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Post  Leka Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:43 pm




Publishers to the India Office


IF a book cannot speak for itself, it is idle to speak for it. I will waste but few words on a Preface. In my two previous Balkan books I strove to give the national points of view, the aims and aspirations, the manners and customs, of the Serbs and of the mixed population of Macedonia.

I would now do the same for the people of High Albania.

From the mass of material accumulated in an eight months' tour, together with that collected on previous visits to Albania, it is hard to know what to select, and want of space has forced me to omit almost as much as I have put in, of folklore, custom, and tradition.

The land is one so little known to English travellers that I have given rather a comprehensive view of it as a whole than details of any special branch of study, and have reported what the people themselves said rather than put forward views of my own–which are but those of an outsider. Of outsiders' views on Balkan problems we are, most of us, tired.

For any success I may have obtained, I am indebted entirely to the kind and most generous help I met on the way from all and sundry–more especially to the Franciscans and Mission priests of the mountains, and to my guide Marko; but also to my hosts and guides of all races and religions. Faithful, courageous, and hospitable, it is perhaps written in the Book of Fate that I shall see many of them no more, but "if a Man be Gracious and [Page] Courteous to Strangers, it shewes he is a Citizen of the Worlde; and that his Hearte is no Island, cut off from other Lands, but is a Continent that joynes them." And they will not have passed across my life in vain, if from this brief record some few readers learn a truer insight into the character of the mountain tribesman

Lastly, I would say that, though I made very careful inquiry in many places before recording any custom, errors must have crept in, and for them I alone am responsible.


September 1909.


"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 (see illustration).

1. Prehistoric Bronze Ornament, Bosnia (Sarajevo Museum, Sjeversko, T. 2).
2. Modern Silver Earring, of type common to Bosnia, Servia, Bulgaria, and Kosovo Vilayet.
3, 4, 5, 6. Common Catholic Bosnian Tattoos.

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.

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Post  Leka Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:44 pm

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.

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.

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Post  Leka Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:45 pm

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.

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Post  Leka Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:46 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.

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Post  Leka Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:48 pm

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.

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.

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Post  Leka Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:48 pm

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.

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Post  Leka Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:50 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.


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Post  Leka Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:51 pm

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.

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Post  Leka Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:54 pm

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.

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.


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Post  Leka Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:55 pm

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.
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."

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Post  Leka Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:56 pm

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.

We washed our hands and rose from the sofra. The women hurried up and carried the remains to the other end of the room, where they devoured them.

The grandmother superintended the women's work, and was giving orders all the time. Two women of the household were kept all day and every day bread-making. The slap, slap as they whacked the heavy maize dough was ceaseless. It was kneaded in a great dug-out trough, beaten into a thin slab on a circular wooden shovel, and slipped on to the hot hearthstone (or into a dried clay dish made tough with chopped pig's bristles), and baked under an iron cover, piled with hot wood-ash. Baked all unleavened and eaten hot and steaming. Four loaves were made while I was there.

Maize bread is eaten throughout the mountains–not because corn is lacking, but because the people infinitely prefer maize. They will even buy maize when it is double the price of corn. The maize is very coarsely ground, and the bread incredibly heavy. The people eat very large quantities; it is their staple food. They are so used to its weight that they declare corn bread is no good–you never feel full.

When well made it is fairly palatable and very nourishing; but when badly made is a deadly compound and, I believe, the cause of the distended abdomens of the more weakly children. The hot, half-cooked stuff is washed down with quantities of cold water.

Women's work in such a house is extremely heavy. They have scarce an idle minute save when sleeping. They fetch the firewood and all the water; and as they tramp to and from the spring with the heavy water-barrel bound by woollen cords to their shoulders, they spin or knit incessantly. They weave and make all the elaborate garments, doing the wonderful black braiding of the men's trousers according to traditional pattern. Even the braid itself is hand-plaited in eight threads over a half-cylinder of basket-work, which the plaiter holds on her knee, tossing the clicking bobbins from one side to the other, and pinning up the finished braid with swift dexterity. Dozens of yards are needed for one costume; but it is a work of art when finished.

The black wool is mostly natural wool of black sheep. The dull crimson used to stripe the dresses of the married women is home-dyed in all outlying parts. Near Scutari imported dyed wool is beginning to be used. The leathern opanke (sandals) worn by all, and made of dried raw hide, are all home-made. Only the heavy, nail-studded belts of the married women are bought in Shkodra. These form part of the bride's costume, are some five or six inches wide; and heavy as cart-harness. The sight of one resting upon the abdomen of a woman in an advanced state of pregnancy is painful in the extreme, but it appears to cause no inconvenience to the wearer.

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Post  Leka Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:57 pm

We crawled out again into the sunlight. Our host and his seven armed men wished us, "Tun giat tjeter " (Long life to you), and we passed out of his domain by the row of bleached ox, sheep, and horse skulls, that were to guard him from the grim unseen.

The climb to Bridzha was in the full glare of the sun, over rocks far too rough for riding. My men faced it reluctantly. We crowded, half-way up, into patch of shade that lay like spilt ink over the white stones, and the Kastrati told us the tale of blood.

A maiden, daughter of the very house where we had dined, had been married into Kastrati but a few years ago. Her husband died a year later, leaving her childless. She was therefore returned to her father to whom she belonged, and he wished to marry (i.e. sell) her again. This she violently opposed, threatening to escape to the Moslems and turn Turk if it were done. She wished to return to her parents-in-law at Kastrati, and to this both families consented.

When she had been there a year, news came to her father in Hotl that she was with child by her brother-in-law. The men of her house were furious at the stain, as they considered it, upon their honour, and flew to avenge it. One of the men with whom we had just dined went hot-foot to Kastrati, found the brother-in-law alone, shot him dead in his own house, and got safely away. This was but a few months ago, and both tribes were furiously at blood. Hoti's honour was not yet sufficiently cleansed–Kastrati had blood to wipe out. But such is the fidelity with which the laws of blood are observed, that our man had dared enter the house that was the centre of the feud.

The child was as yet unborn, and, whether girl or boy, it and its mother must be kept at the expense of Kastrati.

I asked if blame or punishment were given to the woman, which surprised every one. They considered her as a chattel, and in no way responsible.

This Kastrati-Hoti tragedy shows that in Maltsia e madhe the practice of taking a brother's or cousin's widow as concubine–if it ever existed here–has been extinct long enough to be held shameful, at any rate by Hoti.

We finished a weary crawl in the sun to the church house of Bridzha, on a shelf 380 metres above sea-level, overlooking all the plains of Kastrati and Hoti, the Liceni Hotit, and the Lake of Shkodra, to Rumia, the great mountain over the Montenegrin border.

The Padre was away, but had hospitably left orders that I was to treat his house as mine.

We parted with our Kastrati guide, who lamented loudly that blood forbade him to guide me further. Hoti was polite, but very firm on this point; and supplied a new guide, a tall, lean old man, with keen grey eyes, a heavy fair moustache, and a kindly smile. Wiry and active, he said he was sixty-five, though he looked younger, but he added, with a laugh, that sixty-five was nothing. His uncle had lived to be ninety-six, his grandfather to an hundred and thirty. If folk were not shot, they lived to a great age here in the mountains.

He was a mine of traditional law. And I found his information corroborated everywhere.

Hoti, he said, was one bariak, made up of 500 houses, of which three only, those of the Bariaktar's family, are Moslem. Seven generations ago they were all Christian; then there was a great fight–he believed at Dulcigno, but was not quite sure. The Vezir of Shkodra was commanding, and summoned the mountain tribes to the fray. The town was impregnable till Hoti and Gruda charged. Ulk Lutzi of Hoti was first in. All Hoti and Gruda followed, and the town was taken.

