spain's Prince of Asturias literature prize on Wednesday in recognition of the social commitment in his work.

Describing him as one of the greatest authors in world literature, prize organizers said Kadare "represents the pinnacle of Albanian literature and, without forgetting his roots, has crossed frontiers to rise up as a universal voice against totalitarianism."

The 2009 award announced Wednesday is one of eight Asturias prizes bestowed each year in areas such as the arts, the sciences, international cooperation and communication.

Kadare's writings first attracted attention during the years of Enver Hoxha's repressive communist regime. A novelist, essayist and poet, his work gained greater international fame after he was granted political asylum in France in 1990.

Born in 1936 in Gjirokaster, Albania, a southern city where Hoxha was also born, Kadare's most popular novels include "The General of the Dead Army, "The Palace of Dreams""The Concert."

A regular nominee for the Nobel literature prize, Kadare won the first International Booker award in 2005. His books have been translated into more than 40 languages.

As a boy, Kadare witnessed World War II and the occupation of his country by fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, until Hoxha established his dictatorship in 1944, the foundation said in a biographical note.

A noted scholar of Albanian traditions and the oddities of the Balkan state, his works are often set around historic events affecting his country such as the break between Albania and the former Soviet Union, Catholic and Orthodox rivalries and the split between Tirana and Beijing, it added.

Kadare lives in Paris although he is known to travel regularly to Albania.

The Asturias awards include a €50,000 ($70,000) cash stipend and a sculpture by artist Joan Miro. The prizes are named after Spain's Crown Prince Felipe, whose formal title is prince of Asturias, a region of northern Spain.

Canadian author Margaret Atwood won the 2008 Prince of Asturias prize for letters.

09-09-2010, 11:02 PM

09-29-2010, 07:46 AM

11-10-2010, 11:24 PM
I wanted just post this:

Gli albanesi in italia (Albeneses in Italy)

Gli Albanesi, discendenti degli Illiri, sono un popolo sparso in tutto il mondo.

Sette sono state le immigrazioni in Italia:

- Prima immigrazione: 1416-1446 – I primi albanesi venuti in Italia furono i soldati al seguito di Demetrio Reres e dei suoi figli Giovanni e Basilio, inviati da Scanderbeg per difendere Alfonso d’Aragona contro il rivale Roberto d’Angiò.

- Seconda immigrazione: 1459-1461- Altri soldati albanesi, al seguito di Stresio, nipote di Scanderbeg, vennero per difendere la Casa aragonese contro un nutrito numero di baroni che si erano ribellati a Ferdinando I, successore di Alfonso.

- Terza immigrazione: 1468-1506 – Con la morte di Scanderbeg nel 1468, i Turchi invasero l’Albania intera, distruggendo ed incendiando le città. Per non sottomettersi al dominio turco, gli Albanesi s’insediarono in Calabria tra le pendici della Sila e la Valle destra del Crati.

- Quarta immigrazione: 1532-1534 – Gli albanesi della città di Corone, sempre più minacciati dai turchi, lasciarono la patria per sbarcare a Napoli, dirigendosi poi in Puglia, Lucania e Calabria, ripopolando o fondando nuove comunità.

- Quinta immigrazione: 1647-1664 – Anche gli albanesi della Morea lasciarono la propria terra per raggiungere la costa jonica e dirigersi verso la Basilicata.

- Sesta immigrazione: 1744 – La popolazione di Picherni, una piccola comunità situata tra i monti della Chimera, tra Illirio e l’Epiro, raggiunse l’Abruzzo, fondando Villa Badessa.

- Settima immigrazione: 1774-1825 – Diversi gruppi albanesi di incerta provenienza si stabilirono nel Pavese e nel Piacentino, altri in Basilicata.

E’ da ricordare però che già nel Medioevo molti furono gli albanesi che per motivi di lavoro si trasferirono a Venezia dove si distinsero per la professionalità e la cultura, fondando addirittura la cosiddetta “Scola degli Albanesi”, una confraternita con scopi umanitari verso i connazionali in difficoltà.

It is to remember that already in Middle Age many were the Albanians who for work reasons moved to Venice, where they distinguished for their professionality and their culture, founding the so called "School of Albaneses", a confraternity with humanitarian purposes towards connationals in difficulties.

Arberia is the name given in Italy to the Albanese community. I have read that also my town received in Middle Age a colony from Albania, who were escaping the Ottoman domination. So I would like to know your culture a bit more ^^
Some towns in Abruzzo were also founded by Illirians and then Italicized by the Italics, especially by Frentans.

11-10-2010, 11:46 PM
Albanians have managed to restore atleast some of their culture although alot of it is Islamized they still somehow managed to keep their traditions and probably more likely through lineage.

11-10-2010, 11:52 PM
Albanians have managed to restore atleast some of their culture although alot of it is Islamized they still somehow managed to keep their traditions and probably more likely through lineage.

The first waves were of soldiers. Then, if I have understood well, Albaneses repopulated some cities devasted by the pest.

11-10-2010, 11:54 PM
North-Albanian folk dance


South-Albanian folk dance

11-11-2010, 04:11 PM
Albanians have managed to restore atleast some of their culture although alot of it is Islamized they still somehow managed to keep their traditions and probably more likely through lineage.

- Care to elaborate? Our folk dresses, folkmusic/instruments, traditions and lifestyle has not changed because of religion to any noticeable extent. The Kanun, an old pre-Ottoman book of laws has and is still having more influence than any other religion have on our way of life. Im from Kelmend, in Northern Albania. The Turks never managed to control theese areas so how would they be able to impose their culture on the mountaineers then?

