Margaret Hasluck


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Below are a few historical references to Kapidan Gjon Markagjoni and the House of Gjomarkaj as well as some photographs from her collection.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)

Orosh, view from Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni (aka

Geographical Handbook



In 1915 a Geographical Section was formed in the Naval Intelligence Division of he Admiralty to write Geographical Handbooks on various parts of the world. The purpose of these Handbooks was to supply, by scientific research and skilled arrangement, material for the discussion of naval, military, and political problems, as distinct from the examination of the problems themselves. Many distinguished collaborators assisted in their production, and by the end of 1918 upwards of fifty volumes had been produced in Handbook and Manual form, as well as numerous short-term geographical reports. The books follow, in general, a uniform scheme, though minor modifications will be found in particular cases; and they are illustrated by numerous maps and photographs.

The purpose of these books is primarily naval. They are designed first to provide, for the use of the Commanding Officers, information in a comprehensive and convenient form about countries which they may be called upon to visit, not only in war but in peace-time; secondly, to maintain the high standard of education in the Navy and, by supplying officers with material for lectures to naval personnel ashore and afloat, to ensure for all ranks that visits to a new country shall be both interesting and profitable.

Their contents are, however, by no means confined to matters of purely naval interest. For many purposes (e.g. history, administration, resources, communications, etc.) countries must necessarily be treated as a whole, and no attempt is made to limit their treatment exclusively to coastal zones. It is hoped therefore that the Army, the Royal Air Force, and other Government Departments (many of who have given great assistance in the production of the series) will find these Handbooks even more valuable than their predecessors proved to be both during and after the last war. (J.H. Godfrey, Director of Naval Intelligence 1942)

Preface excerpt from Geographical Handbook Series, Albania, August 1945, Naval Intelligence Division

Mirdita: the name of the district south of Puke occupied by the old bajraks of Kushneni (36), Oroshi (50), and Spaci (65) and the new ones of Dibri (11) and Fandi (15). Population 17,000-20,000: 5,000 in the kapidan’s own clan: 7,000 armed men. All are Catholics and of distinct physical type.

On the ridge between the two Fan rivers near the road from Scutari to Orosh is the church of St. Paul (Kisha e Palit) where all Mirdita clans hold their spring council.

Meeting in Shpal c.1908

Mirdite tribes never accepted Ottoman rule, remained Catholic, and paid only nominal tribute. The present line of Mirdita chiefs descends from Marka Gjoni, kapidan in 1700. In the nineteenth century, though Kol Preng had served the Sultan against the Russians (1829), Bib Doda planned a revolt and was assassinated (1868). His son Preng was neutral in the Montenegrin war (1876), but was suspected and attacked by the Turks. He took a leading part in the Albanian League (1875), but was interned from 1881 to 1908, when his restoration was the Mirdite condition for accepting the Sultan’s ‘constitution’. Nevertheless, there were risings in 1911 and 1912. Preng planned a Mirdite republic, with Serbian help, repulsed Essad Pasha in 1914, and became vice-premier in the provisional government of 1918. He was killed in 1919. His successor Marka Gjoni refused office and revived the project of a Mirdite state; but most of the tribes remained loyal to the Government of Tirana (1921). As long as Ahmed Zogu was supported by Yugoslavia, Marka Gjoni joined him, but without adequate reward, and thereafter revived the ancient claims of Mirdita. His son Gjon was recognized as kapidan, supported the Government on national issues and sent Mirdite recruits to the army. But all government action in Mirdite has to be sanctioned by the kapidan, and the “Canon of Lek” is strictly observed by these tribes, which are the only group strong enough to challenge the Matje administration.