"Said the Vezir of Shkodra to Ulk (i.e. the wolf), 'Thou art a hero! Thou shalt be a Moslem as we are, and choose what reward thou wilt.' Then," said the old man, laughing, "Ulk said he would like the right to let his horse stand at the entrance of the bazar without paying tax for it. The Vezir granted it, and made him first Bariaktar of the mountains. Kilmeni used to lead, but that day Hoti was made first and Gruda second of all the tribes of these mountains when they go to war in the north. And so it is to-day. Going south Mirdita leads; but as Ulk turned Moslem, God has not blessed him, and his line has increased but to three houses in seven generations."

This tale tallies fairly with history. About the middle of the eighteenth century Mehemed Bushatli, Vezir of Scutari, with the aid of the mountain tribes, captured Dulcigno, which had become an independent city of pirates, and burnt its flotilla of pirate vessels. Early marriages make generations rather shorter in Albania than in West Europe.

"The tribe of Hoti," said the old man, "has many relations. Thirteen generations ago, one Gheg Lazar came to this land with his four sons, and it is from these that we of Hoti descend. I cannot tell the year in which they came. It was soon after the building of the church of Gruda, and that is now 380 years ago. Gruda came before we did. Gheg was one of four brothers. The other three were Piper, Vaso, and Krasni. From these descend the Piperi and Vasojevichi of Montenegro and the Krasnichi of North Albania. So we are four–all related–the Lazakechi (we of Hoti), the Piperkechi, the Vasokechi, and the Kraskechi. They all came from Bosnia to escape the Turks, but from what part I do not know. Yes, they were all Christians. Krasnichi only turned Moslem much later."

Of these four large tribes, of common origin, Piperi and Vasojevich are now Serbophone and Orthodox. Piperi threw in its lot with Montenegro in 1790, but whether or not it was then Serbophone I have failed to learn. Half of Vasojevich was given to Montenegro after the Treaty of Berlin, the other portion still remains under Turkish rule. Vasojevich considers itself wholly Serb, and is bitter foe to the Albanophone tribes on its borders. Krasnich is Albanophone and fanatically Moslem; Hoti is Albanophone and Roman Catholic.

What turned two tribes into Serbs and two into Albanians, and which was their original tongue, I cannot say; but probably they were of mixed Serbo-Illyrian blood, and their language was influenced by the Church to which either chose to adhere. It is said that the Albanophone Krasnichi were Catholic before turning Turk.

The date three hundred and eighty years ago gives us 1528. In 1463 the Turks conquered and killed the last king of Bosnia; but the whole land was not finally incorporated in the Turkish Empire till 1590 (about). The traditional date of emigration falls well within the period when the Turkish occupation was spreading, so is probably approximately correct. A large communal family, with flocks, would be some time on the way.

The old man said modestly that if I were really interested in his family, he would like to give me his family tree, and did so,–from Gheg Laz, through his second son, Djun Gheg, down to his own great-grandson, a strapping child, the apple of his great-grandsire's eye.

"I have been told," said I, "that Nikaj is also a brother of Hoti?"

"No, no," said the old man, "not brother. But part of Nikaj is related to Krasnichi by a later generation, and so to us also, and we cannot marry them. They come from the houses of Bijeli-Krasnich and Mulo-Smaint. Shaban Benaku, the celebrated chief of Krasnich, is straight from Krasni, brother of Gheg Laz, my forefather. And half the tribe of Triepshi, the stem of Bakechi, is of Hoti blood. We cannot marry them. The other half–the Bekaj–we can. They are not our blood; they come from Kopliku. Triepshi belongs to Montenegro now, but is all Catholic. When Gheg Laz and his sons came here, there were already people here."

Some one suggested they were Shkyar (Slavs), but the old man was positive they were not. "They were a very old people. No one knew whence they came. Some said they were like Tartars. My grandfather said they were very strong and active, and could leap over six horses at once, and that they ate acorns and horse-flesh. Twelve houses in Hoti are descended from them, and with these we can marry. They are other blood. They are called Anas." (Anas, in the Albanian dictionary of the Bashkimi society, means "indigenous.") Nor could the old man see that, after thirteen generations of intermarriage, the stocks of Gheg Laz and the Anas must be very considerably related. There was none of the same blood, he declared. Female blood does not count.

But the idea of marrying within the stock Gheg Laz seemed to him so impossible, he would not admit that even in the remote future it could ever take place. "We are brothers and sisters. It would be a great sin."

This detailed story of tribal origin and relationship, straight from native lips, is of much interest. Most of the Albanian, also most of the Montenegrin, tribes have a similar tale–the flight of their ancestor to escape Turkish persecution.

We left Bridzha for Gruda at 5.30 A.M., with the old man as guide. The track went over loose rocks and stones along a steep mountain side. Then came a descent over the other side, into a wooded, cultivated hollow, where stood Hoti's second church, that of the men of Treboina, who trace their descent from Pyetar Gheg, fourth son of Gheg Laz.

The priest was away, his man down with fever and parched with thirst. We gave him of our few lemons, for which he was pathetically grateful, as were we too for some bread to eat, for–as is the custom of the land–we had started on two thimblefuls of black coffee.

Further riding was impossible. We left the kirijee and the horses behind us, and started on foot.

There was no breath of air. The cloudless sky–a hard metallic blue–shut down on us like a lid. The sun blazed and beat back off the white rocks in a blinding dazzle. The track was all loose stone broken in sharp angles, or boulders, with scrub oak in the crevices. We toiled on to the edge of a mighty cleft, the valley of the Tsem, and saw below us the green torrent. Far away on the left–quivering white in the heat–on a plain at the mouth of the valley was what looked like a large village. The sun caught a white minaret, needle-pointing to the sky.

"Podgoritza!" said the old man briefly.

Podgoritza! I thought of the Hotel Europa–it seemed a little heaven below.

I was drenched with sweat, dizzy with heat, had had six days crowded with new events, new knowledge–severe and incessant physical and mental labour and very little sleep. Why suffer torture in an aching wilderness when Podgoritza would receive me joyfully?

I had only to descend the valley, the plain would be easy going. But I could not show my face in England and say the North Albanian mountains had beaten me in six days.

I dared not look at the map, nor ask how much further we had to go, lest I should "funk" it, but followed the old man dumbly, zigzagging down the steep, shadeless, stony descent to the banks of the Tsem. I was nearly dead beat when I got to the bottom.

There was one tree. A girl was sitting under it plaiting braid on a basket frame. Other shade there was none. The heights had been breathless–the valley was a bakehouse. I imagined we had almost arrived and that the worst was over, till Marko, who is stout, gasped, "And now we have to go up the other side, O God!"

We tried to get water from the torrent, but its banks were steep rock and we could not reach it. Necessity is the mother of invention. I lowered my open umbrella into the stream and baled up a quantity. We drank, and I poured an umbrellaful over my head and shoulders, which pulled me together.

We crossed the torrent on a balk of timber. It was impossible to stay below, as there was neither shelter nor food, and it was the very hottest time of the day when we started again. The track zigzagged over loose stone up a slope so steep that in England we should call it a cliff, and the rocks were burning hot to touch. The old man was going strongly. Marko and I crawled and staggered. He had no protection for his head but a fez, and suffered horribly from heat. Half-way up he was so bad that I feared lest he should be sunstruck before we could get up. A hole in the cliff gave shade. We crowded into it. I opened Marko's shirt and fanned him with my hat. The old man spurred us on with the news that another half-hour would take us to the church. A final struggle, and we came out on a plain cultivated and wooded–but no church was to be seen. The next twenty minutes were the hardest I ever did. I was barely conscious, but the path, luckily, was good, and the church soon came in sight.

