A dictionary of Albanian religion, mythology and folk culture
Company, London 2001
presence of the Albanians in southeastern Europe has been documented
for about a thousand years now, but their roots go back much
further into the mists of antiquity. Originally a small herding
community in the most inaccessible reaches of the Balkans, the
Albanians grew and spread their settlements throughout the southwest
of the peninsula. With time, as well as with innate vigour, unconscious
persistence and much luck, they came to take their place among
the nation states of Europe.
Even today, however, as the twenty-first
century dawns, the term 'nation state of Europe' is perhaps inappropriate
for the Albanians. Their life and their culture are those of
a developing country, of a Third World nation struggling for
survival in every sense of the word. In material terms, they
have been deprived of all but the bare essentials needed to stay
alive. Indeed, the historical, political, economic and cultural
development of the Albanians has been so arduous that those who
know them well, can do little but marvel at how they have managed
to survive as a people at all.
Only in one sense have the Albanians
been rich. Their traditional folk culture, which evolved over
the centuries in relative isolation, offers a surprising wealth
of elements. Yet this culture, without a knowledge of which the
Balkans cannot be fathomed at all, remains little known in the
Western world, even among ethnographers and anthropologists specialising
in the Balkans. The present work endeavours to fill this gap,
The essence of this Dictionary of
Albanian religion, mythology and folk culture are beliefs.
It focuses to a large extent on figures of Albanian mythology,
religious beliefs, religious communities, orders and sects which
have been present in Albania, saints and holy men and women who
have had an impact upon Albanian beliefs, cult sanctuaries, calendar
feasts, rituals and popular superstitions. Closely related to
the world of beliefs and superstitions are what we may describe
in general terms as folk customs. These, too, are given ample
space, as are a number of entries on other cultural particularities
with marginal links to the above - matters as diverse as birth,
marriage and funeral customs, sexual mores, blood feuding and
the institutions of Albanian customary law. Most aspects of folk
culture unrelated to beliefs and customs, such as folk music,
art and material culture have been excluded. It is difficult,
however, in such a book to set exact 'terms of reference,' i.e.
to establish precise boundaries for what constitutes folk culture
and what does not. The approach taken within this general framework
has been eclectic rather than one of strict delimitation.
The Dictionary of Albanian religion,
mythology and folk culture records and makes available for
the first time a broad range of information unknown or little-known
in the West. Indeed much of it has been lost to the present-day
Albanians themselves. As such, it can serve as a basic work of
reference for readers and scholars from a number of fields. Wherever
possible, extensive bibliographical data have been provided to
facilitate further investigation.
Albanian folk culture is in a curious
dichotomy at the moment. On the one hand, as mentioned above,
it is extremely rich, particularly since for decades, indeed
for centuries, the Albanians have lived in isolation from the
rest of Europe. Their traditional culture, comprising many perhaps
unique elements and beliefs, is still a goldmine for ethnographers
and anthropologists. In some senses Albania is a living museum
of the past. In the mountains of the north, for instance, one
still finds clear remnants of a tribal culture and society which
has maintained strong patriarchal values and indeed many of the
heroic proclivities of centuries past.
On the other hand, folk culture in Albania
is now, sadly, extremely poor, consciously impoverished as it
was by half a century of Stalinist dictatorship. The communist
regime which held sway in the then People's Socialist Republic
of Albania (1944-1990), strove with all its energy and might
to create the 'new Socialist man' and thereby destroyed everything
in its path. Under the rule of Enver Hoxha (1908-1985) all pre-Marxist
beliefs and customs were thought to challenge and threaten the
construction of socialism and the power of the Party, and were
consequently, for the most part at least, eradicated from the
minds, hearts and souls of the Albanian people. As a direct result
of the Stalinist dictatorship, very few individuals in Albania
today know anything about their own popular traditions, e.g.
about Albanian mythology or about religion and beliefs. However,
much of what has been lost in Albania has fortunately been preserved
in the more traditional cultures of the Albanian communities
in Kosova (Kosovo) and western Macedonia. Some archaic elements
have also been retained over the centuries in the old Albanian
settlements of southern Italy and Greece.
It is high time, at any rate, for this
traditional folk culture to be investigated thoroughly before
it is gone forever. Some achievements have been made over the
years by native Albanian scholars who have recorded, catalogued
and published significant works, in particular at the Albanological
Institute in Prishtina and the Institute of Folk Culture in Tirana.
Yet much remains to be done. If the present volume can contribute
to arousing an interest in this field or in Albanian culture
in general, its primary aim will have been achieved.
It remains for me to thank the many individuals,
from scholars and specialists to Albanian herdsmen and farmers,
who have contributed their knowledge, ideas, time and interest
to this project. For assistance of a very concrete nature I would
mention in particular Heinz Bothien (Frauenfeld), Bardhyl Demiraj
(Bonn), Arthur Liolin (Boston), Abdurrahim Myftiu (Tirana), Ioan
Pelushi (Korça) and Frances Trix (Ann Arbor).
The drafting of this book began in the
early months of 1998, at a time when the uprising of 1997 had
already destroyed much of the fabric of society and popular culture
in Albania, causing, among other things, a further mass exodus
of the highland tribes to the urban settlements along the coast.
It was also a time when foreign hegemony, with its perverse strategy
of ethnic cleansing and blind hatred, was endeavouring to wipe
out the age-old and yet fragile Albanian culture of Kosova, a
time when genocide in the Balkans was once again rearing its
For the Albanians, hardship and deprivation
have always been part of life. One can only hope that the long-suffering
people of Albania and Kosova will once again arise and, with
their traditional vigour, overcome the current unspeakable calamities.
Olzheim/Eifel, Germany, February 2000