And even though many elsewhere in the country converted to Islam it didn't automatically mean that the whole culture of our people changed. Its not like there are huge cultural differences between lets say a Catholic, Muslim and a Orthodox Albanian. The difference being what godhouse they heed. Religion among Albanians is complicated for outsiders to understand. If the culture is largely Islamized why is the national hero Gjergj Kastrioti(Catholic warrior that fought against the Ottomans) still a celebrated person among Albanians of all religions? If there was this great leap of cultural impact like you say, it would be unthinkable for Albanians to marry Albanians with another religion. Which has been common for centuries. It is not unusual that familys and tribes are both Muslim and Christian. If religion would be a big deal we would have killed each other long ago and been assimilated into neighbour countries. Its because we have managed to seperate religion and culture we still are a united people today, despite not all belonging to the same religion.

Also bear in mind that during communism in Albania religion was prohibited, religious clerics arrested and godhouses(both mosques and churches) demolished all over the country. Therefore many have never even been to a mosque or a church. Which leads to Albanians that are "Muslims" may call themselves Christian, because they don't know Islam. Or as many, don't have a specific religious affiliation at all.
Only in recent years there has been a religious revival, but not enough that it makes a distinct impact on society. And religious extremism is rare and frowned upon by the vast majority. For example a couple of years ago a girl was refused entry to her school because she was wearing a hijab.

There is a spirit of independence and a love of their country, in the whole people, that, in a great measure, does away the vast distinction, observable in other parts of Turkey, between the followers of the two religions. For when the natives of other provinces, upon being asked who they are, will say, "we are Turks"(meaning muslim) or, "we are christians", a man of this country answers,

" I am an Albanian"

~J. C. Hobhouse Brughton, A Journey Through Albania 1809-1810, page 131~

Also many Albanians are converting to Christianity. Here you can see Albanian Muslims converting to Catholism:


11-11-2010, 05:16 PM
Albanian Catholics on pilgrimage to Rome in the 1930s:


11-11-2010, 05:49 PM
I wanted just post this:

Gli albanesi in italia (Albeneses in Italy)

Gli Albanesi, discendenti degli Illiri, sono un popolo sparso in tutto il mondo.

Sette sono state le immigrazioni in Italia:

- Prima immigrazione: 1416-1446 – I primi albanesi venuti in Italia furono i soldati al seguito di Demetrio Reres e dei suoi figli Giovanni e Basilio, inviati da Scanderbeg per difendere Alfonso d’Aragona contro il rivale Roberto d’Angiò.

- Seconda immigrazione: 1459-1461- Altri soldati albanesi, al seguito di Stresio, nipote di Scanderbeg, vennero per difendere la Casa aragonese contro un nutrito numero di baroni che si erano ribellati a Ferdinando I, successore di Alfonso.

- Terza immigrazione: 1468-1506 – Con la morte di Scanderbeg nel 1468, i Turchi invasero l’Albania intera, distruggendo ed incendiando le città. Per non sottomettersi al dominio turco, gli Albanesi s’insediarono in Calabria tra le pendici della Sila e la Valle destra del Crati.

- Quarta immigrazione: 1532-1534 – Gli albanesi della città di Corone, sempre più minacciati dai turchi, lasciarono la patria per sbarcare a Napoli, dirigendosi poi in Puglia, Lucania e Calabria, ripopolando o fondando nuove comunità.

- Quinta immigrazione: 1647-1664 – Anche gli albanesi della Morea lasciarono la propria terra per raggiungere la costa jonica e dirigersi verso la Basilicata.

- Sesta immigrazione: 1744 – La popolazione di Picherni, una piccola comunità situata tra i monti della Chimera, tra Illirio e l’Epiro, raggiunse l’Abruzzo, fondando Villa Badessa.

- Settima immigrazione: 1774-1825 – Diversi gruppi albanesi di incerta provenienza si stabilirono nel Pavese e nel Piacentino, altri in Basilicata.

E’ da ricordare però che già nel Medioevo molti furono gli albanesi che per motivi di lavoro si trasferirono a Venezia dove si distinsero per la professionalità e la cultura, fondando addirittura la cosiddetta “Scola degli Albanesi”, una confraternita con scopi umanitari verso i connazionali in difficoltà.

It is to remember that already in Middle Age many were the Albanians who for work reasons moved to Venice, where they distinguished for their professionality and their culture, founding the so called "School of Albaneses", a confraternity with humanitarian purposes towards connationals in difficulties.

Arberia is the name given in Italy to the Albanese community. I have read that also my town received in Middle Age a colony from Albania, who were escaping the Ottoman domination. So I would like to know your culture a bit more ^^
Some towns in Abruzzo were also founded by Illirians and then Italicized by the Italics, especially by Frentans.

- Its interesting how they have still retained their culture and identity to this day. Have a look at theese videos:


12-08-2010, 06:50 PM

Scribners Monthly
Volume 21, Issue 3
January 1881

“Fierce are Albania’s children, yet they lack
Not virtues, were those virtues more mature.
Where is the foe that ever saw their back?
Who can so well the toil of war endure?
Their native fastnesses not more secure
Than they in doubtful time of troublous need;
Their wrath how deadly! But their friendship sure
When Gratitude or Valor bids them bleed,
Unshaken rushing on where’er their chief may lead.”
Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Canto II.