When we arrived there was no house–a new one in course of erection some way off was all that could be seen–and no human being!

At the back of the church was a hovel with the door shut. The old man hammered. I leaned against the wall, quite done. A long parley from above took place. Then a Franciscan opened the door. He spoke German, and said he was very sorry, but could not take us in. He had only camped here while his house was building.

But Albanian hospitality is unfailing. He was a son of the soil, and as soon as he realised my plight he took pity and asked us to share what he had.

It was pitch dark inside. We crossed a filthy stable on a plank, climbed a crazy ladder, and came into a room–crowded with workmen at dinner–squalid and airless.

The Padre put a rickety stool by a rickety table. I sat down. An icy sweat broke out on me, and, as all my surroundings disappeared in blue and black circles, I dropped my head on the table with just enough sense left to say: "Give me drink. Open the window."

"You will catch cold," said the Franciscan.

"Open the window," said I. He kindly did so, and brought me a glass of very strong rakia. I gulped it down. It burned holes in my empty stomach, but it brought back life. I knew where I was again, and asked for food.

The poor Franciscan was horrified at my greed. He said patience was a beautiful thing. I knew it was, but thought bread better. He pressed rakia upon me. One dose was very well, but I knew a little more would make me as sick as a dog. I begged for bread. He was a kind man and gave me a piece. I dipped it in the rakia, and by the time the fried eggs were ready was fit to eat a good meal. I do not think I ever felt so grateful to any one as to that Franciscan–more especially as I must have been a great nuisance to him.

He offered me his own bedroom–the only other room in the house–and I slept for three hours. Marko slept on a plank in the church, and the old man somewhere else. We had all had enough.

When I awoke I went out, as in duty bound, to see the neighbourhood. But I had no energy to interview the many natives who came to see me, save one, a cheery fellow who had won much popularity by shooting several Turkish soldiers from the nearest frontier blockhouse. All the tribesmen hate having Turkish blockhouses planted among them.

Supper, as is native custom, was not till nearly ten o'clock. by which time I was dropping with sleep. The Franciscan was particularly pleased to see the old man, and bade him sup with us. At his own request he sat on the floor at a sofra –chairs and tables not being his wont–ate hugely and enjoyed himself vastly. Was delighted to yarn about the tribes.

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.

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Post  Leka Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:59 pm

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."

I fell asleep at once only to be roused again at seven, This time by a whole party. "Are you still ill? Here is some rakia. The sun has been up," &c. &c.

It was useless to try for further rest. I got up and came out. Great joy from all the worthy people to see I was alive and well. They were sorry if they had disturbed me, but they had got up at 3 A.M.–for no valid reason–and when hour after hour passed, and they found I had locked the door and they could not get in, and did not answer when they first knocked, they thought perhaps I was dead! Thank God, I was safe, but it was very unwholesome to sleep so long.

The old man came to take me to his house to see his great-grandson. And there in the little mud-floored hovel–where nearly all that was left of the four generations dwelt crowded together–he told me the tale of his life. His father had died when he was a child. An uncle took charge of him, and set him to watch goats on the mountain-side. "And always I wanted to learn. I knew I could. I am not stupid. I feel that I have something here." He touched his forehead. "One day in Scutari a gentleman–a foreigner I think–talked with me. He asked me if I would like to learn, and said to my uncle, "The boy is clever. I will put him to school and pay for him." Ah, how I wanted to go! But my uncle said it was nonsense. He wanted me for his goats. I lost my only chance. Then all my young days there was war. Ah, those days when I was young and we thought we were fighting for freedom! But it was all in vain. We are a lost people. The strength is going from my arms. The land is always poorer and more miserable. I am a poor old man that can neither read nor write, and I shall die as I have lived, among the goats on the mountains."

Afterwards and from others–for the old man never boasted of his own exploits–I learned that he it was who had gathered the tribesmen and come to the rescue of the town of Tuzhi, when the Powers ordered it to be ceded to Montenegro. The Turkish troops had already been withdrawn when he started on his forlorn hope–but the resistance he and his offered was such that the town of Tuzhi has not been ceded to this day. Nor did the saviours of Tuzhi meet with any reward from the Turkish Government for which it was saved.

The old man spoke sadly about it, and with much bitterness. I ventured to ask if it would not have been better to have accepted Montenegrin rule for the purpose of having law and order.

"No," said the old man, "Nikita is a brave man. For the Montenegrins he is very good. If we had a Prince like that, we should be much more grateful than they are. But he is our enemy. For thirty years he has had Albanian subjects; their little children are forced to learn Serb. They may have no school in their own tongue. Better to wait and hope for freedom some day than take a rule that tries only to kill our faith and our nationality. In all these thirty years he has built no church for his Albanians in Cetinje."

And this was the universal opinion throughout the Christian tribes. But for the attempt to Slavise them, very many, probably whole tribes, would ere this have thrown in their lot with Montenegro.

It is strange that all the centuries have not taught even the great Powers, that all attempts to forcibly suppress a language result only in bitterness unspeakable–and race hatred that slumbers never, but lies ever waiting its opportunity.

This land, for which they have so suffered, is no justissima tellus. For endless toil it yields back little. Its great stretches of bare rock, its grim valleys, are symbolic of long lives of futile effort and unfulfilled hopes.

At night we sat at supper with the Padre, who had just returned, when suddenly the stillness without was broken by four gunshots.

"Ah!" he cried, "some one is killed." We leaned far out of the open windows. The whole desolate, trackless land lay silent under the cold moonlight–as though all the world were dead.

He hurled a question from out our house in a long howl that tore through the night like a shell; and the answer rang back swiftly. A certain family had just finished making a limekiln, and the shots were to celebrate the event. The Padre drew back into the room, and crossed himself with a sigh of relief.

I remember the episode with curious vividness; for it was the first. Some weeks later, such is the force of habit, I often did not notice gunshots at all.
Two Head-shaves–Scutari.

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Post  Leka Sun Apr 05, 2009 12:34 am


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.


I went into the stuffy han, and drew the hanjee making coffee and another man at the sofra, which gave vast satisfaction to every one, except myself, for by then it was time to start

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Post  Leka Sun Apr 05, 2009 12:35 am

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.

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."

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Post  Leka Sun Apr 05, 2009 12:35 am

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.

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Post  Leka Sun Apr 05, 2009 12:36 am

Of rough rule-of-thumb knowledge he had a good deal–showed where the main arteries ran, where it was dangerous to cut and where safe. I asked how one learned surgery. He said first you must have good hands and good fingers (his own were very fine), and you must think a good deal, and remember what you had seen in one patient and apply the knowledge to the next similar case. Above all, never be in a hurry, and be quite sure before you cut. You must think things out for yourself. Of anæsthetics he naturally knew nothing, and his very deliberate methods would be more than a West European could bear. But the Balkan peasant does not appear to feel pain so acutely, and suffers scarcely at all from "shock."

Apoplexy, he said, was caused by too much blood in the head. He had recently been called to a woman who was struck suddenly speechless and quite paralysed down one side. He bled her from the temple on the afflicted side and seven times from the arm on the other side. Next day she was better. He bled her five times. She made a good recovery and was now walking about, though slightly lame.

One must be guided by circumstances. A man came to him a short while ago with a crushed finger. When he had removed the fragments he found the ends of the bone too pointed and splintered to set well. So he sawed them straight with a little saw of his own making, set them, and made a good finger, but short.

