The Ghost Rider

AUTHOR: Ismail Kadare
SETTING: Albania


On this page:

Biography of Ismail Kadare;  Excerpts on Literature and Religion from “Culture of Albania” Site; Map of Albania;  Albania Information; The Ghost Rider…; Doruntine;   ” Of Time, Honor, and Memory: Oral Law in Albania,” by Fatos Tarifa (former Albanian Ambassador to the United States) ;  Excerpts from  The Criminal Law in the “Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini” – The Albanian Customary Law;    Excerpt from Twilight of the Vampires by Tea Obreht


Ismail Kadare was born on 28 January 1936 in Gjirokastër, Albania. He was from a non-religious family.

Kadare was educated at the Faculty of History and Philology at the University of Tirana and later at the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow. During the communist regime, Kadare supported totalitarianism and the doctrines of socialist realism.

Kadare’s novels draw on Balkan history and legends. They are obliquely ironic as a result of trying to withstand political scrutiny. Among his best known books are Chronicle in Stone (1977), Broken April (1978),, The Palace of Dreams (1980) and The Concert(1988), considered the best novel of the year 1991 by the French literary magazine Lire.The Palace of Dreams was a political allegory set in the Ottoman capital; it was banned soon after publication.

In 1990, Kadare claimed political asylum in France, issuing statements in favour of democratisation. At that time, he stated that “dictatorship and authentic literature are incompatible. The writer is the natural enemy of dictatorship.”

Critical opinion is divided as to whether Kadare should be considered to have been a dissident or a conformist during the Communist period. For his part, Kadare has stated that he had never claimed to be an “Albanian Solzhenitsyn” or a dissident, and that “dissidence was a position no one could occupy [in Hoxha’s Albania], even for a few days, without facing the firing squad. On the other hand, my books themselves constitute a very obvious form of resistance.” Referring to a novel in which he portrayed Enver Hoxha in a flattering light, Kadare said the book was “the price he had to pay for his freedom”. He is married to Elena or Helena Kadare (nee Gushi).


Kadare’s works have been published in over forty countries and translated in over thirty languages. In English, his works have usually appeared as secondary translations from their French editions, often rendered by the scholar David Bellos.

In 1996 he became a lifetime member of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences ofFrance, where he replaced the philosopher Karl Popper. In 1992, he was awarded thePrix mondial Cino Del Duca, in 2005 he received the inaugural Man Booker International Prize. In 2009, Kadare was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature. He has been a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times. In the same year he was awarded the Honorary Degree of Science in Social and Institutional Communication University of Palermo in Sicily.

The Independent characterizes him as follows:

He has been compared to Gogol, Kafka and Orwell. But Kadare’s is an original voice, universal yet deeply rooted in his own soil.

Selected Works

The General of the Dead Army (1963) – Kadare delves into the meaninglessness of war as he follows an Italian general and a military priest who arrive in Albanian to find the bones of thousands of countrymen from World War II, and a German team doing the same.  The general is bombarded with nightmares as he tries to complete his mission.

The Siege a.k.a. The Castle (1970) – An excellent depiction of an Ottoman occupation of a Christian citadel in 15th century Albania, this is an example of how Kadare uses allegorical, ancient settings to talk about the present day world.

Chronicle in Stone (1971) – This is one of the finest coming of age stories, about a boy growing up after World War II.  As always, Kadare’s tale, even though it is set during an earlier time period, still reflects the realities surrounding him when he wrote it, and still rings true today, connecting with modern readers across the globe.

Broken April (1978) – Honeymooners in the mountains of Albania come across a young man in the grips of a blood feud.  I consider this Kadare’s greatest work.

The Three-Arched Bridge (1978) – Written from the point of view of an Albanian monk in 1377, the story relates the construction of a bridge over the Ujana e Keqe (“Wicked River”) and the impact it has on the people who live around it.  Again, Kadare uses a narrative about ancient times to criticize social and political situations that he witnessed.

Doruntine a.k.a. The Ghost Rider (1980) – Kadare retells a medieval legend as a local official investigates the report that a woman has seen the ghost of her dead brother.  

Palace of Dreams (1981) – Kadare delves into speculative fiction with this story of a totalitarian state in which the powers-that-be monitor and try to control the population, even the content of their dreams.

The Concert (1988) – Set in the 1970s, Kadare shows the impact of the crumbling alliance between China and Albania on the lives of government employee Silva Dibra and her family.

The File on H. (1990) – In this witty novel, scholars from Harvard in the 1930s visit Albania, which is then under the rule of King Zog, to report on oral epic singers, a dying art in the tradition of the epic poems of Homer.  But are they really spies?  Kadare examines bureaucracy and government paranoia in a madcap adventure.

The Pyramid (1992) – One of my favorites, set in ancient Egypt, this reimagining of Pharaoh Cheops’ order to build a great pyramid is a brilliant analogy to Communist totalitarianism. The Egyptian leader serves as a chilling metaphor for Stalin and other dictators of the modern age.

Three Elegies for Kosovo (1998) – Kadare examines the Battle of Kosovo in 1938, telling three different narratives from different perspectives, giving greater depth to the legendary battle than that heard in nationalistic retellings by such people as Slobodan Milosovic. Kadare’s three part story shows the battle as a coalition of forces that included Albanians, Serbs, Bosnians, Romanians, and other Balkan people. Kadare even includes the point of view of the ghost of the Turkish Sultan Murad I.

Spring Flowers, Spring Frost (2000) – The dark times after the collapse of the Communist dictatorship in Albania are given focus through the eyes of a portrait artist whose dreams and nightmares of secret police and chaos also include visits by Greek mythological characters and historical figures.

The Successor (2003) – Full of dark comedy, Kadare weaves an interesting plot surrounding the death by gunshot of a successor to a tyrannical ruler (Enver Hoxha).  Is it suicide or is it murder?  In the course of the story, we see the people that the dead man’s life touched, from his family to political insiders.

Agamemnon’s Daughter (2003) – A triptych of political allegories set in different places and different times work together to convey Kadare’s familiar themes. In the title novella, a journalist, bitter over his lover Suzana’s decision to leave him because of political reasons, attends a May Day Parade.  The other two short stories include “The Blinding Order” set in the 19th century Ottoman Empire and “The Great Wall” set in dictatorial China.

There are others too, but I am not as familiar with them all: The Monster(1965), The Wedding (1968), The Great Winter (1977), On the Lay of the Knights (1979), The Autobiography of the People in Verses (1980), Albanian Spring (1991), and his most recent, The Accident (2010). . . . .

Nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, a winner of numerous accolades, including the Man Booker International Prize and others, Kadare is not just a great “Albanian novelist,” a label that is too limiting. Rather, he is one of the finest literary artists the world has ever known.

The Ghost Rider (2011); an updated translation of Doruntine. It has been revised to include previously omitted text.  

by Nick Leshi 


Excerpt of Literature from Culture of Albania Site

With Albania’s integration into the Soviet bloc during the 1950s, Soviet literary models were introduced and slavishly imitated. Writers were encouraged to concentrate their creative energies on specific themes, such as the partisan struggle of the “national liberation war” and the building of socialism. Despite the constraints of socialist realism and Stalinist dictatorship, Albanian literature made much progress in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the best examples of creativity and originality in Albanian letters then and now is Ismail Kadare (b. 1936), the only Albanian writer with a broad international reputation. Kadare’s talents both as a poet and as a prose writer have lost none of their innovative force over the last three decades. His influence is still felt among the young postcommunist writers of the 1990s, the first generation to be able to express itself freely.