OROSH – (Orosh: 120 families): a bajrak of Mirdita, all Catholics, on the left bank of the Fan i Vogel, below the Fandi clan, and on the slopes of Mt. i Shenjt where the clan uses the Fushe e Nenshjetit summer pastures: bounded north and west by Kushneni; east by Fandi; south by Lura and Kthella. VILLAGES – OROSH, chief place, with kapidan of all Mirdita, and monastery with mitred abbot; Zajs, Mashtrokore, Lgjin.

excerpts pages 167-169

Bianca Gjomarkaj


Italian Touring Club



The following is a write up from the Italian Touring Club, published in Milan, Italy 1940. It encompasses travel guides, maps and recommendations for anyone who wanted to travel to Albania. On page 168 one can find reference to Orosh, Mirdita and the Sarajet of the Kapidan along with a general description of the area.

Carriage km. 37 to Korthpule, then mule track. It is one of the most interesting routes in Albania, both for the panoramic beauty of the route and for the costumes of the Mirditi. The excursion is done comfortably in 2 days. You take the carriage of Puka, follow it to Vau Dejes, then deviate SE for 37 km, Korthpule m. 541. From here you take a mule track that goes into the Gjadri valley, a tributary of the Drin, up to its intersection with the Vonna, then up the valley to the village of Kolivac m. 202. Continue to Kashnjeti and St. George (Shen Gjergi), cross the Great Fandi (Fand i Madh) to Van Mach, climb the Great Stairs (Shkall and Madhe) to descend into the valley of the Small Fandi (Fandi i Vogel) and reach Blinisht in Mirdita. You cross the river and you arrive at Orosh m. 640, dwelling 1500 (Catholics), a country formed by groups of houses on the slope of Holy Mountain (Mali i Shenjit) m. 1430.

And the center of Mirdita, inhabited by the Mirditi, a large tribe of about 20,000 Catholic inhabitants, dedicated to pastoralism, which during the centuries, dating to Lek Dukagjini, have remained faithful to the prescriptions of the “Kanun”, without worrying about the laws that were issued by the central authority. The first time that the Mirditi spontaneously recognized an authority, other than that of the Kanun, was when their Chief (Kapidan, hereditary position) Prince Gjon Marka Gjoni, came to Tirana to pay homage to the Lieutenant General and to take an oath of allegiance to the His Majesty the King of Italy and Albania, Emperor of Ethiopia. Orosh was destroyed in 1877 by the Turks for its irreducible spirit to the rulers. The Kapidan’s house was also destroyed. His current residence, built in 1925 then relocated further upstream from Orosh, in Fage, is surrounded by thick walls and has windows with loopholes.

The current Kapidan, appointed Senator for his merit and for his attachment to Italy, has also built a Boarding School for the children of the region, the sons of shepherds, who in dire straits in winter due to the snow, would not have otherwise been able to receive an education.

On the other side of the valley is the small modern Cathedral of St. Alexander; here resides the Bishop Abate, who depends directly on Rome and has 16 parishes under him. On top of the Holy Mountain, until the year 1500, sat the ancient Abbey of St. Alexander, abandoned when the Turks arrived; now there is a chapel and a small house.

The tourist will notice that in this region the physiognomic characters of the ancient Illyrians have been preserved almost intact; while from the moral and social point of view the sentiment of justice is still identified with that of revenge. But a chivalrous spirit, common even to the humblest, makes the guest sacred, to whom even the poorest shepherd always finds something to offer with dignity and a grace at the same time. All characteristics of these people as well as the costumes of both men and women are also interesting.

Bianca Gjomarkaj


Giovanni Treccani


Giovanni Treccani (1877-1961) was an Italian textile industrialist, publisher and cultural patron. He sponsored the Giovanni Treccani Institute, established 18 February 1925 to publish the Enciclopedia Italiana (currently best known with his own name, Enciclopedia Treccani).

The foundation of the Institute of the Italian Encyclopedia took place in 1925, on the initiative of Giovanni Treccani degli Alfieri and Giovanni Gentile. Over time, Treccani has accompanied the history of Italy by following its events closely, becoming a systematic testimony of Italian cultural identity, but also a sure guide in the discovery of the contemporary world, with updates that have closely followed the most recent achievements in all fields of knowledge.