Knowing that the Montenegrin native surgeons of old were well known for trephining, I asked the old man what he could do for a badly broken head. "Ah," said he, "the head is very difficult. It is like an egg. First there is the shell, then the skin, then the brain. If that skin is broken you can do nothing–the man must die. But if the broken bone only presses on it you can save him. You cut like this"–he indicated a triangular flap on the head of the man next him–"and turn it back. Then you pick out the broken pieces very carefully and raise the bone from the brain. But you cannot leave the brain unprotected. You must cut a piece of dried hard bottle-gourd to fit the place–it is round like a man's head. You can find a piece that fits exactly. It must be quite hard. Then you replace the flap over it and sew if necessary and dress with the salve, and his head will be as good as ever."

The kirijee at once said, with enthusiasm, that he had been so treated at the age of sixteen; had been knocked on the head in a bazar riot, brought home unconscious, and only recovered when the bashed-in bone was removed. Had had a large piece of gourd in his head ever since. It made no difference, except that he had to scratch his head oftener that side than the other.

The company examined his head with much interest. The old man had never cut out bone himself, only removed broken pieces. But there was a man in Mirdita, he said, very clever at skull-cutting. He had recently removed a very large piece from the skull of a badly injured and unconscious man. (A very large part of the left parietal, according to the description.) Had replaced all with gourd, and made a complete cure.

The company listened with deep interest to the old man's tales. We had another of the successful extraction of a bullet, and heard how he had slung a horse with a broken leg and healed it. He was greatly pleased with my interest, but sighed and said: "I know nothing. You were born in a happy land. I could have learned. I have it here." He touched his head. "I might have been some use. Now I shall die as I have lived–a poor old man among the goats on the mountains."

The old man squatting on a rock became a sublime and tragic figure–the victim of a pitiless Fate–a wasted power, whose skill might have benefited half Europe. My heart bled for him–but at the back of my consciousness I asked myself if he would be any happier hurrying from one fashionable patient to another in a thousand-guinea motor-car through streets that stink of petroleum.

The Padre meanwhile was very busy housekeeping. We should have sent him a wireless telegram, he said. Telegraphing in Albania was far quicker than in any other land. Which is a fact. All news is shouted from hill to hill. "Shouting" gives no idea of it. The voice, pitched in a peculiar artificial note, is hurled across the valley with extraordinary force. Any one that catches the message acts as receiver and hurls it on to its address. And within an hour an answer may be received from a place twelve hours' tramp distant. The physical effort of the shout is great. The brows are corrugated into an expression of agony, both hands often pressed tight against the ears–perhaps an instinctive counterpressure to the force with which the air is expelled from within–the body is thrust forward and swayed, face and neck turn crimson, the veins of the neck swell up into cords. There are few places where it is harder to keep an event secret than in the mountains of Albania. News spreads like wildfire. The fact that a man has been shot upcountry reaches Scutari next day at latest, often with many details.

"Theft is impossible in Kilmeni," said the Padre, laughing; "the whole tribe hears the description of an article as soon as it is missed. Every one knows if some one has a few more sheep than yesterday."

At supper the genial old Padre sat at the head of the table, flanked by the two largest, fattest cats I ever saw. If he did not give them tit-bits fast enough, they slapped him smartly with their paws, which highly delighted him. I think he is the one perfectly contented human being I ever met.

"If I were born a second time into this world, I would again be a Frate," said he; "and if a third time, a third time Frate, in the Albanian mountains, with my people and my little house, and my books and my cats. I hope to die here without ever seeing a town again."

My unmarried condition pleased him much. He enlivened supper with an extremely plain-spoken sermon de Virginitate, till Marko protested that he had led a virtuous married life for twenty years, and did not consider himself a sinner. Which called down on us a yet plainer spoken address de Matrimonio and de–sundry other things expounded in much sonorous Latin, which, fortunately, Marko did not understand, and which "called a spade a spade."

Vukli, all Christian, consists of ninety-four families, all from the same stock. It marries chiefly with Seltze. A wife is cheaper than in Hoti, and costs twelve napoleons. The houses are, as usual, scattered far and wide. An Albanian parish is no easy one to work. A priest has often a four hours', even six hours' tramp to reach a dying man, and no matter what may happen at the other end of the parish, cannot get there in the same day. As at Seltze, the people are very industrious, are pastoral, and have plenty of high pasture. Vukli has a fair share of cultivable land, well cleaned of stones, which are all used for wall-making. Big boulders are laboriously drilled with crowbars and blasted with gunpowder. It often takes a week to destroy one rock–but they do it. And the larger part of the population migrates to the plains in winter with the flocks, wasting weary days on the march over rough tracks and bearing their burdens on their backs.

The houses are, like those of Seltze, clean and well-built. The head of the entrance-door is, as is usual in many parts of North Albania, semicircular, and the arch formed not of voussoirs but hewn from a solid block. This, almost always the case with arched doors' heads throughout the land, shows that arch construction is not at all understood.

It is in the graveyard that Vukli's originality is to be found. This, as is usual where timber is cheap, is full of wooden crosses; but local art has stepped in and transformed the emblem of Christianity into a "portrait" of the deceased. The chef-d'oeuvre is that of a doughty warrior. His face is carved above, two arms are added, his Martini and revolver are shown on the arms of the cross. It is incomparably grotesque. A serpent wriggles up one side to show, I was told, his fierceness. The serpent not unfrequently appears on graves, and may be connected with now forgotten beliefs. On the other hand, it is customary in the ballads of the Montenegrins to call a great fighting-man ljuta zmija (fierce serpent). But in the course of time new meanings may be attached to old symbols.

The Padre laughed when he found me admiring this cross. "Very un-Christian," he said, shaking his head; "but they do like it so." Vukli, as Seltze, suffered much from the Shtriga–one wretched woman had lost all her eight children–and also from the Evil Eye (Syy kec). So powerful is this, that a man had recently, to prove his power, gazed at a bunch of grapes, which had withered upon its stem and dropped to the ground before the awestruck spectators.

Syy kec is one of the curses of Albania. Against it, throughout the land, folk wear many charms. Blue glass beads adorn the halters of most of the horses; children have a coin tied on the forehead; the Catholics wear crosses, sacred hearts, medals of the saints (these mostly from Italy), and amulet cases, triangular, holding such Latin texts as they can get the priest to write for them. These, too, are bound to the horns of cattle and the manes of horses, to prevent the latter from being spirit-ridden by night by oras or devils.

There is a very good charm (Djakova) against all these. You must kill a snake, and cut off its head with silver. The edge of a white medjidieh (large coin) sharpened, will serve–you must dry the head, wrap it up with a silver medal of St. George, have it blessed by a priest, and it will protect you so long as you wear it. A piece of a meteorite is a protection against gunshot. Were it not for these safeguards, it would be hard to live in the land. The devils appear often at night, as fiery sparks dashing about, and then, no matter how well the traveller may know the way, he cannot find it. Nor until the first cock-crow (about two hours after midnight) can he go farther. After that they are powerless, and vanish–as did Hamlet's ghost under similar circumstances. Albania lives in the primitive times when real miracles happen that none doubt–when man has no power over his own fate, but writhes impotent, smitten on the one hand by the wrath of God and tormented on the other by the powers of evil. He faces his doom stoically. Eghel–"It is written."

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Post  Leka Sun Apr 05, 2009 12:36 am

It is good to live in this atmosphere. Many is the tiny, giddy ledge I have crept round without hesitation, driven forward by the cheery shout: "Go on! It is not Eghel that you will die here." Which I could not have done had an English friend been screaming: "For God's sake, don't try. You will break your neck!" There are countless advantages in travelling with natives only.