Excerpt on Religion  from  Culture of Albania site

Religious Beliefs. Albania is on the border dividing three religions: Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy, and Islam. According to the last reliable statistics on religion (1942), among a population of 1,128,143, there were 779,417 (69 percent) Muslims, including the Bektashi; 232,320 (21 percent) Orthodox; and 116,259 (10 percent) Catholics. One can estimate today that approximately 70 percent of Albanians in the republic are of Muslim, including Bektashi, background; about 20 percent, mostly in the south, are Orthodox; and about 10 percent, mostly in the north, are Catholic. In 1967, all religious communities were dissolved when a communist government edict banned the public practice of religion. The law was rescinded only in December 1990 during the collapse of the regime. Despite the return of religious freedom, there seems to be more interest in the revival of Christianity and Islam among foreign missionaries and groups than there is among Albanians. Albanians have never had a national religion with which to identify as a people. For the last century and a half, national (ethnic) identity has predominated over religious identity, and this is unlikely to change in the coming years in a small and struggling nation surrounded by hostile neighbors. Organized religion still plays only a marginal role in public life. Religious fervor is extremely rare, and religious extremism is virtually unknown.


Map of Albania



History and Culture

In antiquity most of the territory of Albania was inhabited by Ilyrians. They are considered to be the  ancestors of the modern Albanians and some scholars believe the modern Albanian language derives from Ilyrian. In the II c. BC. the land was invaded by the Romans. The Roman Era lasted almost six centuries, art and culture flourished as did trade. With the fall of the Roman Empire the region came under Byzantine rule. The Christian religion was introduced in the Greek Orthodox rite. At the turn of the VI and VII century Slavic tribes settled in the area. In the XV c. Ottoman Turks expanded their Empire into the Balkans. Much of the Albanian population was converted to Islam. Some parts of modern Albania were incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Albanian Roman Catholics are descendants of these times.

Throughout this history of occupation the native people resisted assimilation. In the Middle Ages the name Arberia began to be applied to the region that is Modern Albania. In 1443 Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg lead the first uprising against the Ottoman Turks, this is one of the most prominent figures in Albania’s history and he is considered a national hero. For a brief time Albania became independent. In 1479 Albania was concurred by the Turks. Despite even the Turkish occupation the Albanian people did not lose their national identity. John Hobhouse who accompanied George Byron on his trip across the Ottoman Empire notes that in other Turkish provinces the inhabitants call themselves Turks or say they are Christians, while in Albania the inhabitants asked who they are reply they are Albanians.

The mid XIX century is often called the ‘Spring of Nations’, Albanian nationalism was also revived. In 1878 the Albanian League was formed. In 1912 in the town of Vlora independence was proclaimed, but the official borders left many natural Albanians living outside the territory. During the second World War the country came under Italian and later German occupation. Albanian nationalist groups formed a resistance movement that expulsed the invader by November 1944. In the post-war turmoil the partially French-educated Enver Hoxha became the leader of the country through his position of Secretary General of the Party of Labor (Albanian Communist Party). By 1991 the political changes had lead to a peaceful transition form communist to democratic government. Albania is aspiring to EU Membership.

The Albanian language is part of the Indo-European group of languages, but it bares little resemblance to the group. The grammatical structure is complicated through noun declinations and verb moods. After the II World War Albanians spoke in a number of dialects. In 1972 a conference was held in an attempt to standardize the language. Currently there are two main dialects.

Albanians are a very hospitable people. A guest is always welcome. There is no hurry, the concept of time is typically “Mediterranean”. Tradition is very important to Albanians. In the mountain regions the traditional family model where the husband has all the decisive power is still dominant.

Religion had little influence on the traditional ethical code that was rather set by the Kanun a set of customary laws. The code governed every stage of life from birth to death, it was divided into sections concerning family, religion, property, work, honour, crimes ect. The most controversial rules concern blood feuds. The murder or dishonour of a family member is transposed to the whole family or clan. Families were obliged to retrieve their honour and take revenge, this often led to a massacre of the male population (women were not involved). Before the I World War in extreme cases up to 19% of the men in a clan were eliminated.


The Ghost Rider .   .   .

. . . . .The Ghost Rider, a revised version of an English translation from French (not the original Albanian) that was published under a different title in 1988, was written in the early 1970s. At the time, Kadare, who was born in 1936, had run foul of the Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha’s regime. He was exiled from the capital, Tirana, and banned from publishing full-length novels. The ban did not, however, embrace shorter fiction.

This novella is based on an Albanian folk tale. A young woman marries a nobleman from distant Bohemia. Before she sets out for her husband’s land, she extracts a promise from her eldest brother that he will come for her if any misfortune should fall on the family. Years pass. Then one day the brother appears at the nobleman’s house, insisting that he and his sister set out straight away, without any leave-taking. When they reach their home, the young woman realises that all her kinsmen are dead and that her brother’s ghost had brought her back.

Kadare locates this version of the legend in a specific period of Albanian history. Until their land was overrun by the Ottomans in the late 15th century, most Albanians were Roman Catholics. Nevertheless, the Eastern church in Constantinople made increasingly strenuous claims of mastery over the Albanian principalities. Kadare sets the tale of the unfortunate young woman, Doruntine, and her ghost brother Kostandine against that turbulent background. 


Doruntine  by Ismail Kadare (Kush e solli Doruntinėn)

Doruntine is a powerful work of historical fiction that brings light to the longstanding tension between old world religious beliefs and the newer Catholic doctrines as the Holy Roman Empire vied for influence over the various principalities. The protagonist sets out on behalf of the Church to investigate a supernatural claim and he uncovers a wound in his eastern European homeland which Kadare writes about with incredible insight.

Ismail Kadare’s novel, Doruntine, is a poignant portrayal of the constant tension created by the rise of Christian doctrines in Europe. Stres’ investigation of an apparently supernatural event which brings some of the foundational tenets of Christianity into question reveals all the fault lines between various beliefs people held about the world at that time. Some of these differences are shallow and political while others are deeply resounding, fundamental disparities between opposing belief systems and they are all elucidated through Kadare’s crisp writing style.

Religious Past Tense

From the very start, a large focus is placed on the importance of Doruntine’s return. While this event was doubtlessly mysterious, it seemed like Stres put an undue stress on the investigation. Afterall, as the man later charged and interrogated as Doruntine’s rider admits, nobody has ever been arrested for riding in the company of women. However, Stres claims that he knew from the start that this went “beyond mere murder or any other crime” (Kadare 26). This turns out to be quite true as the highly positioned religious figures in Albania and the surrounding area become quite involved in the inquiry. The reason why this story of is so crucial is made clear by Kadare’s narrative.

Constantine’s supposed resurrection casts doubt on Christian control over government and morality on both literal and figurative levels. In a very basic way, the idea that Constantine was resurrected can be viewed as a challenge to the idea that there is only one Messiah with only one Son and that his feats can never be repeated. Additionally, there is some level of suspense created by the tensions between various Christian doctrines of the time as they fight for control over spheres of influence and the allegiance of Eastern European princes and principalities. Beyond this very basic, literal tension between Doruntine’s legend and the New Testament, there are major foundational discrepancies between the two stories.

Catholic Dogma vs. Paganism

On one hand, the differences between these stories underline a human tendency towards more animistic philosophies. The pagan religions which had dominated human culture for the majority of human existence were, in evolutionary terms, quickly being replaced by rigid and dogmatic Church doctrines. Catholicism embodied a view of the world that moved God to some ethereal place far from human understanding and created a stark contrast to the various belief systems that had previously existed.