On the eastern shores of the Adriatic, at the southern extremity of the olive-clad coast of Dalmatia, a short distance beyond Cattaro, the Austrian rule over the Slav ceases, and the Turkish province of Albania begins. Geographically, the position of the country is described as “conterminous with the ancient Epirus and with the southern provinces of ancient Illyria,” and as including part of the classic soil of Macedonia and Chaonia. The serrated coast of Albania is washed in the north by the waters of the Adriatic, and bv the Gulf of Arta in the south. On the east it is separated from Servia and the Turkish province of Rumili by the rocky barrier of the Pindus and Scardus Mountains; Greece lies upon its southern frontier, and to the north it is bounded by Montenegro and Bosnia. From north to south Albania is barely three hundred miles in length, or a trifle shorter than Ireland; from the sea eastward to the Pindus and Scardus chain it nowhere extends inland beyond one hundred miles at its northern or broadest extremity, and this narrows down to thirty on the southern border. Ethnologically, Albania is broadly divided by the two great tribes or clans of Ngege, Ghegides, or Ghegs, who inhabit northern or Illyrian Albania, and the Toskides, or Tosks, who people the southern or Epirotic portion of the country. Colonel Leake and Johann George von Hahn, the only reliable authorities on the subject of Albania, mention a third clan called the Liape, a poor and predatory race who live in the mountains between the Toke and Delvius. The principal Gheg towns are Dulcigno, Scutari, and Durazzo, and the chief Tosk cities are Berat and Elbassan. The Albanians themselves, however, know no such scientific distinctions as Gheg or Tosk. In their own language, which recent research has pronounced to be an independent branch of the Indo-European family and, according to Humboldt, “the floating plank of a vessel that has been sunk in the ocean of time and lost for ages,” they call themselves Scipetaar, or “highlanders.” The Turks in a like manner ignore all tribe distinctions, and term them broadly Arnauds.


The common belief is that Albania is thinly peopled. Square mile for square mile, no country on the borders of Albania possesses more populous centers. Scutari alone, the capital of the north, has a population of almost 27,000, and Joannina, the metropolis of the south, has quite as many inhabitants; Ochrida, Prisrend, Elbassan, and Berat are all considerable cities; nor are the minor towns of Dulcigno, Alessio, Durazzo, Croya, Jakova, and Ipek by any means thinly peopled. Hardly more exact is Dr. Arnold’s oft-quoted saying that Albania “is one of those ill-fated portions of the earth which, though placed in immediate contact with civilization, has remained perpetually barbarian.” Disguised in one form or another, this opinion has given color to English encyclopedias, until Albania has come to be regarded as a “very Botany Bay in moral geography”—a black, barbaric spot in Europe surrounded by a perfect halo of Slav civilization. That its people are, as yet, very far from the acme of civilization, all who know them will readily admit; but that they are so wofully behind the social advancement of their Slav neighbors is easy enough to disprove.

In the first place, the Albanians are not only industrious and skilled in various handicrafts, but the country has several representative manufactures which would not disgrace the art productions of our Western capitals. Can this be said of the Montenegrins, the Bosnians, or the Servians ? In the towns of Ipek and Jakova, gold and silver filigrees are made, far superior to Maltese work, both in the artistic feeling exhibited in the design, and the marvelous intricacy and delicacy of the finish of the workmanship. This glittering, lace-like Jakova work is eagerly sought for in every bazaar, and the costliest

“Gold cups of filigree, made to secure
The hand from burning,—”

as mentioned by Byron in “Don Juan,” and which are generally placed under the tiny Turkish coffee-cups,—are always of Albanian manufacture. Prisrend is famous for its carpets, but more particularly for the production of the magnificent silver-mounted pistols and chased and jewel-hilted yataghans, which lend such splendor to every opulent Albanian’s girdle; while Scutari is celebrated for the skill of its cloth-workers, and the dexterity of its gold embroiderers. Have the Slavs on the northern and eastern borders any industries such as these?


Much has been said and more written of late concerning the turbulent spirit of the Albanians. But it must be remembered that the country is most exceptionally constituted, composed as it is of three opposing religious bodies, governed by a foreign power. The southern, or Tosk, Albanians belong, for the most part, to the Greek church; central Albania is chiefly Mohammedan; and northern, or Gheg, Albania is principally Roman Catholic. Add to this the fact that nearly all the Mohammedan Albanians are descended from Bektashes, or renegades from the Christian faith, and that, bitterly as these tripartite factions hate one another, they detest the Porte still more, and the only wonder left us is that internal strife and rebellion have not long ago decimated the population. Yet the Albanians are not so constantly at loggerheads with each other or their rulers as one might suppose. The existing troubles, for instance, cannot be traced to these sources. They have been brought about solely by the re-adjustment of the Albanian frontier under the decrees of the Berlin Treaty. By these stipulations a very considerable portion of the country has been awarded to the Arnauds’ hereditary foes, and Montenegro, Servia,and Greece each claim a portion of the Albanian border. Now, the Albanians are as distinct in race and language from their borderers, the Greeks and Slavs, as from their Moslem rulers. Even the most pronounced Slavophiles are compelled to regard the Scipetaars not merely as a tribe, but a nation. Moreover, their antiquity is as high as any of their neighbors’. Long before the Turkish conquest of Constantinople, Albania had its independence under a number of petty princes. The people are wont to boast of themselves as the only northern race who, in the fifteenth century, successfully checked the conquering arms of Mahomet the Great. This they did for twenty-four years under the leadership of the deathless George Castriot, or Skanderbeg, as the Turks called him. Such is the veneration of the Ghegs for his memory that his chivalrous deeds are the constant theme of their songs, whilst to this day—more than four hundred years after his death—the Christian mountaineers wear a short black mourning jacket or jurdin over their white woolen dress, in memory of him whom they love to style the champion of Albanian liberty. Thus, as the Montenegrins carry the kappa, so the Ghegs wear the jurdin—as a memento of their long struggle for liberty in days gone by, and as a symbol of the freedom which they believe is yet to come. It would be strange, indeed, then, if a nation with such a history, and with these aspirations, should tamely submit to see their country parceled out and divided among those who cannot claim to have beaten them in war.