Vukli was fascinating, but the time for going came. I was bound for Boga and Shala. Again the heights were not passable for me. I must go back on my trail by Kastrati and Skreli, and ascend the valley of the Proni Thaat. I could do it in two days, but must start early, said the Padre. He advised 3 A.M. He saw to the re-shoeing of the horses the previous afternoon. They need nails or shoes renewing about once a week on these tracks. Three A.M. is a dree hour. I pleaded for five, but was bidden remember the heat. I did. I thought of the way to Gruda as a nightmare of agony. So I agreed, but said I must go to bed early. According, however, to Albanian custom, it was little short of 11 P.M. when I succeeded in lying down on some sheepskins. There was not enough time to waste over dressing and undressing. I seemed to have scarce laid down, when knocks aroused me, and I was told coffee was ready–and the horses. Giddy with sleep, but terrified of waiting for the sun, I crawled out half conscious. The Padre, as gay as ever, hoped I had had a good night. He had–very. The regulation two nips of black coffee woke me a little, and I said good-bye regretfully to my jovial old host, went out half dazed into the chill, grey, sleeping world, and started down the hill over loose stones, on foot. The effect of the coffee wore off before I was half-way down. I reeled with sleep, and fell heavily with a clatter that woke me. Marko and the old man were distressed, but I had fallen much too limply to be hurt.

"You woke me too soon," I said. "You know I don't like it."

"But to get up very early is so healthy!" persisted Marko.

"I can't help that. Four hours out of the twenty-four is not enough. I went too late to bed. Supper was late."

"But it was quite early! Only two hours after sunset!"

I did not enter into the fruitless argument about the sun setting late in summer, because in Albania it always sets at the same time–twelve o'clock. "In England maybe the sun sets later in the summer, but with us never."

At the foot of the hill I mounted, slung the bridle on my arm, hung on to the saddle-bow with both hands, shut my eyes and dozed, waking with a jerk whenever the horse stumbled or I nodded forward.

Half-way down the valley the old man had friends. He hailed them loudly, and out they came with a bowl of fresh milk and some cheese. We breakfasted. It was the old man's prescription to wake me up properly.

We got to Han Grabom without adventure. There I was greeted by another of the "Albanian virgins" in male garb, who begged me to take her with me to England. She said she always had to come home along the Montenegrin frontier, was terrified of being picked off by Montenegrin sharpshooters, and had no money to buy a gun. She would like to live in a safe place. She had no brother, was one of five sisters. Two were married. The other three all dressed as men, and worked the family land.

After Han Grabom was the ascent to Rapsha. Luckily you can ride up places you cannot ride down. Part walking–in the most risky bits–part riding, we came to the top in good time. Though it was quite hot enough, the sun was off.

At nightfall we pulled up at a han in Kastrati. It was one of the occasions when I have really appreciated a han, for I was drenched with sweat and bruised with tumbling about. The hanjee lit a fire, and I dried by it while Marko chopped the head off a fowl and set it stewing.

I woke next morning to the sad fact that I must say good-bye to the dear old man. We were in Kastrati. Hoti and Kastrati were in blood; he had safe-conduct back, but must go no farther.

He made a touching farewell speech, begged me to write to him from London–the Padre would read it to him. Afterwards he visited me each time he came to Scutari, haunted by a vague hope that I could do something for his unhappy land.

The hanjee piloted us down to Brzheta in Skreli, where we picked up another man and went on to Boga by an easy trail up the dry valley of the Proni Thaat on its right bank, crossing to the left near the village of Skreli.

Boga–seventy-five families, all Catholic–unlike its brethren of Vukli and Seltze, was rather badly in blood. Two brothers had recently been shot by their own relatives.

For those interested in "dove crosses" I may mention that at Boga and at Snjerch (St. George), near the mouth of the Bojana, now Montenegrin territory, the finest examples are to be found.

The priest and his old mother welcomed me, but, on hearing I was bound for Shala, begged me not to attempt the pass. The snow was very deep, half molten, and sliding, and the descent on the other side extremely precipitous. In no case could the horses cross it. I took their advice. The return journey down the valley was amply worth while for the quite magnificent spectacle of the snowy mountains of Skreli, dazzling against the turquoise sky above a dark pine belt. Just above Brzheta we crossed the stream bed, and struck away from it southwards to Rechi, through Lohja–a small tribe of one bariak, made up of eighty Moslem and forty Christian houses. It has a mosque and a hodza, and shares a priest with Rechi, the tribe next door–also mostly Moslem. Rechi-Lohja is of mixed stock, mainly originating from Pulati and Slaku, and was originally all Catholic.

Grizha, another small, one-bariak tribe, hard by, is, I believe, all Moslem, also Kopliku on the plain below.

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.

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Post  Leka Sun Apr 05, 2009 12:37 am

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. HIGH ALBANIA  BY M. EDITH DURHAM 105

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.

We now left the Maltsia e madhe group and the diocese of Scutari for Pulati.

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Post  Leka Sun Apr 05, 2009 12:40 am


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.

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.

The Bishop's idea of an excellent track must have been the strait and narrow way. It was execrable. With great difficulty were the horses dragged along. We scrambled and sidled on foot along narrow ledges or crumbly shale that breaks and goes rattling down into the valley below. Shade there was none, nor any breath of air. I have no idea what the scenery was, as I saw nothing but the next possible foothold in a dizzy reel of almost intolerable heat, keeping well ahead of the horses, as they always break off lumps of the track with their last hind-leg.

Not long ago these hills were well wooded, but here, as in many districts, every one cuts and no one plants, and the loose soil is disintegrating with alarming speed. Each rainy season the water tears down the earth in tons, whirling all away to silt up the Bojana and build a bar across its mouth. Blocking its own exit to the sea, the water spreads and festers, fever-stricken, over the plain, leaving desolation behind it in the mountains. The land melts rapidly before the eyes of the poor people, who lament and say that the Government ought to build walls, but cannot understand that they must cut carefully and replant.

In the few foreign schools that exist in Scutari, "book larning" and nothing practical is taught. The pupils are filled with the wish to obtain a clerkship abroad rather than the knowledge of how to develop their own land.

We reached Plani at midday; it lies at the head of the valley of the Kiri. The church stands in a most charming spot. A small catacract leaps down from high above, through a wooded gorge–a bower of coolness and greenery after the roasting track.

Plani, a tribe of one bariak, traces origin from three stocks which are intermarriageable. One hales from Kilmeni. Fifty years ago, people say, they dressed like Mirdites; but I heard no tale of relationship with them.

Plani owed very little blood within the tribe, but was in blood with several neighbour tribes.

When a feud is reconciled in Plani (and some other districts I believe), a woman brings an infant in a cradle and turns it upside down between the foes, turning the child out on the ground. As it is always tied down tightly by the cradle cover; it can be gently released–the ceremony is not so violent as it sounds.

There are a good many ceremonies about the laying of blood to be learnt.

The deputy Bariaktar welcomed me to his home–a house of thirty members. He spoke strongly against blood feuds, having lost father, brother, and son, all in the same one. Threatened with ruin if it continued, he had paid blood gelt, 300 guldens in all, and now was doing well.

Plani, like Hoti, has a celebrated surgeon. Unluckily he was absent. Diseases of the eye were his specialty. For inflamed eyes I was told the following is infallible: the juice of Wall Pellitory mixed with a little salt. Three drops in the eye twice a day is the dose.

A proverb says: "Each disease has its herb."