While Constantinople and the Greek Orthodoxy argued over their various petty doctrinal differences, there was a much larger battle going on in everybody’s daily lives. And the immediate response to a story as extraordinary as Doruntine’s was to fall back on what made sense to the individuals involved. As Stres recounts, “each person’s attitude [regarding this affair] would have everything to do with his station in life…That would be the echo awakened in these people by what was happening” (Kadare 43-44). They easily succumbed to an explanation about resurrection even if it contradicted the religious doctrines that a Prince happened to decree was the stated belief system for that region during his rule.

Role of religion

Bessa’s speech indicates that sometimes personal sacrifice is more importance than adherence to orthodoxy, a statement the savior of the Holy Roman Empire might agree with.

Roman Catholic Orthodoxy vs. Personal Faith

Additionally, Stres’ speech at the end of the novel highlights a similar notion that beliefs are held and perpetrated by people and it is personal faith in our beliefs that matter more than the decrees of priests or prophets. His support of Bessa in the face of all the political power in Eastern Europe is a remarkable example of the conviction with which a man can fight if he believes what he is doing to be right. The ironically named Constantine set into motion a major movement which would inspire his countrymen to do great things long after his death.

In a way, the adherence to Bessa at the end of the novel is a symbolic alternative to Christian dogma. Stres and Constantine’s old friends are asking for people to act righteously on the basis of the real world around them and a sense of personal commitment to each other as human beings. They provide a means to make the doctrinal politics of religion a thing of the past and a way to move back to Jesus Christ’s original message of love and passion.



“Of Time, Honor, and Memory: Oral Law in Albania” by Fatos Tarifa (former Albanian Ambassador to the United States  

The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini was first translated and published in Italian in l94l, than in English in l989, and in Russian in l994. See Gjeçov 1989 for bibliographical data

Oral Tradition Volume 23, Number 1

This essay provides a historical account of the role of oral tradition in passing on from generation to generation an ancient code of customary law that has shaped and dominated the lives of northern Albanians until well into the mid-twentieth century. This traditional body of customary law is known as the Kode of Lekë Dukagjini. It represents a series of norms, mores, and injunctions that were passed down by word of mouth for generations and reputedly originally formulated by Lekë Dukagjini, an Albanian prince and companion-in-arms to Albania’s national hero, George Kastriot Skanderbeg (1405-68). Lekë Dukagjini ruled the territories of Pulati, Puka, Mirdita, Lura, and Luma in northern Albania—known today as the region of Dukagjini—until the Ottoman armies seized Albania’s northernmost city of Shkodër in 1479.

Throughout the past five to six centuries this corpus of customary law has been referred to as Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit, Kanuni i Malsisë (the Code of the Highlands), or Kanuni i maleve (the Code of the Mountains). The “Code” is an inexact term, since Kanun, deriving from the Greek kanon, simultaneously signifies “norm,” “rule,” and “measure.” The Kanun, but most particularly the norm of vengeance, or blood taking, as its standard punitive apparatus, continue to this day to be a subject of historical, sociological, anthropological, and juridical interest involving various theoretical frames of reference from the dominant trends of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to today.

The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini was not the only customary law in Albania. Some regions in the north attributed theirs to Skanderbeg (Kanuni i Skënderbeut—the Code of Skanderbeg), and in the south another Code (Kanuni i Labërisë—the Code of Labëria) was enforced, although not as rigidly as the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini. Although the latter two are little known, they, too, are worthy of sociological and anthropological attention.

Before the Ottoman Turks invaded Albania over 600 years ago, the country was divided into several petty principalities, none of which was sufficiently strong for long enough to subject a neighboring territory to its rule. Faced with the danger of Ottoman invasion, Skanderbeg was able to unite all of the Albanian princes and their territories under his unchallenged leadership in a single state. Lekë Dukagjini was one of his closest friends and allies. They both were Christian crusaders and resisted the whole force of the Ottoman army for a quarter of a century. Although the Ottomans finally conquered Albania ten years after the death of Skanderbeg, they were unable to exert more than a nominal authority outside the main towns, and certainly not in the remote highlands of northern Albania, which formed the northwestern corner of Ottoman Turkey in Europe. As Edith Durham, to whom we owe essentially the first in-depth interest and study on Albania’s customary law, has put it, “the mountain tribesman has never been more than nominally conquered—and is still unsubdued. Empires pass over him and run off like water from a duck’s back” (Durham 1910:453).1

Like other foreign invaders before them, the Turks barely bothered with the highlanders of northern Albania. A number of authors point to the fact that there were no road2 along which the Ottoman forces, strong enough to be effective, could march in order to reduce them to real submission. Johnson (1916:36) writes:

The conquering arm of the Turk[s] reduced the Bulgarian inhabitants of open plains to complete subjection within a comparatively short time; but a century and a quarter was required to secure a less firm hold upon the mountains of Serbia, while the inaccessible wilds of Albania and Montenegro were never completely subjected to Turkish power.

As Margaret Hasluck3 points out, “the Turkish government, unable to enforce its will, accepted the situation and left the mountaineers to govern themselves, as they had presumably done under their native princes and chiefs” (1954:9).

In reading the Kanun, Lekë Dukagjini appears as a kind of Albanian Moses, whose teachings were recorded in the memories of elders, the tribal elite, and in the mountains of northern Albania in the form of proverbs and rites and were handed down from the middle ages. It is obvious that the bulk of the tribal laws existed much earlier than the time of Lekë Dukagjini (Durham 1910). In point of fact, what Prince Dukagjini really did was to codify and add to the existing customary law as well as introducing and enforcing it—along with the penalties—more rigidly in the territories under his control (Durham 1910; Whitaker 1968). The Code was later gradually accepted and obeyed as common law in the entire area of northern Albania, in Kosovo, as well as in Montenegro.4

1 Like several other foreign travelers—Lord Byron, Rose Wilder Lane, and Margaret Hasluck, for example—Durham became enamored of Albania, but significantly more than any of these other recorded travelers. She spent the first two decades of the twentieth century traveling in the Balkans, visited Albania numerous times prior to and after World War I, and befriended 24 tribes (Durham 1910), learning about their origin and becoming known and respected by them as Krajlica e Malsorëve (the Queen of the Highlanders). Durham wrote seven books and numerous articles on Albania and the Balkans and influenced British foreign policy at that time. She remains to date one of the most respected foreign personalities among Albanians, both northerners and southerners alike.

2 The first all-weather road in northern Albania was constructed in 1916 by the Austro-Hungarian armies during their temporary occupation; it ran from Shkodër to Durrës, with a branch in Tirana (Hasluck 1954:9).

3 A Scottish folklorist who lived in Albania for 13 years prior to World War II, Margaret Hasluck (1885- 1948), is the author of the renowned book, The Unwritten Law in Albania, published posthumously in 1954.

4 Albanians and Montenegrins, “divided as they are by language and by the bitter course of history, have a largely common culture” (Elsie and Mathie-Heck 2005:xv). Edith Durham observed not only that certain tribes of Malsia e madhe (Great Mountainous Land) in Albania and in Montenegro were consanguineous—that is, they acknowledged blood-relationship and traced their descent from a common male ancestor (Durham 1910)—but also that they had virtually the same tribal law and custom up to the end of the eighteenth century and indeed well into the nineteenth (Durham 1923). 