Much has been said and more written of late about the predatory habits and ferocious nature of the Albanian race. According to popular notions, the lowlanders are cutthroats and the highlanders brigands. The nearer the traveler gets to Albania, the louder and more positive become the dismal predictions concerning his fate on entering the country; and it was with many misgivings that Dick and I stepped from the loudra which had brought us across the Lake of Scutari from Montenegro, and set our feet on Albanian soil preparatory to entering the ancient town of Scutari or Skodra. We had our rifles and our revolvers with us, loaded against any emergency.

But our first experience of Albania dispelled the dark stain which ignorance had placed upon the people’s character. And after wandering in some of the wildest districts of the north,—among the Miridite mountaineers when we visited the tomb of Skanderbeg at Alessio, and through the heart of the Kelmendi tribes when we tried to get into Gusinje,—I can say that the only instance of brigandage which came to our knowledge was practiced by the lake boatmen, when they charged us a quadruple fare for rowing us from Karadagh to Scutari, and that the Albanians’ regard for the sanctity of our personal effects was such that we never had our saddle-bags stolen, as we did in “honest” Montenegro. The closing portion of this article will show that in our expedition to Gusinje we ran some risk of losing our heads, but the reader will also learn that the men who wanted to kill us were Bosniac Mohammedans, and that we were saved by the stanch fidelity of the Albanian Ghegs.

Candor compels me to mention an ugly blemish in the national character which, although little known to the outer world, is none the less observable in the race. I allude to the prevalence of blood-feuds amongst the various clans and religious factions in the country. If it were my object to palliate this savage custom, I might show that the vendetta has been time out of mind a rude form of retributive justice peculiar to most primitive highland races, and that, in maintaining this cowardly code of retaliation, the Albanians are neither better nor worse than were until within recent years the natives of the Basque provinces, the Corsicans, or even the Montenegrins. With these people, however, it was a barbarism of the past; with the Arnauds it is an all-prevailing practice of the present. Under these blood-feud laws, the most cowardly and cold-blooded murders—one can call them by no milder name—are of daily occurrence. The entire population is armed to the teeth against this ceaseless vendetta, and the burial-places are crowded with its victims; yet there is no authority in the country powerful enough to suppress it. So the barbarous custom prevails from one extremity of the country to the other,—alike in the crowded bazaars I and on the lonely hill-side, wherever the avenger and the victim meet,—and the Porte is powerless to punish because it is not strong enough to rule. The blood-feud, however, is confined by the people to the settlement of their own private quarrels, so that, unless a stranger is injudicious enough to intermeddle, he need have no alarm about his own safety in the country.

It would be difficult to point to a country within nine days’ traveling distance from Paris so picturesquely quaint as Albania. It is a land above all others for the artist— a country locked within itself—a little stationary world within our vast whirligig outer one, where mediaevalism is preserved in the most delicious freshness. It is the land of Iskander as when Iskander himself ruled over it. The billowy landscapes of the mountainous north are far more changeful than the people, for nature under the thin highland air is as various as the chameleon—now iridescent with the rainbow lights of dawn, next gleaming white and azure under the fierce midday sun, and anon wrapped in the violet mantle of the night. But time may come and go, and show the mountains and the lakes under a thousand different aspects, and yet the people have only one—that of their forefathers.

The splendid costume of Albania is brought vividly before the untraveled mind by Byron’s memorable description of

“The wild Albanian kirtled at the knee,
With shawl-clad head and ornamented gun,
And gold-embroidered garments fair to see.”

Decked in this white and red and golden magnificence, he is to-day as picturesquely prominent in every Albanian bazaar as when the poet saw him in the south at the commencement of the century. But accurate as is this picture of a Tosk Albanian,—for Byron never traveled north,—it cannot be applied to the Christian Gheg. Curiously enough, the snowy kilt or festan is affected only by the lowland Mohammedans in the north. From the days of Iskander the mountain tribes have worn their own peculiar white woolen garments, and by these the clans are distinguishable at a glance.


In my article on Montenegro, I ended by saying that the peace which the Prince looked forward to so hopefully was hourly threatened, at the time of our sojourn in the country, by the troubles on the Albanian border, arising from the annexation of territory at Gusinje by the Montenegrins. On our arrival in Scutari, we found the people in a patriotic ferment, and the outbreak of a war with the Slavs—for which we had waited some time in Podgoritza—appeared to be imminent. This warlike demonstration against the Montenegrins appeared to be a purely popular one, for which the Turkish authorities were in no degree answerable. The little border rebellion, we were told, had been entirely organized by a patriotic secret association styling itself the Albanian League. While I was in Scutari, I made it my business to interview several chiefs of this League, so as to become acquainted with the governing principles of a secret society which is at the present moment sufficiently strong not only to openly defy the Turkish Government, but to number among its members some of the foremost officials of the Porte in Albania. In my opinion, the Albanian League is the forerunner of a general rebellion against Ottoman rule. In its infancy, the League was, no doubt, encouraged by the Turks as a convenient “cat’s-paw,” wherewith to tease the irritable Slav. But now the Government stands aghast and almost paralyzed at the hot-blooded ferocity of the very creatures they helped to create. The anarchy and lawlessness existing lately at Prisrend, where the European consuls were imprisoned by the mob in their consulates, and where the Russian representative was shot at through his own door, are but slight illustrations of the utter inability of the existing authorities to cope with the present disorder and anarchy; while the unavenged murder of Mehemet Ali at Jakova shows too plainly how powerless is all justice in the land.