A popular dressing for cuts and wounds is the common St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum ) well pounded and put into a bottle of olive oil. This must be placed in the sun for several days, and is then fit for use. It has such a reputation for healing that I think it must have some antiseptic property.

A remedy for jaundice, a common complaint in the mountains, is: catch a little fish, put it in a basin of water and stare at it steadily as it swims round. After a few days the yellow goes out of your eyes and into the fish, and you are cured.

A wondrous plant is that which breaks stone and iron. Should a hobbled horse, out grazing, touch it with the hobble the iron flies asunder. Valuable horses have often thus been lost. None knows where the plant grows but the tortoise.

When you find, as is not infrequent, some tortoise's eggs, you must build a little wall round them of stones. Then hide and await the mother tortoise. She will be very angry and strive to butt down the wall with her head, lest her children should hatch inside it and be starved. Failing to butt it down she will go and fetch a leaf of the plant, touch the wall with it, and at once down goes the wall!

You can then take the leaf from her, and use it for burglary and other household purposes. Where she finds it none knows, and she will not fetch it if followed.

Tortoises swarm in Albania–oddly fascinating beasts that bask in the sun and peer at you with little beady eyes, or walk along serenely, craning their wrinkled necks and browsing with deliberate bites off the leaves they fancy; sad things are they in a sprouting maize or bean field. It is not surprising that their grotesque form has inspired a folk-tale: How the Tortoise got its Shell.

When Christ was crucified all the beasts hastened to condole with the Virgin Mary. The poor little tortoise was deeply grieved, and did not know how to show his grief; so, on the way, he bit off a large leaf and covered himself up. When the Virgin saw him coming along with only his little head sticking out, he looked so funny that she could not help laughing aloud in spite of the painful circumstances. And the tortoise has been covered up ever since.

Plani knows many strange things. There is a group of houses not far from the church, which has had a curse upon it for many years, so that the families never increase in number. I visited one small house; it contained eighteen people, so perhaps the failure to increase is rather a blessing than a curse.

Talk ran on the chytet (fortress), very ancient–who knows, perhaps, a thousand years. Was it far? I asked, for I was tired. "Oh, no," said the Franciscan, "we can go and come back easily in an hour."

We started; the track degenerated into a narrow ledge crawling along the side of the mountain, betwixt heaven above and the river below; and at the finish, the spur of the hill, there was a rocky pinnacle to climb.

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Post  Leka Sun Apr 05, 2009 12:41 am

An extraordinarily wild spot. The sharp peak rose high, with a deep valley on three sides of it. In the gap between it and the range of which it was the final point are traces of the chytet; the remains of three wells, now choked with stones. Part of the rock face is roughly hewn, and a few small ledges are cut in it. A rudely-built bastion overhangs the precipice.

"No, we must go to the top," said the wiry little Franciscan, who skipped from rock to rock like a chamois. I was not shod for climbing; having been promised an hour's stroll, and wore a long skirt. "The way," said the Franciscan, after a vain attempt at the near side, "is best on the precipice side." Marko did not like the idea at all; however, we crawled round and started. The upright blocks of rock were all too big for my stride, but there were bushes between, by which to pull up, and there was something like a thousand feet below, straight down, to fall. Luckily I am never giddy, or I should have gone overboard years ago. In the Balkan peninsula giddiness is unknown, and people start you along any ledge at height cheerily and recklessly.

Half-way up, the heat being appalling, it occurred to me to ask if there was much of the chytet to be seen when we did get up. Hearing that there was none, and that we were going up merely for the sake of going up, I cried off, to the disappointment of the wild-goat Franciscan. It was a game not worth the candle. Marko thanked God fervently when I was no longer overhanging space. He had sworn to bring me home alive, and had been greatly uneasy.

The fortress was most probably a Venetian outpost to guard Drishti from the attacks of up-country tribesmen. A bronze cannon was found a good many years ago buried in the mountain-side below, but was taken away by an officer and some soldiers.

Plani has little corn land, and has to buy. Some men and very many women were toiling in long weary strings over Shala to Gusinje, climbing two high passes–a frightfully severe two days' march–maize being cheaper there than at Scutari. The return journey of wretched beings, staggering under loads of 60 or 70 lbs., is horrible to see. The cords that bind on the burden often cut right into the shoulder. The maize lasts little more than a week, and the weary journey begins again. Small wonder that the toil-broken people begged that the Powers would enforce the making of a railway to Scutari.

Time was flying. I wanted to see all High Albania. It was time to move on. The kirijee then said he had a bad foot and was tired of the journey, so the Padre kindly lent me his own man to take me to Thethi. We had a second as escort. The way, said the Padre, was good, but after sitting my reeling, struggling beast for some ten minutes over large rocks, to shrieks of "Jesus, Maria, Joseph!" which were supposed to encourage it, I dismounted, and was in for another roasting tramp.

The ever-rising track swung round the head of the valley, above the source of the Kiri, and over the Chafa Bashit (some 4000 feet), into Shala. Once up and over, all Shala lay before us and below us, a long, lorn wall of huge, jagged mountains, still snow-capped, with the Lumi Shalit flowing in the valley at their feet.

I daresay you have never heard of Shala. I have looked towards Shala and the beyond for years–the wild heart of a wild land.

Do you know the charm of such a land? It has the charm of childhood. It has infinite possibilities–if it would but grow up the right way. It has crimes and vices; I know them all (that is to say, I trust there are not any more). But it has primitive virtues, without many of the meannesses of what is called civilisation. It is uncorrupted by luxury. It is cruel–but so is Nature. It is generous as a child that gives you its sweets. It can be trusting and faithful. And it plays its own mysterious games, that no grown-ups can hope to understand.

I hurried forward. There was grass underfoot, and–always a joy–we were to go down-hill for hours and hours. Our two men were not so inspired. They said they wished to call on a friend, and left us under a tree with a Martini, saying that any one who passed would recognise the weapon (decked with silver filagree), and consider us properly introduced.

And sure enough the first-comers recognised it at once, and were most friendly. The glee with which they learnt how many brothers I possess–married or single, how old–&c., their pressing invitations that we would at least come and have a cup of coffee or rakia, or stay the night at any of their respective houses and accept "bread, salt and my heart," whiled away the time pleasantly till our two men returned.

We descended to the river's bank by Gimaj, a village of Shala, and followed up the valley. The river became a torrent, leaping from rock to rock–the pine-clad mountains towered on either hand, and the houses were all kulas –tall stone towers, loopholed for rifles.

A final ascent brought us to the plain of Thethi, a grandly wild spot where the valley opens out. The ground is cultivated, and well watered by cunning little canals. Great isolated boulders are scattered over it, on which stand kulas.

The eyes, some one has said, are the windows of the soul. In extreme wrath, at fighting-point, when a man goes white and strikes, the pupils of his eyes contract to black specks. So do the blank, windowless walls of the kulas, with their tiny loopholes, stand ever threatening.

I think no place where human beings live has given me such an impression of majestic isolation from all the world. It is a spot where the centuries shrivel; the river might be the world's well-spring, its banks the fit home of elemental instincts–passions that are red and rapid.

A great square-topped cliff on the left was covered with broken fir trunks, torn down by a heavy snow-slide in the winter. Bleached and white in the sun, they lay scattered like the bones of the dead. Others stood erect and gaunt. "It is the altar of God, with candles upon it!" cried one of the men who was with me.

At the very end of the valley rises the range of mountains called the Prokletija (the Accursed Mountains), so named, I was told in Shala and Lower Pulati, because it was over them that the Turk came into High Albania. Other routes seem more possible; but for my own part I believe in local tradition. And the bitter truth remains that over all the land is still the curse of Turkish influence.