Every social system, or document in which a given system is embodied, has a history, which means that it has had its beginnings even if these are shrouded in antiquity (Gouldner 1960). Like all documents of uncertain origin, however, the question of the origin of the Kanun can be easily bogged down in a metaphysical morass. Some believe that its origin can be traced in some measure to the ancient Illyrians, the direct ancestors of the Albanians and from whom they inherited their language, various traditions, customs, and certain aspects of their legal system. Indeed, as Durham points out, the Albanian mountaineer “boasts and believes that he is the oldest thing in the Balkan Peninsula” (1910:453). Others assume that parts of the Kanun are adaptations from Roman law; other parts very likely do go back to the Bronze Age. J. H. Hutton (1954:xii) observes that Albanian customary law is “primitive enough in many ways to be compared with the customary law of tribes much less civilized than the Albanians,” whereas Ismail Kadare (1988a), Albania’s most celebrated writer, argues that the Code predates Aeschylus.

Although the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini has no identifiable origin, the striking similarities between the common laws of Homeric Greece and the Kanun make it possible to imagine that this corpus of unwritten law, known and practiced in various forms in other parts of the Balkans, in southern Italy, and among the northern Caucasian peoples, could well have originated in Illyria. This might explain why, of all other societies, in northern Albania customary law persisted well into the mid-twentieth century as the only, or “parallel,” informal legal system; to some degree it remains valid in various areas even today.  .  .

Our information is incomplete but suggests that the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini, in the codified form in which we know it today, is not quite the same as the customary law that has habitually been practiced throughout the centuries. It has surely had its “spontaneous development,” to use Henry Maine’s language in Ancient Law (1861), but it has also been purposefully changed by human agency to suit the purposes of those who transmitted the oral law. As Margaret Hasluck has observed, “Every type of unwritten law has been constantly recast, added to, and restarted down the centuries by a body of experts drawn from the rank of rulers” .

Each new era made modifications to the code, which have been attributed to “a conscious desire for alternation” (Hutton 1954). It is most certain, for example, that the Kanun, especially that part of it that spells out the rules regulating vengeance, changed when the Ottomans introduced firearms as weapons. Because firearms made killing easier than before, new rules had to be adopted to prevent the great loss of life inflicted by their use.

For centuries the Kanun was not written down. It remained in the verbal custody of the village or tribal elders and subject to modification or reinterpretation from time to time by assemblies of clans or villages. And just as the application of the traditional Kanun varied somewhat from one to another of the relatively isolated mountain communities, so too, no doubt, “in the same community the centuries brought some changes in its interpretation and application, since both of these depended considerably on the memory and wisdom of the local chieftains and elders” (Kastrati 1955:124). As to the accuracy of the northern tribesman’s memory, Edith Durham observed that he possess “an extraordinary memory, and has handed down quantities of oral traditions, most of which remain to be collected” (1910:453). Durham also made a similar assessment with regard to elderly Montenegrins, who, being unable to read or write, had “marvelous memories and stores of oral tradition” (1909:86).

Traveling through northern Albania and Montenegro at the end of the nineteenth century, W. H. Cozens-Hardy (1894:389) observed that “the rhapsodist of the Homeric type” was still alive among the people of these areas. Analysis of the traditional Albanian epic songs (këngë trimërie) show significantly that in the absence of a literate society in the highlands of Albania, epic songs served as a repository of collective memory about their national history, the lives and traditions of their ancestors, and the norms and institutions regulating their remote communities.

An ethical and aesthetical expression of the permanence and the power of the Kanun may be seen in its influence on Albanian folklore. The rhapsode places the following words in the mouth of the Albanian hero Gjergj Elez Alia, long ill as a result of nine wounds inflicted upon him in nine battles, before a duel he must fight with Baloz the Black, who epitomizes the Arab invader (Camaj 1989:xv)

Se ne të parët nji Kanun na kanë lane: Armët me i dhanë përpara e mandej gjanë.

(You demanded my sister before the duel, You demanded the herds from the herdsman, And I have come here to show you That our ancestors left us a Kanun: First a trial of arms and then the property [is taken].)

Martin Camaj draws a parallel between the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini and the Albanian epic songs, “the true natural form of which is not written but sung, and hence in eternal wandering from mouth to mouth and from generation to generation” (1989:xv). Rose Wilder Lane (1923:180), for her part, provides an interesting account of her conversation with a clansman from the northernmost Albanian village of Thethi, in which he said:

I am an old man, and I have seen that when men go down to the cities to learn what is in books they come back scorning the wisdom of their fathers and remembering nothing of it, and they speak foolishly, words which do not agree with one another. But the things that a man knows because he has seen them, the things he considers while he walks on the trails and while he sits by the fires, these things are not many, but they are sound. Then when a man is lonely he puts words to these things and the words become a song, and the song stays as it was said, in the memories of those that hear it.

It wasn’t until the mid-1930s that the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini, which until then was handed down orally from father to son and from generation to generation for who knows how many hundreds of years, was meticulously transcribed in its fullest form and published integrally in Albanian. The author of the text was Shtjefën Konstantin Gjeçov, an ardent patriot and Franciscan priest, born in Kosovo in 1874. He began his labors in 1913 collecting, sifting through, and writing ancient stories as preserved in the repository of collective memory of the chieftains and the elderly in northern Albania and Kosovo. It is widely believed that he has provided the best, the fullest, the most trustworthy and most authoritative version of the customary law as remembered, interpreted, and applied in a given community at the time he himself studied it.

As of today, Gjeçov’s account has never been contested by any student of Albanian customary law. Indeed, in the form it is compiled, Gjeçov’s work is genuinely a professional piece of ethnographic anthropology. His approach to this unwritten “Torah” is that of the Talmudist: he surrounds quotes from the Kanun with his own interpretations and reconstructs the “ancient law” on the basis of his own empirical observations. In numerous footnotes he draws parallels with the Indian Laws of Manu, Roman Law, Greek Public Law, and the Ten Commandments. At the time of his death in 1929, the final text was not ready. The document, as it is known to us today, was completed by priests from his order, using Gjeçov’s manuscripts and notes, and published in book form under Gjeçov’s name in 1933.7

Leonard Fox, the English translator of the Kanun, points to an astonishing resemblance between the customary law of the northern Albanians and that of the peoples of the North Caucasus. Quoting early twentieth century German anthropologist Adolf Dirr, Fox (1989:xix) informs us that the two systems of customary law may be considered practically interchangeable:

The analogies are so strong that one immediately asks oneself the questions that always arise in ethnography: Borrowing? Common origin? Basic similarity of thought? Although Dirr gave numerous examples, particularly those involving hospitality and the blood feud, he made no attempt to explain the striking similarities between the two systems.

Like all documents whose origin remains unknown to us, opinions about the Kanun abound. For those romantic elegists who enthuse about heroic settings and cycles of heroic verse, mythology, and legendry, like Fox, the Code of Lekë Dukagjini is “the expression and reflection of the Albanian character, a character which embodies an uncompromising morality based on justice, honor, and respect for oneself and others” (Fox 1989:xix).

The Kanun covered all aspects of life of northern Albanian society and the relationships between its members. The cornerstone of the Kanun was the concept of Besa—a term very rich in meaning and use, which means oath, faith, trust, protection, truce, word of honor, or all of these together—since honor was the primary and most important cohesive institution of Albanian social fabric. Inseparably connected with this was the high value placed by Albanian mountaineers upon the lineage honor. Family honor was a supreme value among them to the extent that any explanation of the extended family among the Ghegs8 must take account of this cosmo-philosophical element (Whitaker 1968). Honor was the principal value of traditional northern Albanian society, something prized above personal liberty, or even life itself. For “what profit is life to a man if his honor be not clean? To cleanse his honor no price is too great” (Dako 1919:33).