The following are the guiding principles of the Albanian League, as given to me by one of the most influential chiefs of that body in Scutari:

The Albanian League is a purely patriotic association, composed of all grades of Albanians, having for its object the determined resistance of any annexation of territory by foreign powers. Thus Montenegro, Servia, and Greece—countries which have all received portions of Albania, under the conditions of the Berlin Treaty—are, each, in turn, to be vigorously opposed in any effort to occupy the land awarded them. The head-quarters of the League, my informant said, were at Prisrend; but the leader of the fraternity, Ali Pasha, was then at Gusinje, organizing the revolt against the Montenegrin occupation of that district. Money, I was told, had been subscribed for the purpose at Scutari and other Albanian towns; and in the event of the League succeeding against Montenegro, it was their determination to fight Servia or Greece, as soon as either country endeavored to take an acre of Albanian ground. Further, I learned, in the event of this programme proving successful, it was the intention of the Albanians to declare their independence. Turkey, according to the notions of the League, was not capable of governing its own affairs, and Albania was the most flagrant example of the maladministration of its provinces, for here the officials of the Porte not only robbed and plundered the people, but left them without soldiers or gensdarmes to protect their lives and property. For these reasons the Albanians were determined to cast off the Ottoman yoke, and at all hazards to try and establish their country once more as an independent principality. In the event of the aspirations of the League proving successful, they had decided to offer the rulership of Albania to Midhat Pasha, the only man, my informant said,—but it must be borne in mind that he was a Mohammedan,—who had proved himself a thoroughly honest and capable statesman.


As we had by this time become very much interested in the ultimate conclusion of the Gusinje question, we determined, if possible, to visit the place, and judge for ourselves as to the probable success of the Albanian cause. No sooner, however, were our intentions mentioned at the Hotel Toschli, than the utmost powers of the Scutarine Christians who frequented the cafe were exerted to dissuade us from our contemplated journey. Toschli himself was tearfully supplicative on the subject. Were we mad?—he asked. Did we not know that a Christian’s life in Gusinje would be as brief as an infidel’s days in Mecca? Were we aware that Their Excellencies the Frontier Commissioners had been stoned and pelted with mud by the Mohammedans when they tried to enter even the neighborhood of Ali Pasha’s head-quarters? And, above all, had we no regard for our honored heads? Finding, at last, that we were determined upon our projects, our friends ceased from troubling, and confined themselves to looking at us with that melancholy cast of countenance peculiar to those who gaze upon the condemned.

The shortest route from Scutari to Gusinje was by the mountain passes cleaving through the heart of the districts of Kastrati and Kelmendi. The reported ferocity of the northern mountaineers, however, rendered our journey impossible without a safe-conduct, and the method of procedure in order to obtain one is sufficiently peculiar to warrant a few words upon the subject. As the Ghegs of the highlands are all Roman Catholics, it is necessary for them to appoint at the Pashalik of Scutari a Mohammedan representative, who acts in their behalf much in the same manner as a consul represents his nation in a foreign capital. This worthy is called the Boluk-Bashi of the tribe, and among the various duties of his office it is his province to grant safe-transit passes to all persons who may have business within his district. Armed with a passport from a Boluk-Bashi, escorts are unnecessary, and the traveler may wander unharmed through the wildest mountain passes, with much more security than he has in the streets of Scutari. A safe-conduct pass, however, is by no means easy to procure, as the Boluk-Bashi will only grant them to such persons as he can prudently permit within his territory. Foreigners, too, are looked upon with considerable suspicion by the mountaineers, and a recommendation from an official of the Porte to a Boluk-Bashi is more likely to prejudice him than to allay his suspicion. The existing relationship, indeed, between the mountaineers and the Turkish Government is none of the most cordial kind.

12-08-2010, 06:51 PM
The Ghegs of the hills and the Mahommedans of the plains have neither race nor religion in common, so that it requires considerable diplomatic tact and delicate manipulation on the part of the Pasha to prevent the Arnauds breaking out in open hostility to the Porte. As it is, no Turkish official will trust himself without a strong escort in the neighborhood of the mountains, while soldiers seldom venture, except in companies, through the northern passes. Indeed, at this moment it is the invariable custom of the Arnauds to pounce upon all military stragglers, and ease them of their Peabody-Martini rifle,—a weapon which the Government would not allow them to carry, preferring, as a precautionary measure, to serve out the inferior Snider to them when the tribes were armed by the Porte against Montenegro in the last war. The number of Martinis which must have been “lifted” from the Government in this unceremonious manner may be computed when I state that, during my journey north, I passed through a territory occupied by 5000 hill men, and that every mountaineer on the rocks, every plowman at his plow, every shepherd tending his flock, and every driver with his team of pack-horses, carried the Government Martini upon his shoulder. But the mountaineers are too proud a race to steal, preferring exchange to robbery, so it is their invariable custom, whenever a luckless soldier comes in their way, to make a point of presenting him with their obsolete Sniders in consideration of the more approved Martini.


The independence of the mountaineers being a natural outcome from the security of their position, fortified as they are in the hills among ramparts of rock and citadels of stone, considerable circumspection is necessary before the stranger trusts himself within the reach of a race trained almost from infancy to the use of arms, and rendered ferocious by almost ceaseless border wars. It was, therefore, with a fixed determination to remain in Scutari should our efforts fail, that we set to work to procure a safe-conduct pass from the Boluk-Bashi of the Kelmendi tribe. The moment, however, that our nationality was mentioned to the consul of the Clementi highlanders, we were promised not only free entrance and safety among the northern hills, but a hearty welcome from every mountaineer in the Boluk-Bashi’s district. But, despite this protection, our attempt to get into Gusinje was considered sufficiently desperate among the Scutarines to preclude all chance of our hiring a dragoman to accompany us on the journey. In vain we tried the force of argument and the weight of Turkish gold— usually a most alluring bait in Albania, where the currency looks remarkably like tin-plate. So at sunrise on a November Sunday of 1879 we went dragomanless to the house of our Boluk-Bashi, with about ten words of Albanese and as many Bosniac verbs in our vocabulary, bound on a three-days’ ride through the Kelmendi Mountains to learn the true state of affairs in Gusinje.