Thethi is a bariak of Shala. The church and church-house of Thethi stand in the midst of the plain–a solid, shingle-roofed building, with a bell tower. It is largely due to the personal influence of the young Franciscan in charge that Thethi is almost free from blood. In rather more than four years but two cases have occurred.

We arrived at a moment of wild excitement; crowds of mountain men hurrying up, shouting, yelling, talking at the full pitch of their throats–a regular hurry-scurry, with the little Franciscan buzzing about, commanding, entreating, gesticulating, at once. All the heads of Shala were met me ban medjliss (to hold a parliament), nearly a hundred of them. They crowded into a large empty room on the ground floor. The President of Council here is elected by the people (the hereditary Bariaktar in Thethi has no rights as head except in battle; this system is spreading)–a big dark man, not at all prepossessing, who looked an ugly customer to tackle. The window was iron-barred; a woman outside, her face pressed close to the grating, listened eagerly. It was a most important meeting on home and foreign affairs. The noise was terrific, and deafened us even in the room above. The Padre came panting upstairs with his arms full of pistols, flintlocks heavily mounted in silver. "Thank God, I got these from them!" he said, as he stowed them in the cupboard with the cups and plates; "they are dreadfully excited to-day!" The room was already stacked with Martinis, deposited in sign of good faith. The question under debate was peace or war.

Shala and the other Christian tribes that border on Moslem ones are always making and repelling raids. Recently the position had become acute. In the previous autumn the Moslems near Djakova captured and imprisoned a Franciscan for many weeks. At the same time the whole of the Moslem tribes were mysteriously supplied with Mausers and quantities of ammunition, it was said by the Turkish Government. Exultant and boasting, the Moslems had just sent in an ultimatum to the Christians that all who had not turned Moslem by Ramazan would be massacred. Krasnich, the next-door Moslem tribe, boasted 350 Mausers, Gasi 300, and Vuthaj 80: Christian Shala but some six or eight, and these only smuggled in with difficulty.

Nevertheless, filled with rage, Shala swore besa of peace with its Christian neighbours, Shoshi and Merturi, and passed a resolution to warn the Vuthaj and Gusinje Moslems that in seven days from receiving notice, Shala-Shoshi and Merturi would be on a war footing with them. The decision was arrived at in a wild clamour, and the Franciscan fetched to record it; which he did, when he had vainly talked himself tired in favour of peace. The local priest, being the only man who can write, always has to act as Chief Secretary for State at a medjliss, and must write its decision whether he approve or not, and preserve the document for future reference.

The exhausted and excited medjliss then started again on local grazing rights, and finally broke up shouting, having decided nothing further. The wary Franciscan retained the pistols of the five most influential men till the morrow, when all was to be concluded.

The medjliss met early next morning, and this time in a great circle out of doors. I meant to photograph it, but was dragged away by Marko and the Franciscan and sent indoors, as they feared firing at any minute. Four of the five chief "heads" had agreed the day before to the decision of the majority. The fifth stood out furious and vowed neither he nor his mehala would accept it. As he was head of fourteen houses and ruled sixty-four individuals, his agreement was necessary to any grazing right changes. After a most stormy hour or two on the perilous brink of blood, he was talked round. The motion was carried, and the heads came upstairs for their pistols, but the affair had been touch-and-go.

"I am afraid they find it dreadfully boring," said the Franciscan. "They say no one has been shot for two whole years! We nearly had a row at a medjliss a little while ago–(that was why I got the five chief pistols this time)–I heard a fearful noise, and as I ran out a lot of them all got up into a bunch like bees, and raised their rifles. They were just going to fire. They would not listen to me. I rushed into the church and rang the bell as hard as I could. It had a splendid effect. As soon as they heard the bell, from habit they all shoved their pistols in their belts and took their guns in their left hands, and began to cross themselves. No one knew what had happened. They poured into the church to see. By the time we came out again and had had a talk they were quieted."

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Post  Leka Sun Apr 05, 2009 12:41 am

Such was my coming to Theta. I stayed some time, and came back to it, and hope to go again.

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.

The border Moslems will pay high prices for Christian girls, ten napoleons even above the Christian rate. Moslems rarely sell girls to Christians, but both Moslems and Christians abduct one another's girls freely. Hence much blood.

The lot of a woman who wishes to escape from a Christian husband is even harder. Recently a Christian woman–married into a Christian tribe–who lived most unhappily with her husband, ran away from him, meaning to go to a Moslem at Ipek and turn Turk.

Passing through Thethi, she was recognised and stopped. The tribe she had fled from was informed. Six men of her own tribe and five from her husband's came and took her back to her husband. It was far better for her, said Thethi, to be unhappy with a Christian than happy with a Moslem.

Should a woman be very badly used by her husband and fly for protection to her family, they may, if they think her flight justified, refuse to give her up. In this case they may summon a medjliss which, in extreme cases, permits her to remain at home. Should the family keep her without permission from the medjliss, a blood feud with her husband arises.

This custom prevailed also in Montenegro till fairly recent times. I was told of a case in which thirty men were shot in a fight that ensued when a family refused to give up a refugee daughter to the husband who had ill-treated her.

Trouble, as the Franciscans were never tired of impressing on me, was brought into the world by woman. Thethi had lately been much upset by a fair widow. Married very young in Thethi, her husband was killed within the year. As she was childless, she was the property of her own family. The xoti i shpis (lord of the house), her nephew, sold her again at once at an enhanced price. The second husband also came to an untimely end almost at once. She had now a great reputation for beauty, and was in much demand. Her nephew had an immediate bid of five purses (22 napoleons) for her and accepted it. Followed a second bid of rather more. He threw over the first and accepted this; but there came a third, of no less than eight purses. His aunt was indeed a gold mine. He jumped at the eight-purse man. A terrible quarrel ensued. The five-purse man took his money back and was appeased, and the second also was talked around. Then a fourth man appeared and said the widow had promised herself to him, and she confirmed his statement.

Eight-purses insisted she was his. The nephew, too, was highly in his favour. The matter was laid before the priest. He, finding the woman was quite decided for number four, supported her choice, for, as he philosophically remarked, "It is really no use marrying them to the ones they don't want; they only run away." The nephew said he would be satisfied with a fair price, so the couple hooked their little fingers together, exchanged rings before the priest, and were pronounced properly betrothed.

Eight-purses arrived in a fury, and forbade the banns on the grounds of consanguinity. A relative of the bridegroom had been kumar i floksh (head-shaving godfather) to a relative of the bride. They were head-shaving second cousins, and not intermarriageable. The Padre briefly said "Rubbish," and married them. Eight-purses and all his house flew in wrath to the Bishop and accused the Padre of celebrating an incestuous wedding, demanding his immediate expulsion. His Grace told them to "be off!" Vowing vengeance, they went to Scutari for Government help against both Bishop and priest, but, obtaining none, they finally dropped the matter.

The Upper Pulati tribes are greatly given to the custom of taking a deceased relative's widow as concubine. Against this the Padre was waging active war. One man gave as his reason for taking his sister-in-law that he was a poor man and could thus get a wife for nothing. Nine weeks, Sunday after Sunday, was the pair excommunicated. Then the man said he would leave her if the Padre would find him a cheap wife. An Albanian Franciscan will undertake any job to assist his flock. In a neighbour tribe he saw a likely-looking widow, found she was going cheap, and sent for his strayed sheep to have a look at her. The man was delighted. Her owner "swopped" her for an old Martini, the triumphant Padre married them and received him back to the bosom of Mother Church.