In this extremely remote cosmo-philosophical world Honor (Nderi), the Word of Honor (Besa), and Hospitality (Mikpritja) were indissoluble elements of people’s lives. Honor, Besa, and Hospitality were the pillars that formed the lifeworld (Lebenswelt) of the northern Albanian highlanders, around which their entire life revolved. Honor represented their supreme moral value; Besa was their true religion,9 and Hospitality their most sublime virtue.

As a sacred promise and obligation to keep one’s given word, Besa was idolized and romanticized in the rhapsodies of the Albanians who immigrated to southern Italy after the death of their national hero, George Kastriot Skanderbeg. In the famous song Kostantini and Garendina, the mother reminds her son, now in his grave, of his Besa, and she summons him to arise in order to fulfill his promise—to bring her daughter back from a foreign land (Camaj 1989:xv):

Kostantin, biri im, Ku ësht besa që më dhe Të më sillje Garendinën, Garendinën t’ët motër? Besa jote ësht nën dhee!

(Konstantin, my son, Where is the besa you gave me That you would bring Garendina back to me, Garendina, your sister? Your besa is under the earth!)

In the course of this rhapsody, the motif of which occurs among other Balkan peoples as well, Kostantin rises from the dead, fulfills his promise, and returns to the grave. . .

Having said this, however, the glorification of the Albanian hospitality by foreigners has happened for at least six distinct reasons: (1) the remarkable forms and rituals in which hospitality is expressed among the mountaineers of northern Albania; (2) the universality of its reach, involving uncompromising protection of one’s guest, even one with whom the host is in a state of blood feud; (3) its profound power in their society and on each individual’s life both as a constitutive principle of morality and as a central element of their day-to-day life; (4) its unparalleled altruistic appeal and application; (5) the unusually scarce material resources as well as the extremely remote, harsh, and inhospitable geographical setting—amounting to an almost absolute isolation—in which people conferred such hospitality that is beyond any description;

10 The motif of this rhapsody has been captured masterfully and restyled as a fascinating story by Ismail Kadare (1988b) in his novel Doruntine.

and equally important, (6) the way in which hospitality was sanctified in the Kanun as a basic institution of society . . .

The law of hospitality was most meaningfully and distinctively exemplified in the way in which the Kanun defined the home of the Albanian. The definition of the Albanian house in the Kanun is: “The house of the Albanian belongs to God and the guest.”12 Hence, before it is the house of its master, it is the house of one’s guest. The guest in an Albanian’s life represents the supreme ethical category; it is more important than blood. One could pardon (through the mediation of good friends) the man who spilled the blood of one’s father or one’s son, but never the blood of a guest. A guest was really a semi-God. Albanians exalted the institution of the guest above all other human relations, even those of kinship (Kadare 1990).

The Kanun is not a religious document. It is a secular legal system—hence binding for Christians and Muslims alike—but it was sacred nonetheless. The American sociologist Richard Schwartz (1955:566) has pointed out that the “secularity and specificity” of the Kanun make it “sufficiently similar” to western legal systems to “permit fruitful comparison, but different enough to suggest general hypotheses, particularly on the relations between law and society.” The Kanun carried much greater authority than the two main religious faiths prevailing in the highlands of northern Albania—Christianity and Islam. As Durham puts it, “to the tribesmen . . . all the so-called laws of Lek are as divine decrees” (1910:465). So much did the Kanun influence the mentality and the lives of the mountaineers of northern Albania that, with Lekë Dukagjini cast in the role of the Marquees of Queensberry, the words “Lek said so” “obtained far more obedience than the Ten Commandments and the teachings of the hodjas and the priests were often in vain if they ran counter to that of Lek” (Durham 1928:65).

. . . .Whole districts have been known to turn Moslem suddenly, in order to score off a priest who has offended them. Nor do they become good Moslems. I have lived with Moslem tribesmen all night and all day, but I have never seen one pray or perform the ceremonial ablutions; and his women are all unveiled. So long as he is allowed to go on being Albanian in his own way the tribesman will assume any faith that is convenient. Islam lets him have his own way, consequently Islam is spreading. In some transition districts (e.g., Lura), people will go both to mosque and to church. If they don’t get what they want from one they try the other. . .

13 According to Edith Durham, Lekë Dukagjini appears to have been excommunicated by Pope Paul II “for his most un-Christian code” (1928:66).

Almost 200 years before Durham began her trips to Albania and throughout the Balkans, another renowned British traveler and writer, Lady M. W. Montagu, wrote about the triviality of religion in the lives of the Albanians as follows:

These people, living between Christians and Mohamedans, and not being skilled in controversy, declare that they are utterly unable to judge which religion is best, but, to be certain of not entirely rejecting the truth, they very prudently follow both: they go to the mosque on Fridays and to the church on Sundays, saying, for their excuse, that they are sure of protection from the true Prophet, but which that is they are not able to determine in this world.14

Special rituals common to members of both religions restored equilibrium after major events such as birth, marriage, and death. As Coon observed (1950-30),

All of those rituals, which reinforced their social habits, were of much greater importance to the mountaineers than the rites of church or mosque, which were not as well adjusted to this particular form of society.

In short, the teaching of Christianity and of Islam all had to yield to the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini. Then again, under the Kanun, both religions were equally protected and used: offences against sacred objects and religious functionaries of either denomination were punished more severely than were comparable acts against lay persons and property, and oaths, basic in the compurgatorial juridical procedure, were equally acceptable when sworn on the Bible or the Koran, at a church or a mosque, depending upon the religion of the swearer (see Hasluck 1954:159-60, 176-77).

It was precisely this Durkheimian version of sacred—although secular—authority of the Kanun that accounted for the universal conformity given to it. It also accounted for the “enviable tolerance” that has historically characterized the relations between Moslems and Christians in Albania (Barnes 1918). Schwartz is in agreement with this. He persuasively asserts that “the secular nature” and “the cross-religious effectiveness of the Kanun”—which he attributes to “an earlier pagan code, common to all the tribes and which the Kanun of Lekë merely summarized and consolidated”—appear to have “permitted relatively peaceful relations among proponents of traditionally antagonistic faiths” (Schwartz 1955:567). We can add that the very success of the system based on the Kanun suggests an explanation for its longevity and unwavering authority, which has remained unchallenged well into the twentieth century.

With its l,263 articles, the Kanun was comprehensive, universal, and inescapable for any family or clan member or the broader community of mountaineers in the areas in which it was introduced and enforced with rigidity. It was literally devised as a legal framework to govern every aspect of life and did not leave out a single aspect of economics, ethics, or the slightest human action. On the contrary, the Kanun described in great detail numerous substantive rules bearing particularly on the prevention and settlement of troublesome disputes. As Ismail Kadare puts it, the power of the Kanun “reached everywhere, covering lands, the boundaries of fields; it made its way into the foundations of houses, into tombs, to churches, to roads, to markets, to weddings” (1990:27). It sanctioned, for Christians as well as Muslims, the attitude toward marriage, the selection of wives, the rites to be conducted during wedding ceremonies and birth, the generational roles in family and society, the rigid gender division of labor, the forms of punishment, the rules of blood feud, and the customs to be followed when a person died (Tarifa 2007). In a word, the Kanun was the law that governed everything in peoples’ lives, from the cradle to the grave. It contained statutory, criminal, civil, and family laws as well as procedural rules for both criminal and civil courts. As such, it took care of all of these subjects “once and forever,” and it served to shape up rigorously patterned forms of behavior while inhibiting change in a society whose members were “trained from childhood to believe in its infallible authority” (Coon 950:37).