A tireless work of interconnection of the most disparate fields of Italian excellence – and of them to the identity of Italians and Italians – which also continues in initiatives linked to the digital world: tradition and innovation at the service of culture.

from Institute of the Italian Encyclopedia founded by Giovanni Treccani SpA ©

MIRDITI  –  They are a large tribe of Northern Albania (Gheharest), divided into five sub- tribes or flags ( bajrak ), each having its own banner, which represents the radiant sun, and its chief ( bajraktar ) and called: Orosh, Fani, Spatshi, Kusnin and Dibri. It is located in the Drin basin, especially the villages scattered in the mountains overlooking the city of Alessio. Its borders are the Dukagini mountain to the north, Matia to the south, the Dibri mountain to the east, and Zadrima to the west. According to a 1922 census it included 17,000 souls.

The Mirditi profess the Catholic religion of the Latin rite and are religiously governed by an Abbot nullius who resides in Oroshi, on which 14 parishes, run by Franciscans, depend. They recognize a Chief ( prênk ) to whom they give the title of Captain (Kapidan ), whose authority is limited by the council of elders who under his presidency do justice and deal with business. In short, it is a kind of aristocratic republic that always enjoyed its own autonomy under the Ottoman regime and that even in war took place and a standard distinct from the other Albanians.

Regarding their origin, the hypothesis of a provenance from the East and of their presence in the region at the time of the Byzantines or of the first occupation by the Turks should be discarded, because historians and chroniclers have never mentioned them. Most likely they are Albanians, who at the death of Scanderbeg, to preserve their freedom, took refuge on the mountain forcing the Turks to grant them autonomy, except for the performance of military service, on the basis of one man per family and under the orders of a chief of the tribe. This thesis basically responds to the indigenous tradition that makes the Mirditi the descendants of Lek (Alexander) of the Dukagini tribe ( Dukagjin ) who is considered their legislator (see Albania). The genealogy of the family, from which the captain of the Mirditi comes, dates back to Gjon Marcut (18th century), from whom descended the various captains Lek Doda, Lesh i Zii, Bib Doda, who are at the fore in the history of the tribe and help Alì Pasha of Giannina in his rebellion against the Sultan; they fight against Mustafà Pasha of Scutari and induce him, after seven years of guerrilla warfare, to peace; they fight against the Greeks in Morea during the war of independence; always jealous of their autonomy in the face of the various attempts at centralization that Turkey tried to make during the 19th c, always ready to defend their autonomy with rebellion. The most famous revolts were that of 1880, when they refused to yield to Montenegro Gusinje and Plava (in exchange for which they later received Ulcinj) and that of 1910, in opposition to the Young Turks who wanted to unify the region; after the Balkan war they formed a provisional government on the initiative of Bib Doda. At the end of the Europan war their Prince Bib Doda was killed in Lezhe in 1919, and his cousin Marcu Gjon, with residence in Oroshi, inherited the leadership and title of Kapidan. At the suggestion of Yugoslavia, a Mirdite republic was proclaimed in Prizren in 1921, but it fell immediately.

The constitution that Albania had from King Zogu did not take away the autonomy from the Mirditi, regarding the customs of the tribe, especially on blood revenge and sworn faith ( besa ), v. albania (II, p. 105).

Bianca Gjomarkaj


Ann Bridge


Ann Bridge (1889–1974) is the pseudonym of Mary Ann Dolling (Sanders), Lady O’Malley, also known as Cottie Sanders. Bridge wrote 14 novels, mostly based on her experiences living in foreign countries, one book of short stories, a mystery series, and several autobiographical non-fiction books.

She visited Albania twice in 1933 and in 1935. Her last visit became the backdrop of her novel Singing Waters, which is based on her visit to the Sarajet and her sojourn there. She lived with the family of Kapidan Gjon Markagjoni for almost one month and goes into great detail in her “fiction” novel about her stay at the Sarajet and meeting the family.