In the wilderness I never want books. They are all dull compared to the life stories that are daily enacted among the bare grey rocks.

A father and mother came sorely anxious to the Padre. Some time ago they had sold their daughter and received the purchase-money. Now, when it was time to send her, they found he had taken his uncle's widow and also his cousin's as "wives," and wished to add their daughter as a legal one to the family circle.

They did not wish her to be one of three, and said he must first dismiss the other two. He refused, said he had bought the girl, and she was his and must live as he chose. They said the deal was "off," and offered to return the purchase-money. He swore vengeance. They were terrified lest the girl should be forcibly abducted, and begged help. The Padre put the girl in charge of his mother, and hurried off to find a respectable man who would marry her and take her to a distance. This he quickly succeeded in doing, and she was safely smuggled away.

Very slowly does tribe usage yield to Church law. Some customs one cannot wish to preserve. Others, that are denounced as Pagan, one regrets. Some years ago it was the common custom to burn a Yule log at Christmas, and with it corn, maize, beans–samples of all the land yields–and to pour wine and rakia on the flames as offerings, doubtless to a half-forgotten God. The ashes were scattered on the fields to make them fertile. But an energetic Franciscan argued, "Why waste good food and imperil your souls by Pagan rites, when you might save both by behaving as Christians?" And the picturesque and harmless custom is fast dying out. (It is still practised in Montenegro.)

The belief in what is eghel wars with Christianity and sometimes conquers. An old, old man lay mortally ill. The Padre hastened to him, but he refused to confess and did not want absolution. "I cannot die," he said, "it is not eghel. Never before have I had such a flock of goats, nor such store of corn and dried meat. I cannot die with all that food to eat." But he had misread the Book of Fate, and died sine sacramento.

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Post  Leka Sun Apr 05, 2009 12:42 am

Thethi is one of the few places in North Albania that has not lost the old art of chip-carving. The graveyard is stately with big wooden crosses, well carved, the arms ending in circles adorned with a rayed sun. A little child died in the night, and hither next morning came the funeral party, bearing the little corpse in its wooden cradle.

It was beautifully dressed, and had been washed quite clean, probably for the first time, poor little thing. On its breast lay three green apples. The women sat round and sang death-wails while two men dug the very shallow grave. This was because the child's head had not yet been shaved. After that ceremony it would rank as an adult, and the grave must be dug breast-deep. No coffin was used, but the grave roughly lined with planks.

The wild wailing of the women and long-drawn sobs of the father, while one woman sang a death-chant, were painful in the extreme. But just as I was feeling broken-hearted the song ended, and the party began to chatter and laugh as though nothing were the matter. Some people, on the way to Gusinje to buy maize, stopped to look at the corpse, and all were talking cheerfully when, suddenly, a woman began another death-chant, and at once the sobbing began again.

They then cut a lock of the child's hair, and laid the body in the grave with the three apples on its breast. The Padre arrived, and they asked him if the apples were necessary. He said not, and they were removed and tied in a handkerchief with the hair.

The funeral service was quite drowned by an old man who stood at the head of the grave with his rosary in his hand and shouted a hotchpotch of every scrap of Latin he could remember from any service, at the top of his voice. A plank was laid on as lid, the earth hoed over. No one displayed the least emotion, and the party trailed away carrying the empty cradle. Both in Montenegro and Albania the cradle is often broken and left on the grave, a most pathetic monument. Of the apples I could only learn it was an old custom to put them in the grave. It prevailed till lately in Montenegro also.

The days passed. I visited dark kulas perched on rocks, and met everywhere the same frank hospitality and courtesy, though it weighed on my soul that I was receiving it under false pretences; for, in spite of my frequent and emphatic denials, all Thethi persisted in believing me to be the sister of the King of England come to free them, and addressing me always as Kralitse (Queen).

But though happy at Thethi my soul hankered ever after Gusinje. Gusinje, said every one, was impossible. I had tried for it in 1903 from Andrijevica, in Montenegro, but no one would take the risk of piloting me. The Turkish Government gave no permission–the natives would admit no stranger. In former days a consul or two had visited it with an escort. Lately it had become the Lhassa of Europe, closed to all; though several had tried.

The longer I stayed at Thethi, the more I thought of Gusinje. Marko would not hear of it. I gave it up at last, and ordered mules to take us to Lower Shala, and went for a walk with the Padre up the valley to Okolo. It is a wonderful valley–wide grass meadows with a crystal-clear river through them, fed by countless bubbling springs.

Okolo is well-to-do. Many of its eighty kulas are large and fine, and some quite new. Were it not for the curse of blood, Okolo should flourish. In land, wood, and water it has all that a village needs. But though it has been at peace within, for four years, a field full of graves, but a few years older, shows that it is not for nothing that Shala is reputed a fighting tribe.

On a summer evening a party of men strolled down the valley, sat upon the ground lazily, and watched the stars come out.

Then, pointing to a certain star, one said: "That is the biggest," and another said: "No, that one there is bigger." A fierce dispute took place; some took one side, some the other; rifles cracked, bullets sang. When the smoke cleared and the first excitement was over, there lay seventeen dead men–slain for a star–and eleven wounded. Their comrades buried the dead where they fell–for they died in sin–sine sacramento.

At the very end of the valley towered Mal Radoina, said to be the highest of the Prokletija range, and Mal Harapit thrust up a sharp pinnacle to the sky with a deep square-cut pass on its shoulder–Chafa Pes–the pass that leads to Gusinje. Beyond that mountain wall lay the Promised Land, and I had ordered the mules for Lower Shala to-morrow.

A headman of Okolo invited us to his kula. We followed him, and then wonders began to happen. At his door was tethered a beautiful little grey saddle-horse. It was the horse of one of the headmen of Vuthaj, a large Moslem village but an hour from Gusinje, and he was guest at the house. My spirits rose; there by the hearth sat a long, lean Moslem, smartly dressed, armed with a new Mauser–a man of means evidently. He greeted the Padre heartily–for the Padre had once visited Vuthaj, and prescribed successfully for some sick–was much interested in my travels, and told of the beauties of Vuthaj. Vuthaj, if not the rose, was next it. Anxiously I asked if it could be visited; the Moslem promptly invited us. He belonged to one of the two chief houses, and said he could guarantee our safety.

But as he was bound for Scutari he could not escort us. I was ready "to see Gusinje and die"–the Padre had friends and would be safe–but Marko said it was impossible, and he had a wife and children to consider. I was torn betwixt a desire to go and a fear of getting any of my men into trouble. But a few days before, Thethi had sworn to declare war against this very district–the land of Mausers. After much talk, sheep-cheese and rakia, we said adieu with the matter undecided.

As we turned the bend of the valley, and the square-cut pass was lost to sight, I felt I had lost all I cared about. So near, and yet so far. The sporting Padre returned to the charge: "What about to-morrow?" He enlarged upon the ease and safety of the expedition; he suggested that he and I should go and Marko wait for us. Marko refused this absolutely; he had sworn to bring me back safely, his honour was concerned in it; if I died, he meant to die too. God would protect his wife and orphans.

"Nothing will happen," said the Padre firmly. "I will go," said I. No sooner said than arranged. Our host at Okolo volunteered to be escort and provide two mules. He had to go, or send some one, at any rate, as he had promised to send the Moslem's grey horse back. The Padre's servant was to come with a rifle; we were to take no luggage of any sort, and only food enough for the outward track. It took six hours, if you went fast, said the Padre. We were off before six next morning, I fondly believing we should arrive by one o'clock, and return next morning–which, after nine years' experience of the Near East, was extremely foolish of me.

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