Ian Whitaker (1968) suggests that for its comprehensiveness, clarity, and logic, the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini––in the codified version that has come down to us by way of oral tradition––“deserves to be ranked among the great legal documents of the world.” Ismail Kadare (1990:73) concludes that the Kanun was “not merely a constitution, it was also a colossal myth that had taken on the form of a constitution. Universal riches compared to which the Code of Hammurabi and the other legal structures of those regions look like children’s toys.”

I have deleted the footnotes and sources but they are available on:

                     Excerpts from  The Criminal Law in the “Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini” 
– The Albanian Customary Law –

I. Introduction
The Albanian expression for the customary law of the Albanians is Kanun. This  main meaning of the Kanun in Albanian, is the customary law. . . .
II. The criminal law in the “Kanun”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. the property of the soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

c. theft and robbery

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

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

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

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


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

a. kinds of court

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

b. The right and obligations of the oldest ones

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

c. Court instances

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

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

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

e. The evidence

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

f. Kinds of punishing

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


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


If we retrace Albanian history, we will state that the Albanian area was very closely with all peoples, who played a role on the Balkans, is spoiled. Beginning with the time of the Gaul, Romans, Goths, the immigration of the Slaves in Illyria, the Macedonian empire, the Byzantine Kingdom, as well as Normans, Venice, Serbs, Ottoman realm, Austrian Hungarian realm, Italy, who successively on the Albanian areas prevailed, the Albanian people, the descendants of the Illyrians, could not lead continuously a national independent existence. After 24 years resistance of the Albanians under guidance of Gjergj Katrioti against the Ottoman realm, the Albanian became a part of areas of the Ottoman realm from the Middle Ages to 20 Century. The customary law of the Albanians was always auxiliary and at the same time a competitive right to the national right, to that of the Turks, that of the Albanian state after 1912, for the right of the crew administrations in the I-st and II-nd world war. 
Despite this strange history the Albanian people could develop its own culture of the right. Lately one very often confounded the usual criminality with the blood revenge. For the practice of a blood revenge, as we saw above, one had to adhere to certain rules. The blood revenge is an aspect of a comprehensive juridical system, the customary law. 
The habit standards are today really outdated. The processing of the Kanun exhibits heavy errors. On the one hand it is considered as backwardly and medieval, in particular if the blood revenge comes to the language. In addition, on the other hand beautiful things are present, on which one is pride, like hospitality, Besa etc., which one would gladly still keep.

by Kan. lic. iura. Zef Ahmeti, Univ. St. Gallen, Switzerland

Entire document and Bibliography can be found at   ( It’s very interesting  Harriet





Following is an excerpt from Tea Obreht’s article in the November 2010 Harpers article about Vampires in the Balkans. I know some of you may have read this but thought you’d enjoy seeing the excerpt again.   Harriet
An Excerpt from “Twilight of the Vampires”     By Téa Obreht   from Harpers magazine

Three days before my flight to Serbia, the Devil intervenes: my mother, who is supposed to meet me in Belgrade, falls into a chasm on a Moscow sidewalk and shatters her ankle. That she has gone through life without ever having broken a bone before makes her, according to her own mother, a casualty of my intentions. It is a bad sign. My grandmother, waiting for me in Belgrade, advises me to cancel my trip; her fears are reinforced the following morning by a phone call from one of my Serbian contacts—a journalist who was supposed to meet with me has gotten wind of my mother’s accident and pulled out of her agreement to help. “What now?” my grandmother asks, and fumes when she hears that I am determined to press on.

It may seem strange that I have returned to the Balkans to hunt for vampires when I get so many of them in my adoptive homeland. Since immigrating to the States in 1997, I have formed an uneasy acquaintance with the legion undead peopling the American imagination: Anne Rice’s beautiful, tortured ghouls; Buffy’s ridge-faced villains and morally confused male leads; countless cinematic and literary variations on Bram Stoker’s nightwalker, from Elizabeth Kostova’s historical reinterpretation of Vlad Tepes to Francis Ford Coppola’s shape-shifting, costume-changing warrior-beast. But the power of the newest trend is incredible: vampires of all shapes, sizes, convictions, and denominations are swelling the national bestiary. My undergraduate students at Cornell deny reading Stephenie Meyer, but whenever I ask them to compose lists of their favorite books, it seems like fully half include Darren Shan’s The Vampire’s Assistant. My office window looks over the Commons and into the living room of a young woman from whose walls Twilight’s Robert Pattinson leers up, his smile signaling with indecently little ambiguity that it is sexytime.

Two days later, when I call to tell my grandmother I’ve missed my connecting flight in Paris, she answers the news with silence. This latest cosmic setback has turned her worst fears—heretofore an unpleasant possibility—into something inevitable. When I finally arrive in Belgrade, I discover that she has placed an open pair of scissors under my bed, blades turned doorward, to keep the Devil at bay.

Despite my immigrant’s success in acclimating to many things American—I too now buy fruit based on its appearance—I have never been able to reconcile myself to the domestic breed of vampire. Where is the figure of terror, the taloned monster, the walking corpse, the possessed animal? How are they vampires at all when they are so busy righting humanity’s wrongs and bewailing their ethical conundrums instead of mischieving and murdering like my grandmother seems to think they should?

Unlike his Western relation—that handsome, aristocratic, mirror-wary antihero—the Balkan vampire is typically confined to living and hunting among the laboring classes and is most accurately categorized as an evil spirit or demonically possessed corpse that frequents graveyards, crossroads, and other areas devoid of the protective powers of domestic spirits. Also a Western conceit is the vampire’s pallor; whereas female vampires are beautiful and white-robed, most firsthand accounts indicate that male vampires are ruddy, corpulent peasants, whose affect—once unearthed—is that of a freshly gorged mosquito. In animal form, the vampire is not strictly limited to the bat but can appear to its victims as a cat, a dog, a rodent, or even a butterfly. These manifestations are not to be confused with vampires that were never human in the first place, which may even assume a vegetal guise (among numerous indignities through history, the Roma suffered the obscure nuisance of vampire watermelons). To further complicate matters, and despite recent trends that have marketed the werewolf as his archenemy, the Balkan vampire is often conflated with his lycanthropic cousin, since both share more or less the same agenda; in Croatia, both vampires and werewolves are known by the term vukodlak.

Vampir is probably the only Serbian word used the whole world over, and its significance in the lexicon of former Yugoslavian nations is evidenced by its derivatives, among them vampirisati: to engage in vampire-like behavior, an accusation directed at drunk husbands returning home at dawn, teenagers hovering over drug deals in doorways, or anyone caught stealing leftover cake from the fridge at 2 a.m. This is not to be confused with the more specialized povampirisati se: to turn oneself into or become a vampire, a process that is unnervingly easy, and that does not require a sanguinary exchange with another vampire. If a man’s life ends abruptly, unexpectedly—if he is murdered or accidentally killed, if he commits suicide, if he falls victim to a sudden illness, if his last rites or burial are improperly conducted—he becomes more susceptible to the influences of demons that can possess and reanimate him. That is not to say that evil spirits in southern Europe have nothing better to do than float disembodied through fields, waiting for a cat to jump over a newly buried corpse so that they can dart into it. Whether a spirit will revisit the living is above all influenced by the dead man’s own character and by how he was regarded in society: if a man is known to be a sinner, an alcoholic, unneighborly in any way; if his life is marked by conflict or degeneracy, then he is, in those villages where public perception and gossip are as good as truth, predisposed to vampirism.

