THE UNWRITTEN LAW IN ALBANIA
Margare Hasluck (1885–1948) was born in Scotland and spent her early years in Morayshire. She went to the Elgin Academy, followed by the Aberdeen University where she graduated in 1907. She continued her classical studies in Cambridge where she took a first class in both parts of the Tripos. She went to the British School at Athens where her future husband, Mr. F.W. Hasluck, was Assistant Director. They married in 1912 and continued to work in Athens until compelled to return to Switzerland in 1916 due to her husband’s illness. After his death in 1920 Ms. Hasluck, who had becaome greatly interested in the folklore of Balkan countries, returned to the Middle East and devoted herself to the study of the subject. After extensive traveling she decided to settle in Albania, where she remained for thirteen years, building a house in Elbasan and travelling constantly, especially in the mountainous region of the north where she lived with the people and got to know them intimately.
With the threat of the Italian invasion of Albania in 1939, she left the country for Athens, where she worked for some time in the British Embassy. When the city was being heavily bombed she was taken to Alexandria and then to Cairo. She became seriously ill in Cairo and was found to be suffering from leukemia. She returned to England determined to finish the book which she had been planning for many years and for which she had collected a mass of material. She finally settled in Ireland but died in 1948 prior to finishing the book.
Her friend and literary executor, J.E. Alderson, along with the assistance of the Leverhulme Research Fellowships Trust, from which Ms. Hasluck had received grants for her work, made it possible for the book to be completed and finally published posthumously in 1953.
She also took hundreds of photographs while in the Balkans, and a great many of them were from Albania, including photographs of Kapidan Gjon Markagjoni and views from his estate in Orosh. All the photographs are catalogued in the Univerdsity College of London’s archive.
Below are a few historical references to Kapidan Gjon Markagjoni and the House of Gjomarkaj as well as some photographs from her collection.
(pg 158) Some stories related by father Gjecov illustrate the application and development of the law. About 1860 a villager of Fregene in the Mirdite tribe of Diber told a neighbor to kill a certain man and promised that when the time came to pay the blood money he would see to it. On the faith of this promise, the neighbor ambushed the man on the high road and shot him dead. A little later, Capitan Bibe Doda, the Gjomarkaj of the day, went on tour for the purpose of composing current blood feuds. The Fregene feud came up, and among others, and the murderer was ordered to rebuild his victim’s house by way of paying blood money. He asked his evil counsellor for the money he had promised, but the latter declined to pay. Captain Bibe and the heads of the tribe summoned this man, and asked him if he h ad told his neighbour to commit the murder and promised to pay the blood money. The man dared not deny doing so. Then Captain Bibe, together with the bajraktar of Diber and other his, reasoning that ‘lips can’t land a man in a blood feud’ and ‘words don’t make a funeral’; that is to say, the murderer who must pay with his life or money for the crime is the man whose finger pulled the trigger. They then sentenced the Fregene murderer to pay blood money for his crime, saying that while he had gone to the ambush by another’s instructions he had walked there on his own legs. As the instigator of the crime had broken his promise about paying the blood money, they sentenced him to have his house burned down by the tribe.
(pg 137) In the more organized north there were, besides the Gjomarkaj family, recognized substitutes for elders. The Hereditary Captain of Mirdite represented the family which had ruled over the Alpine region of Orosh and its kindred of Diber, Fan, Kushnen and Spac for several hundred years and was said by some to be descended from the Albanian national hero, Skanderbeg. It h ad remained Catholic, and its long pedigree may be found in the church registers of Orosh. This family was the ‘foundation of law’. Specifically difficult cases in Mirdite wre referred straight to its head for solution. Any case which three pairs of elders had failed to settle was taken to the chieftains of the subtribes and finally to the head of the Gjomarkaj family. Beyond this there was no appeal. Outsiders, even Mohammedan outsiders, were often glad to refer knotty problems to the family. In view of his exalted position the head had many legal rights. He took precedence in every assembly wherever and whenever met. He had the right to summon chieftains and populace to a General Assembly. Whenever necessary he could summon one man per family to a General Assembly in Shen Pal (St. Paul). At every trial or arbitration he could intervene. He had the right to uproot a family and expel it from Mirdite. He could even pass a death, for the ‘quarters of the body are a matter for the tribes but the head belongs to Gjomarkaj’, says the law. In virtue of thse rights, if a village rebelled against the authorities of its tribe, word had to be sent to the Gjomarkaj family, which then summoned the other subtribes and led them against the insurgent villagers and reduced them to reason by fining some, banishing others and destroying others root and branch.
Shpal (St. Paul), Captain Gjonc, 1929
Views from Captain Gjon’s (referring to the Sarajet in Orosh)