WEDDING AT THE SARAJET – 1930

The Wedding of Kapidan Mark Gjon Marku took place at the Sarajet in Orosh on 24 August, 1930. The excerpt below is from the book “A British Officer in Albania” by Lt. Col. W.F. Stirling, pub. 1931. Lieutenant-Colonel Stirling held a couple of posts in Albania under King Zog’s regime. The last post was of Inspector General of Civil Administration. During his time in Albania he frequently explored the country.

A memorable occasion was attending the wedding of Kapidan Mark Gjon Marku, the eldest son of Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni, at the Sarajet in Orosh as a distinguished guest. Below is his account of the event which took place during the week-long festivities culminating with the wedding on 24 August, 1930.

“Gjon Marko Gjoni, Prince of the Mirdita, had invited us for the wedding of his eldest son and asked me to be the principal witness. He explained that according to custom I would thus become a blood relative of his family, so that none of his other sons, alas, could ever marry my daughter. His family had ruled Mirdita without intermission since the middle of the fifteenth century and Gjon Marko Gjoni was, in addition, Paramount Chief of the Dukagjini, the five Catholic tribes of the northern mountains. He was a force to be reckoned with for, at his call, five thousand riflemen would assemble under his orders within three days, and as many more from neighboring tribes a few days after.”

“His house was built of solid stone and designed primarily for defense. From the small windows, scarcely more than loopholes, one had a wonderful view over mile upon mile of narrow winding valleys and pine-clad slopes, while behind the house were the sheer rocky crags of Mali Shenjt, the sacred mountain, rising 6,000 feet above the distant gleam of the sea.”

“On our arrival we were welcomed by salvos of ball ammunition fired into the air. Every guest was so received and the amount of ammunition that was expended during the week we spent there would have sufficed for a quite considerable battle. The bride had not yet arrived for, according to custom, the principal guests must first be present to receive her, her reception being of even greater social importance than the wedding ceremony itself.”

“Her father’s house was two days’ journey away, and an escort of some two hundred armed Mirdita mountaineers had already left to fetch her over the difficult trail. She had left her father’s house on horseback, and the only member of her family allowed to accompany her was her mother. Tradition demanded that she be seen by no one and so she rode enveloped in a veil of scarlet silk, mounted on a wire framework supported on her head. To ride thus blindfolded over those treacherous mountain tracks was surely a test of nerves from which even our own Amazons might shrink.”

“The sun was setting as the bride and her cortège came into view, the escort winding along in single file across the precipitous rock face, each man firing his revolver or automatic as he advanced. The noise, as the eight or nine hundred assembled guests replied in kind, may be imagined. The poor girl had to be lifted off her horse. She was so stiff from the constrained attitude which custom decrees she must adopt that she could hardly stand, and had to be propped up against a wall while she received the salutations of the crowd. She was then taken by her bodyguard to a neighboring spring where, by ancient custom, she filled a pitcher of water which she poured out for each member of her new family, to signify her capacity for domestic life and emphasize her subservience to her husband’s kin.”

“Merrymaking and feasting continued every night until about an hour before dawn. Throughout the day guests arrived, some from places even five or six days’ march away, and each party brought its quota of gifts, a few sheep, an ox or two, or a goat, each according to his means, but humble or great, all were received with the greatest ceremony and with a fusillade from the rifles of all present. The average number of guests, as they came and went, may be judged from the fact that on one morning 5,000 cups of coffee were served before the midday meal, and the same night 700 people sat down to dinner, in addition to the party of distinguished strangers who were entertained in one of the great upper chambers. The following details of the food and drink consumed may be of interest to heads of families who are considering marrying off their daughters: 5,000 lb. of meat, 700 lb. of rice, 450 lb. of sugar, 280 lb. of coffee; 660 quarts of raki, a potent local spirit, and 2,000 quarts of mastic, a spirit which when mixed with water becomes cloudy and milk-like–except in its effects!”

“The courtyard was crowded with guests, with others scattered in groups by the edge of the forest, and the brilliantly colored and embroidered robes of the women against the deep green background of the pine trees made an unforgettable picture. Both men and women sang almost continuously, sometimes accompanied by a three-stringed wooden instrument shaped like a ukelele, while the women danced together in groups and the dance was punctuated by bursts of rapid fire.”

“On the third day after the bride’s arrival the wedding ceremony took place. One of the rooms of the house was converted into a chapel for the simple service, at which the parish priest officiated and only near relatives were present. The bride was only sixteen, but she was tall, with a commanding presence, and made a most impressive figure as she was led in by the Prince. She was dressed in full national costume, with a head-dress of gold and scarlet silk bound round with a fillet of gold from which hung countless small gold coins which tinkled as she walked. Her undercoat was of red brocade, over which she wore a long sleeveless coat of white felt, heavily and marvelously embroidered in red, blue and orange silk. Her full white linen trousers were gathered at the waist by a multi-colored silken scarf from which there fell an apron embroidered in the famous Kossoviet manner. Both coats were open in front to disclose a pleated skirt festooned with fine rows of finely chased and wrought gold chain, each link about half an inch wide. From the chain there hung some thirty immense gold coins, old 100-crown pieces of the Austrian Empire.”

The bride – Marta.

“The bridegroom was in the usual national costume of the mountaineers, with tight-fitting white felt trousers, heavily braided in black, and a cross-over bolero so thickly embroidered with gold that it looked like a golden cuirass. A plain white felt cap completed his costume. He was young, barely eighteen, with a handsome, intelligent face. His father had decided that his marriage should not interfere with the completion of his education and he was shortly to be sent to some of the great capitals of Europe to finish his studies, and finally to England.”

The groom – Mark Gjon Marku

“A curious feature of the wedding customs is that the bridegroom must take no notice of the bride–although he has never yet seen her–either on her arrival or afterwards and must pretend to be unaware of her existence. Further, to ensure that the bridegroom’s attention shall be in no way distracted from the entertainment of his honored guests, the bride herself must sleep with her mother for the first two nights after the wedding.”

W.F. Stirling – 1930

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