Once risen, the vampire makes his way to the nearest village—this is sometimes his hometown, or the place of his death, and almost always a community sufficiently isolated so as to demand the combined effort of all residents in order to stake him. His mission is to visit sundry misfortune upon the locals. This rarely involves the consumption of blood; he prefers to enter villagers’ homes and asphyxiate them by sitting on their chests while they sleep. A less malevolent spirit will indulge in simple mischief—flinging dinnerware, inducing uncharacteristic behavior in domestic animals.

Whereas garlic, holy water, and crucifixes are commonly accepted apotropaics across the Balkans, scissors under the bed are also popular, as is the black-handled knife buried in the doorstep to cleave incoming evil in half. None of these methods cause the vampire’s flesh to burst into flame; nor is there any indication that direct sunlight poses a lethal threat to vampires, although vampires do tend to be nocturnal and recoil from the crowing of roosters. Methods for destroying vampires are many—some, such as the boiling and disposal of vampire vegetables, are fairly simple, while others necessitate complex, clerically assisted rituals—but the most reliable weapon against vampires has always been glogov kolac, the blackthorn stake. The vigilant vampire hunter must find the vampire’s grave, open it, and, having determined that the body shows the appropriate signs—the absence of rank odor and rigor mortis, a vibrant flush to the cheeks, the growth of “new” hair or fingernails, a quantity of fresh blood welling in the mouth—plunge the blackthorn stake through the heart, at which point the corpse lets out a blood-curdling shriek. Afterward, depending on the region, the head or limbs may be severed, the body turned over, the mouth filled with garlic. In some instances, the entire corpse is burned and the ashes scattered in the nearest body of water to carry whatever may be left of the spirit on its way.

The village of Kisiljevo lies some seventy-five kilometers east of Belgrade, where the Danube borders western Romania. Its name did not appear on any map of Serbia I had been able to find, nor does it hold an impressive position in the country’s political or religious history; but three hundred years ago, its fields and streets were the stage for a vampire drama of unprecedented international significance. The attacks at Kisiljevo probably would not have warranted a mention had the village and its troubles not fallen under the watchful, disbelieving eye of Austria following the Peace of Požarevac in 1718. Austrian accounts of the case, detailed in the newspaper Wienerisches Diarium, tell the story of Petar Blagojević, a peasant who began appearing to Kisiljevans in their sleep ten weeks after his death in the summer of 1725. Those he visited—a total of nine villagers in seven days—reported that they awoke to find Blagojević strangling them, and later died of what witnesses called a twenty-four-hour illness. Blagojević’s widow, who fled Kisiljevo in the aftermath of these tragedies, claimed to have encountered her dead husband in their home, where he demanded his shoes. In an attempt to regulate mounting hysteria in the region, Austrian authorities intervened, sending a delegation of priests to investigate.

We strike out for Kisiljevo in the early morning. At the wheel: Goran Vuković, our driver, who moonlights as a fountain builder. In the back seat: Maša Kovačević—seventh-year medical student at the University of Belgrade; lifelong friend and token skeptic—who has requested that we wrap her in a bloody shawl and turn her loose in the village to inspire the locals if things start off too slowly.

We take dusty one-lane roads through wheat fields and sprawling vineyards yellowing in the sun. Beside the chicken-wire fences and staved-in roofs of derelict farms, the vacation homes of Belgrade families are slowly coming together, their yards littered with bricks, coils of wire, chunks of Doric columns, marble lions, upended flowerpots. We almost miss the Kisiljevo turnoff, indicated by an unspectacular arrow affixed to a lamppost; I am a bit surprised, having expected to find the village name chiseled into a roadside boulder by a quivering hand, or a beflowered shrine of the Virgin to turn back evil spirits, or perhaps a little blood smeared across a sign as a warning to us. Instead, the road tapers past bright white houses and window boxes of red carnations brimming with such welcoming Riviera charm that I find myself wishing the town would invest in a fog machine.

The village square is empty except for three shirtless old men sitting on a low wall in the shade; but here, at last, we catch a hint of something otherworldy: opposite the community center—where the death certificates of recently deceased villagers hang in the window—stands a blood-red house. We sit in the car staring at it, the silence around us—which has, until this moment, felt disappointingly like the silence of a lazy day in the hot countryside rather than the silence of a haunted village—tightening. The paint looks newly applied, thick and shining, and to the left of the door, above a shuttered window in shivers of black, hangs an enormous, spread-winged bat, its profile sharp and maniacal. I am raising my camera to document it when Maša explains, “That’s the Bacardi bat. This must be the bar.”

We obtain the cell-phone number of Mirko Bogičić, the town’s headman, from the convenience store on the corner, and Mirko, without being forewarned of our arrival, drives down to accommodate our quest, abandoning preparations for the summer fair in nearby Požarevac. He is a potbellied, strong-jawed man, and he takes us to his house, where his wife serves us homemade zova juice, made from elderberries, in flowered cups. The walls are adorned with pictures of spaniels—Mirko, in addition to being a village headman and full-time farmer, is employed as a dog-show consultant.

He is also working on a book about Petar Blagojević. In 1725, at the height of Kisiljevan hysteria, when the Austrian officials supervised the exhumation of Petar Blagojević’s body, it was acknowledged by everyone present that it was entirely undecomposed. His hair, beard, and nails had continued to grow, and a new layer of skin was emerging from beneath the old one. “Mind you, this was forty days after the burial,” says Mirko. “And when they ran the stake through his heart, fresh blood rushed from his ears and nostrils.”

Mirko has clearly rehearsed this story; but he does not laugh it off, and the authenticity of the vampire is a point about which he is adamant: Petar Blagojević is the genuine article, the first vampire to be officially certified by the Austrian government. “Here, just across the Danube, is Transylvania and the Romanian Dracula,” Mirko says, gesturing toward the river. “But we know him to be merely a legend. They made of him a profitable business.”

Kisiljevo has had less success with the salability of their ghoul, but this has not kept the town off the radar of true vampire aficionados. The previous year, two German students came to interview Mirko; that same summer, a paranormal researcher came to sweep the graveyard above town with a detector that led him to an “enhanced energy field” around one of the oldest headstones. In fact, Mirko gets so many visitors asking the same questions that he has the whole itinerary preplanned: he gives me a photocopied page from the legendary Serbian almanac of all things supernatural, which I have been unable to find in Belgrade, and takes us to see Deda Vlastimir, who is said to have encountered an actual vampire.

“Not Petar Blagojević,” Mirko says, assuring us that, once disposed of, a Kisiljevan vampire stays dead.

Vlastimir Djordjević—affectionately known as Deda Vlastimir—is a ninety-two-year-old Kisiljevan with whiskered cheeks and kind, sleepy eyes, who greets us delightedly in the garden. While we arrange ourselves around the patio table, his white-haired daughter fusses over us, bringing our day’s second round of homemade zova juice. A great-great-grandson hovers in the kitchen doorway in his pajamas.

“Hear, now, how it was,” Deda Vlastimir says, obliging us with high Balkan oratory. “In this village much was said about these vampires, and every once in a while there was something to be seen as well. It is 300 years since that vampire, that Petar Blagojević—and thus he is practically a legend—300 years since they found him fresh in his grave and he caused much grief here. And some people believe, and some people do not believe—but there was another vampire, this Baba Ruža, whom I myself met one night. I had been visiting a friend and was returning home when suddenly before me appeared a woman, a tiny little woman, whose face I did not see. She appeared before me, and I said, ‘Who is this?’ and she turned to me and vanished.”

I am disappointed that he does not say anything about pursuing Baba Ruža with a blackthorn stake, so I ask: “Did you believe?”

