In many ways, northern Albania has long functioned as the cradle and refuge of Albanian culture. In a region fraught for the last 100 years by questions of legitimacy based on “who was here first?” arguments, the Malësi does get chops. The written historical record is patchy, with long centuries of silence, but linguistic evidence suggests that the highlands have been more or less continuously populated by a coherent people since the early years BCE. The local mythology and identity certainly encompass the fact that while southern Albania succumbed to successive waves of invasion the Highlands have remained for 2,000 years (sometimes stubbornly) unsubdued. Accordingly, the culture of the highlands is proud and independent. Strength is valued, but so is generosity and kindness, presumably in recognition of the survival benefits conferred by intelligent and mutual altruism.
One of the unusual and interesting things about Albania is . . . The Albanian language! In Albanian, the language is called Shqip, and Albania is Shqiperia. What? Why? The name “Albania” traces back to a Roman term of reference (“arber”). Where Shqiperija comes from is less certain, although the fondest interpretation is that it comes from the word for “Eagle” making Albania “The Land of Eagles.” Mystique aside, it is certain that Albanian one of those fascinating unique languages, in the Indo-European family but related to nothing else. Arguments go back and forth (fiercely!) over whether it tracks back to Illyrian or Thracian. At the date of this writing, based on place names and pastoral terminology, the Illyrian argument is winning. When were the Illyrians around? In the BCEs, the last Illyrian king, Genti, was defeated at XXX in AAAA.
The BBC has a nice link, if you want to pick up a few helpful phrases.
One of the things it’s useful to know about Albania grammar affects place names. Let’s use it for Valbona. “A” (one) valbona is “valbone.” The valbona (a specific place) is Valbona. You see this in Durres (the general term) or Durresi (the specific town) . . . . Also Shkoder vs. Shkodra, etc. Now you know. Don’t let it confuse you!
Traditional Albanian Music:
Nazet e tua by Maratona
Hosha Maj Hasha by Maratona
Dashunine qe nisem by Maratona
Kenga e Nuses by Refat Sulejmani
Albanian wedding song
You can’t read much about Northern Albania without running into this ancient code of law. The Kanun (from the same linguistic root as English canon) is a complete system of laws, offering to regulate every aspect of traditional life. The formal Kanun is attributed to Leke Dukagini, who supposedly wrote them down sometime in the 12th century, although the kanun is certainly also a recording and formalizing of even earlier traditions. In modern times, the Kanun is most commonly mentioned as the source of the rules of blood (gjak) feud, although in point of fact, this is only a small part of the overall and overarching vision of cultural order encompassed by the Kanun. Travelers from M. Edith Durham to Rose Wilder Lane, who took the time to listen, understood that the kanun is a system of order. In a harsh environment, it by necessity takes harsh forms. But it also encompasses the ability for negotiation and allows women an unusual level of autonomy and voice. In some ways, it’s a sad reflection of the 20th century’s admirable attempt to legislate order, that its enthusiasm hasn’t had time or energy to examine, or attempt to understand and work with, earlier systems of order such as the kanun. This is not to say that the kanun couldn’t be improved on — of course not — but, harsh as it can sometimes seem, the kanun is a system of law, which evolved and functioned for hundreds of years, and it would be interesting to see what an enlightened adapting of an already respected system could achieve.