It was flattering to find, on our arrival at the house, the Boluk-Bashi himself mounted and equipped, and ready to escort us to Selza, the principal village of Kelmendi. His presence with us was intended to make security doubly secure. Adem-Agar, as he was named, had discarded his town dress, with its voluminous white kilt and innumerable red embroidered waistcoats, and sat in the saddle, clad in the handsome white-woolen, black-braided, tight-fitting hose and waistcoat of the Arnaud mountaineer. The low Albanian fez, with its ponderous blue-silk tassel, was no longer on his head, but in its place he wore the white felt skull-cap, with its picturesque Arab-like turban—the traditional head-gear of the immortal Skanderbeg. Thus we found him in the inclosed court-yard of his house, sitting erect upon a small white half-bred Arabian mare—a handsome, well-knit figure, and armed at all points, with a couple of silver-hilted pistols and a formidable yataghan at his waist, three or four silver-gilt cartridge-boxes around his middle, and a Peabody-Martini rifle slung by its strap from his shoulder.


Our route to Selza lay north along the flat, marshy ground of the eastern or Turkish shore of the lake of Scutari—a tolerable road for an Albanian highway, over which we could even occasionally indulge in short canters, checked, ever and anon, by small lakes of mud, through which our horses waded fetlock deep. Adem-Agar, we soon discovered, was well known on the road. The purport of our journey was put to him interrogatively by every peasant we passed; but the word “Gusinje” invariably met with a dubious shake of the head, most unpleasantly significant of the perils awaiting us at our journey’s end. At Koplik we made a brief halt at a way-side khan for a hurried meal of maize bread and sour goat’s-cheese and coffee, taken a la ‘Tnrque, squatting on the mud-floor around a blazing log-fire, for afready the weather was none of the warmest, and then, after an inspiriting pull at the raki-flask, we took saddle for the village of Kastrati, where we were to pass the night. An hour’s ride from Koplik the easy character of the road began to change, and our ascent commenced up the bleak northern mountains. As we advanced, the track gradually narrowed down from a road broad enough to take a country cart, into a thin, ribbon-like course, suggestive, from its rugged rockiness, of the channel of a mountain stream. It is astonishing how unerringly the sure-footed Albanian horses pick out from among a labyrinth of stone the crevices and fissures of the track, which generally winds and twists over bowlders worn smooth as polished marble, or plunges down through loose angular crags as sharp as spear-heads. And this is the more wonderful, perhaps, when we notice the manner in which the horses are shod. Both in Montenegro and Albania the horseshoes are made in the shape of plates, with a small central hole, which completely cover the hoof and frog. These shoes are attached by strong arrow-head nails, bent over the plate in such a manner as to allow the horse to obtain a grip with their angular edges. They seem to answer their purpose admirably, although apparently opposed to our notions of scientific farriery. Slipping and stumbling over rocks and down ravines, now dismounting to ease our weary horses when the track was easy, and mounting again when our untrained feet could no longer find secure foot-hold, we reached at night-fall the village of Kastrati.


The hospitality of the house that gave us shelter was unbounded. Small trees were heaped upon the fire in the center of the floor, and scarcely were we seated by the ruddy glow which centered around a circle of smiling faces, than there was a sound without as of the strangulation of a hen. Presently some men entered bearing a newly slaughtered sheep, still warm and dressed entire, with a huge wooden spit running through the steaming carcass from head to tail. We smiled approvingly, and, for lack of language, bowed our acknowledgments and ejaculated “Mir! mir!” (good! good!) with great heartiness; for in Albania the mish ipikitaun, or sheep roasted whole, is the greatest mark of consideration and friendship a mountaineer can offer his guests. Who could describe the orgies which followed upon the dismemberment of the mish? We took our food after the primitive custom of the country, sitting on the floor and using one hand for a plate and our fingers for knives and forks. We swallowed lumps of tepid mutton-fat, and washed them down with draughts of a peculiar home-brew which tasted like rancid mead. Then we had a course of hot lard and honey-cakes, followed by an entree of sheep’s kidneys. Next a big gourd full of raki was put into circulation, and once again we returned to our mutton. But it was fearfully trying work, and after an hour or so of persistent muttonizing I tried to feign sleep as the only possible escape from apoplexy. Scarcely had I closed my eyes, however, when our host pressed a warm sheep’s-trotter into my reluctant hand, with a reproachful gesture which said too plainly, revenons a nos moutons! During all this feasting the women-folk sat apart in a corner of the cabin, twirling yarn from their distaffs, and ever and anon casting anxious glances at the rapidly disappearing meat. Late in the night, when the mish ipikitaun was almost exhausted, and we had coiled ourselves up like satiated boa-constrictors under our several blankets, they were permitted to sup upon our broken victuals; for not even in the mountains in Albania are the women permitted to join their lords in the pleasures of the table. For want of any other accommodation we slept that night where we had supped—upon the floor, with our toes toasting at the embers of the fire, and our heads pillowed on our saddle-bags. But before I was wafted into the land of Nod I saw one of the mountaineers still picking at a blade-bone of mutton, and when it was perfectly clean he held it up to the light of the fire, and, according to the invariable custom of the country, began to explain aloud to a group of eager listeners the prophetic pictures which every mountaineer believes are to be traced in the transparent portions of the bone.