“Well, hear me,” he says. “I was afraid. My friend’s father had to take me home. And there is something in that belief, because three days later, in the house in front of which I saw her”—he taps the table with his knuckles as he says this—“there was a murder. A father killed his son-in-law. Three days later. And right away around the village it was said that these vampires were responsible.”

“Evil forces,” Mirko cuts in, “evil spirits. Things like that never happen on their own, we must accept that.” Deda Vlastimir agrees. “These beliefs,” he tells us, “are not written down—but this makes them stronger.”

A few months before my expedition, I finally got around to watching Djordje Kadijević’s legendary 1973 film,Leptirica. The film is based on a short story by the celebrated Serbian writer Milovan Glišić, and, due to the communal nature and rarity of film premieres in the former Yugoslavia, immediately became, upon its airing on national television, a cultural touchstone of my mother’s generation. The film was something she used to tell me about when late-night conversations turned toward the horrific and the bizarre—which, in my family, happened on a weekly basis. In some regards, Leptirica (The She-Butterfly) is a love story. Its plot follows Strahinja, a young shepherd from Zarožje, who, in an effort to prove himself a worthy husband for the beautiful Radojka, volunteers to spend the night in the village watermill, where the vampire Sava Savanović has supposedly been strangling millers. Accustomed as I am to American vampire films—especially those that combine love stories with Gary Oldman dropping from the ceiling dressed as an oversized green bat or Hugh Jackman shooting Dracula’s snake-jawed brides out of the air with an improbable crossbow—I scoffed at my mother’s warning. How scary could it really be, this Serbian throwback to the campy Hollywood monster flicks of the 1950s?

As it turns out, the success of Leptirica—shot on a shoestring with a cast of ten actors who, combined, have a total of some ninety lines—hinges on the power of suggestion, palpable even from behind the sofa cushions, where I spent the majority of the film’s runtime. Whether with the steady pulse of the mill wheel at night or the simple but unforgettably odious black hand in the flour, Leptirica paralyzes by holding forth the possibility of a glimpse, never completely revealing what the victims face. In what it does reveal, however, the film overcomes its budgetary and technological limitations by leaving absolutely no room for romantic notions of redemption: Radojka, corrupted by the butterfly carrying Sava Savanović’s spirit, changes before the viewer’s eyes from a delicate-featured ingenue into a gasping, razor-toothed creature with a hairy face, something much closer to a werewolf than a vampire. The result is both tragic and obscene; the viewer feels tainted simply by having witnessed her ghastly transformation.

Whereas such imagery evokes the southern European vampire’s status as an ineradicable spiritual plague, capable of wiping out entire villages, the Western tradition has always, and especially recently, treated vampirism as a source of provocatively desirable sexual power and physical prowess, a force that, with the correct application of human affection, can be overcome. The model for this elegant revenant was perfected on the shores of Lake Geneva in 1816, during the Year Without a Summer, when persistent rain drove Lord Byron and his guests indoors, forcing them to amuse themselves by composing ghost stories: Byron wrote the apocalyptic “Darkness”; Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; and John Polidori, “The Vampyre”—which blazed the trail for Bram Stoker’s more enduring Dracula (1897).

In their brutally single-minded pursuit of sustenance and lack of remorse for their own monstrous compulsions, both Polidori’s Lord Ruthven and Stoker’s Count Dracula are faithful to their origins. But whereas the original vampire desires seclusion and anonymity to pursue his bloodlust, recast as a figure of nobility he ventures into society—suggesting loneliness, a desire to rejoin the living, a touch of self-reflection. Add to this various other liberties, and 150 years later vampires are sleeping in canopy beds, refrigerating sheep’s blood, and breeding armies of little vampirelings to infiltrate the world’s most exclusive guest lists.

As for old-school Sava Savanović, there is no desire for redemption, nor evidence of his having been slain; at the end of the film, his butterfly-guised spirit flutters away, presumably to generate more black-clawed bloodsuckers elsewhere. Moreover, research into his origins suggests that his water mill still exists. If Petar Blagojević, whose fate at the hands of all those stake-wielding Austrians was well documented, continues to haunt contemporary Kisiljevans beyond the grave—indeed, beyond beyond the grave—then surely, I reason, the presence of an undefeated vampire must be that much more palpable in the community he once terrorized.


Teddy bears ward off `evil eye` in Albania

By Briseida Mema
September 3, 2010

KUC (Albania) A weather-beaten teddy bear hangs from the front of Izet Sina`s home. But this tattered old toy is no abandoned plaything. It is designed to protect the family from misfortune and ward off the “evil eye”.

The 51-year old farmer believes all the woes that have befallen him – his wife`s death, property disputes, and the flooding of his land by torrential rains – were caused by the ill will of his relatives and neighbours.

In his search for good luck, Sina, like thousands of his compatriots, has turned back to the superstitious traditions that largely disappeared under communism, but which have now made a comeback.

“It will preserve my house from “Syri i keq” (the evil eye) and chase away any evil which will not dare now to touch my family,” he says of the teddy bear.

Sina, who lives in Kuc, a tiny village some 30km northwest of the capital Tirana, strongly believes in the power of the soft toy.

He says misfortune came his way after his relatives and neighbours effectively cursed him out of envy for the house he built.

Now the father of seven believes the teddy bear will protect both the house and the family from any new catastrophe.

In the 20 years since the fall of communism, superstitious practices have thrived in Albania.

Besides new fads such as the stuffed toys, traditional amulets have also reappeared horseshoes, red flags, garlic are often seen on homes and even luxury apartments in Tirana`s posh neighbourhoods.

The Balkan country`s brutal communist dictatorship which ruled for nearly half a century from 1945 to 1992 tried to stamp out all such traditions as well as religion itself.

Late communist leader Enver Hoxha, who kept the Albanians in isolation for decades, even boasted of making Albania the first atheist country in the world.

After the regime crumbled in the 1990s Albanians began to embrace the superstitious traditions of their ancestors.

“Ram horns, garlic, red flags, all are equally highly respected by the Albanians as a means of protecting oneself from the evil eye,” explained anthropologist Aferdita Onuzi.

She describes her compatriots as essentially “divided between religion and superstition, belief and agnosticism”.

According to sociologist Zydi Dervishi this passion for the supernatural is partly caused by the feelings of insecurity and fragility in Albania, which has faced considerable challenges in the past two decades.

“The fear of the unknown, this powerless feeling in the face of almost omnipresent corruption and the absence of laws, incite a lot of people to take a refuge in superstition,” he says.

And when this does not work, there is always magic.

In her modest home hidden at the far end of a shabby street on the outskirts of Tirana, Mereme Coba, 40, sees dozens of unfortunates each day.

She is a “Njeri i Mire” or good woman, a term used to describe those thought to be in direct contact with God. Many Albanians believe that the “nusks” or charms they prepare can cure diseases and chase misfortune away.

On a normal weekday about a dozen people patiently wait in blistering heat for their turn. Most are women with children, but there is also one young man.

Many seem confused, looking for a cure for problems ranging from unemployment and family dramas to ill health.

“My girl is five years old, she cannot walk,” Leta, a thirty something mother said with tears in her eyes.

She has seen several regular doctors but has lost confidence in their abilities and has turned to magic as a last resort, she told AFP.

“In order to protect oneself, the children, the pregnant women, the travellers… and the men of state must prepare three coffee beans, a head of a dried or salted snake,” Coba prescribes in a high-pitched voice.

The required objects must then either be left in their home or carried with them wherever they go, she insists.

In addition to the advice, Coba draws several unrecognisable characters and hands over a folded paper, again to ward off the evil eye.

She tells AFP she only accepts money if people want to pay her.

She was sent by God to help the people, she says.—AFP


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