Although a fiction, the book reads more like a travel journal. The detailed description of the Sarajet and the daily activities there during that period is fascinating. The names have been slightly altered, nevertheless the description of the characters and their relationships are unmistakable.

Please note that I put in parenthesis the actual names of the family members, which were changed for her ‘fiction’ novel. The changes to the names are based on the timeline of her visit to the Sarajet.

Below are excerpts from her book “Singin Waters” New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1946

(pg 31) “At Torosh (Orosh) there is a great church, and a mitred Abbot. That is another thing to see—High Mass on Whit-Sunday in the church at Torosh. Again, all the people come from miles around in costumes of very great beauty, and fill the church with the glory of their clothes and of their conscious devotion. It is one of the most splendid sights left in the world.” “Can one stay there? Is there a hotel?” she asked, casually. Nils laughed.
“My dear young lady, no! Not in Torosh.”
“Where do people stay, then?”
“In tents, if they have them. If not, they sleep in the open. One does not find any of your cosmopolitan ‘comfort moderne’ in Albania, thank God! If one travels, one takes a tent and a camp-bed, and food and cooking vessels, and sleeps where one pleases, under the stars. Actually at Torosh, those who know Prince Lek-Gionaj (Gjon Marka Gjoni) can sometimes stay with him.”

(pg 91) “But there’s nothing to see up-country, as you call it—just mountains and wild, wild places,” Warren protested. “There’s no place to go.”
“Yes there is. There’s that place with an Abbot, and a big church, and a kind of prince living somewhere close by, that one stays with,” said Gloire obstinately.
Warren looked at her with an enquiring gaze. Who on earth had been putting that into her head?
“Oh, you mean Torosh,” he said. “But that’s a hell of a trip! And not just anyone can go and stay with Lek-Gionaj, you have to be invited.”

(pg 123-124) “…Mirdita and Mati, where we’re going, is the one district which preserved its autonomy and its great family all through the Turkish occupation.”
“Which family is that?”
“The Lek-Gionajs.”
Gloire pricked up her ears. Larsen had spoken of Lek-Gionaj. She listened with more attention than usual as Colonel Robinson went on—“It’s rather complicated, the whole tribal or clan system, but it boils down to something like this. The smallest unit is the fisse, or family—that is to say people having a common male ancestor, who mayn’t intermarry.”
“They are grouped in bairaks—bairak means standard, really—and the bairaktar, or standard-bearer, is the hereditary chief and military leader of that group, which usually means a particular valley or district. Some of the
very large tribes have several bairaks and bairaktars—Mirdita is divided into five bairaks. Each bairak is ruled by a council of elders presided over by the bairaktar—he’s half a magistrate and half a sort of hereditary mayor.”
“Then is Lek-Gionaj a bairaktar?” enquired Gloire.
“No—he’s much more than that. He’s the hereditary chief of the whole of Mirdita.”
“A sort of prince, in fact?”
“Well, you might say that he corresponds to a small German or Austrian princely family—the Fürst, who is never royal; but they don’t use that title here. A much closer parallel is with the Scottish hereditary chieftain who bears no title at all, like the Mackintosh or the Macleod—or the head of Clan Cameron, who is just called Lochiel.”

(pg 155) The residence—for house is hardly the word—of Gjergj Lek-Gionaj (Gjon Marka Gjoni), hereditary Kapidan or Prince of his clan, stood boldly on one of the projecting spurs running down from Mali Shënjt, commanding the valley below and the track up to the pass at its head; the slopes round it were of that characteristic formation of decomposing rock, flecked with a sparse dark growth of stunted pines and juniper. The house had recently been added to and in part rebuilt, and its flattish spreading tiled roof and gleaming white-wash concealed the massiveness of the structure and gave it, from a distance, a deceptive resemblance to a large country villa in Southern Italy. But this was no villa. On all sides but one, where the ground dropped steeply to the valley, the upper slope was revetted into a wall of mortared stone at least twelve feet high, surmounted by a stockade of oak palings the size and thickness of railway sleepers; the only approach was by a sloping ramp, leading up to a solid oak gate in this stockade. The house itself, whose walls were four or five feet thick, was built round three sides of a square, forming a sort of courtyard—the fourth side was partially closed by a slatted wooden building, isolated from the rest. In this courtyard, into which the caravan filed with its usual deliberation, there was a feature which at once caught Miss Glanfield’s eye. On the courtyard walls of ancient houses and castles in England the mellow stone or brick often holds rings, fastened by staples driven deep into the masonry, to which the horses of travelers used to be tied—in this Albanian courtyard the masonry held in great numbers, not rings but iron hooks, whose use immediately became apparent, for the gendarmes and the pony-men at once hung their rifles on them by the slings!