In northern Albania, the hours of travel are limited by the nature of the mountain tracks to daylight. It is fearfully slow work, too, scaling ladders of stone and stumbling down giant staircases of smoothly worn bowlders; so that three miles an hour on horseback, and about three and a half on foot, may be reckoned as a fair average of speed in the highlands. The second day of our journey toward Gusinje lay through some of the most magnificent scenery in Albania; along elevated plateaux covered with the red-berried arbutus, up purple-hued, snowcapped mountains seamed with a thousand cascades of snow-water, through forests of beech aglow with autumn tints, and resounding with the shepherds’ guns as they drove their flocks by firing blank cartridges at them ; by the rugged plain of Arapshia, and thence over the towering summit of the wooded Velikci, from whence our descent commenced by a perilous zig-zag path—a veritable via mala, where we dismounted, and, following the Boluk-Bashi’s example, hung on to our horses’ tails at each angle of the track to prevent them plunging headforemost into the abyss beneath—into the ravine where, at the bottom, the rushing Zem marks the boundary between the leafy heights of Albania and the gray ramparts of Montenegro. At the head of this defile, bounded on the north by the mountains of Triepsci and on the south by those of Nikci, we crossed the little bridge of Tamar, at the point where the river makes a fork and is joined from above by the waters of the Vukoli. Three hours’ riding up the valley of the Zem brought night-fall upon us; but soon the welcome sound of baying dogs told us we were nearing a village, and, sure enough, ten minutes later the yelping curs of Selza were snapping and snarling at our horses’ heels as we entered the yard in front of the cottage of Nikleka, cru or chief of the tribe of the dementis. Here the mission of our Boluk-Bashi ended. From this point Nikleka was to put his highland wits to work to try and smuggle us safely into Gusinje. We soon learned, however, that Nik Leka was not at home, being at the time of our arrival in Selza, in the stronghold of Ali Pasha. But his brother, who welcomed us to the cottage in the chief’s absence, at once volunteered to take our letter of recommendation to Nik Leka in Gusinje. He was on the point of arming himself before setting out for this purpose, when a cheery-looking Franciscan monk came bustling into the cottage and saluted us in Italian. The sound of something approaching to an intelligible tongue was most welcome to our ears, for hitherto our powers of conversation in the Albanian language had been limited to inquiries respecting such necessaries of life as coffee, bread, cheese, and mutton; so that the more elaborate efforts of sociability or conviviality had always to be conveyed by us through the primitive signs of pantomime and facial contortion. In the Franciscan padre, however, we found, at length, and where we least expected it, a pleasant and a courteous dragoman, with whom we conversed in a marvelous jargon of French, Latin, and Italian, and which we were astonished to find he comprehended sufficiently to translate into Albanese. Padre Gabrielle, as the monk was called, was overcome with astonishment on hearing that we were en route for Gusinje, and abandoned himself to many pious ejaculations of despair on finding that we were not to be shaken from our purpose by the picture he drew for us of a town in which anarchy and lawlessness reign supreme, and where six thousand of the Mahommedan rabble of Ipek, Jakova, and Prisrend were being incited to bloodshed by fanatical Mollahs and the ferocious instigators of the murder of Mehemet Ali. One thing, however, we were surprised to learn from the Franciscan, which was that the Christian Arnauds were holding sternly aloof from the machinations of the Albanian League. His statement we subsequently discovered to be true, and, from inquiry among all classes of mountaineers, it became evident to us that the League was a purely Mahommedan institution, and that the rebels in Gusinje had neither the sympathy nor the aid of the surrounding Albanian Christians. Nik Leka being absent in Gusinje, where he held house property about which he was anxious on account of its proximity to the cannon of the Montenegrin captain, Marko Milano, it was suggested by Padre Gabrielle that the only safe method of insuring our heads in the rebel town was to get written permission from Ali Pasha to visit him. Accordingly, a letter asking for an interview with the rebel chief was written on our behalf by the monk and dispatched forthwith by Nik Leka’s brother. It was also arranged that we were to await an answer at a khan at a place called Groppa, some three hours’ march from Gusinje. At noon on the following day, after a night’s most hospitable entertainment at the little Franciscan mission-house, we started for a four-hour’s ride through the ice and snow of the lofty northern peaks to await Ali Pasha’s answer at the Groppa khan. The kindly monks had stored our saddle-bags before we left them with bread and mutton and a goat’s-skin full of wine ; nor was their thoughtfulness unappreciated when we discovered, on our arrival at Groppa, that the khan was the only habitation which gave a name to the locality, and that it was destitute of every necessary of life save coffee. In this wretched and gloomy little shanty, bare of either windows or chimney, and blackened by the tar of wood-smoke to such a degree of shiny pitchiness that the rough-hewn walls look as though they were built out of coal, we whiled away the day squatting around a log-fire and listening to the dismal drone of the gusla, while the son of the landlord beguiled the hours with an interminable chant laudatory of the deeds of the great Skanderbeg. At dusk we huddled together under our blankets by the embers—the landlord, with his wife and family, retiring to a little pen in the corner of the cabin which served them for a common sleeping-chamber, while the fowls roosted on the charred rafters immediately over our heads. In the depth of the night our sleep was broken by the baying of dogs, and Nik Leka, the Kelmendi chief, entered the khan, the bearer of a letter to us from Ali Pasha. We could make nothing of it, however, as it was written in Albanian, and as neither Nik Leka nor the landlord could read writing, there was no help for it but for the chief to go on to Selza and get it translated by Padre Gabrielle.


It was a bitterly cold morning, with a biting bora blowing up the snow-clad valley of Groppa, when the Franciscan father came to us at the khan. We could tell at once, from the serious expression on his generally jovial face, that Ali Pasha’s reply to our letter was unfavorable. His answer ran as follows: “I salute the reverend father. I have read, I have understood, and also have assembled the chiefs, who will go to the khan Budoch. We cannot suspend operations. If these persons will guarantee that the Slavs will retire, let them come. Not being sureties, they need not come, as they cannot protect us.” Read between the lines, this letter said, as plainly as a Turk can write: “If you come to us, and the Montenegrins do not withdraw immediately from the heights commanding Gusinje, you will answer for it with your heads.” Moreover, Nikleka told us that at the council of the chiefs, assembled by Ali Pasha to discuss our letter, most of them insisted upon our being Russian diplomatic agents, sent to spy into the strength of their position. In the face of Ali Pasha’s letter, and Nikleka’s statement, therefore, we saw no other way of keeping our heads safely on our shoulders than by giving up our enterprise, and clearing out of the neighborhood as quickly as possible. Indeed, our safety at the khan was extremely hazardous, owing to its proximity to Gusinje—as it appeared from what Nikleka further told us, that immediately on the dissolution of the council of chiefs in Gusinje a party of thirty soldiers had resolved to set out in the night with the object of surrounding our hut and firing upon us in our sleep. It was fortunate for us that their scheme came to the ears of Ali Pasha, and that his authority, in a place given up to the wildest anarchy, was strong enough to prevent them putting their murderous plans into execution. While we were still discussing the bloodthirsty fanaticism of the Gusinjean rebels, and Nikleka was telling us that he himself had fled the town, for no Christian was safe within its walls since the Mollahs had armed themselves and were inciting the mob, there entered, suddenly, at the door of our cabin two armed Turks, who seated themselves unceremoniously by our side at the fire. The face of the Franciscan blanched, as he whispered in our ears in Latin, “Milites Gusiniani.” There was a sudden pause in our conversation, succeeded, on our part, by an involuntary motion toward the wall of the hut, where our revolvers hung. But as the Gusinjean soldiers remained calmly smoking their cigarettes, squatting by the fire, and looking, outwardly, at least, “the mildest-mannered men that ever cut a throat,” we prudently left our weapons where they were, and awaited the speaking of our unwelcome guests. The men were both Bosniac Mahommedans, one of them wearing a patched and threadbare Turkish artillery uniform, and the other merely a pink striped shirt and red embroidered waistcoat, and the regulation Turkish trovv-sers. Both were fully armed with pistols, cartridge-belts, yataghans, and breech-loading rifles, which they retained in defiance of the custom of the country, which obliges every friendly traveler to hang his arms upon the wall on entering a khan in the mountains. It was obvious, from the upshot of Padre Gabrielle’s conversation with these fellows on our behalf, that the object of their coming was to try and decoy us from the khan, and nearer to Gusinje, under the pretext of a parley with some chiefs of the League at the Budoch khan, in order either to murder us there, away from the protection of the mountaineers, or, failing this, to take us prisoners into Gusinje, where, as we were by this time aware, the sight of us would be sufficient to excite the Mussulmans into a fury from which it would be impossible even for Ali Pasha to save us. Finding that we were firm in our determination to remain where we were, one of them calmly and dispassionately asked the mountaineers assembled in the hut to aid them in killing us where we stood. The proposition was made in the Bosniac tongue, by the Mahommedan in the ragged artillery uniform, at the very moment when the villain was sipping some coffee we had given him. But the fierce answer which seemed literally to flash from Nikleka, as mouthpiece of his tribe, was evidently of such an unexpected kind, that both the rascals jumped to their feet, and hurried out of the khan with the utmost precipitation. Whereupon, the mountaineers posted a guard up in the rocks to prevent a surprise in numbers, and we rode rapidly back to Selza, where, in the sanctuary of the Franciscan mission-house, we could more safely congratulate ourselves upon our narrow escape, and thank Nikleka for delivering us from the cut-throats of Gusinje. The bitter Albanian winter had already set in with some severity when we left the worthy Franciscan brothers of Kelmendi, and journeyed back over the ice and snow to the northern capital. Our attempt to get into Gusinje had proved a failure; yet our disappointment was moderated by the knowledge that, in traveling to the Groppa khan, we had penetrated farther than had any foreigner before into the fastnesses of the northern highlands.

Nik Leka himself escorted us to Scutari, and we made much of him at the Hotel Toschli. We had no mish ipikitaun to offer the Kelmendi chieftain, but the Greek cook gave our valiant highlander such a novel succession of gastronomic surprises, that Nik Leka declared to us he would banquet on the recollection of them for many a day.

On our part, we shall long remember the unflinching friendship and hospitality that was shown us when we sojourned with the Ghegs in Albania.

1) Even as I write these lines, five months after my interview with the chief of the League, the following proclamation has been issued by that patriotic body to their fellow-countrymen:

“Albanians: Europe has created a principality for the Bulgarians, has delivered Bosnia and the Herzegovina to Austria, has endowed Servia and Montenegro with territorial aggrandizement and independence, has given Roumelia autonomy; but what have we received? Absolutely nothing. We Albanians, who are not immigrants, but natives of the soil of this country, who obtained our independence centuries ago, must claim the right to create a State for ourselves. Thessaly, Epirus and Albania proper are the fatherland of the three million Albanians, and this our fatherland must be free and independent, and governed by a prince. We will obtain that or die in the attempt.”

From this it is evident that the League has now cast aside all secrecy, and that open revolt to the Ottoman rule is an accomplished fact.

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04-07-2013, 05:42 PM