(pg 155-156) The Prince and Princess—it is the nearest English equivalent for their position—met their guests in the courtyard; Lek-Gionaj greeted them first, and then with Colonel Robinson proceeded to deal with the disposal of the baggage and the men and animals of the caravan, including the gendarmerie escort; his wife, who had stood with folded hands and in perfect silence, now stepped forward and did her part, the welcoming of the women guests. Mrs. Robinson translated her little speech. She said: “You are welcome, very welcome. The house and everything in it is yours. But here we are in the mountains, and I fear that you will suffer—indeed I fear that you will suffer much.”

Mrs. Robinson having made some suitable response, Mme. Lek-Gionaj (Mrika Marka Gjoni) led them indoors, and up a road stone staircase to a vast room, as large as two billiard-rooms, in which a long table was set for a meal—a welcome sight, for it was now 1.30, and they had breakfasted at 5.30. Besides the table the room contained immense numbers of small high-backed wooden chairs of cheap modern make, a huge brass samovar, a wireless-set which did not go, a brass bedstead in one corner, and some bright Kelim rugs; on the walls were two pictures, an oleograph of the Holy Family and an enlarged and expressionless photograph of Lek-Gionaj’s father. The three windows were set so high and deep in the thickness of the wall that it was impossible to see out of them; they were heavily barred with iron scrollwork.

(pg 157) A long, a very long pause ensued on this occasion. Lek-Gionaj, attended by Pieter (Mark), his eldest son, sat on two of the upright wooden chairs opposite Colonel Robinson, and talked to him; Mme. Lek-Gionaj, attended by two of her daughters, a beautiful girl of seventeen called Lisa (Dila b.1919), and Marte (Bardha b.1925), a gay little creature of about nine, sat opposite Mrs. Robinson, Miss Glanfield, and Gloire, and conversed with them; Rudolf Valentino handed round minute glasses of raki, the aniseed-flavoured liqueur of those regions, and a metal dish of flat squares of a rather hard sour white cheese. Each guest was supplied with a fork with which to spear the cheese; the dish was black with a thousand flies—spearing a piece, one blew on it to remove them before popping it hastily into one’s mouth. Gloire didn’t much like the cheese and thought the flies revolting, but she was so hungry that she took a piece whenever the dish came round, and so tired and thirsty that she emptied her little glass of raki as often as the servant filled it.

(pg 167-168) Finally, she looked at the Lek-Gionajs themselves, standing among their flocks and herds and servants as Abraham and Sarah might have stood of old on the plains of Palestine. Lek-Gionaj was a short man, thick-set; it was hard to see much of Abraham in the semi-European dress which he affected—an old-fashioned Norfolk suit with pleated back and patch pockets, kneestockings, and stout black laced shoes, most oddly combined with a collarless shirt, gauged to the neck, and an immensely broad cummerbund of striped black and silver silk which, embracing the bottom of his neat waistcoat, fastened in front with a huge silver buckle set with turquoises, at least eight inches across. Yet there was something patriarchal about him; the quiet, substantial satisfaction with which he stood, feet apart, surveying his fleecy, vocal, visible wealth—a satisfaction which the sight of packets of gilt-edged securities in a safe can never quite afford—and the tone of friendly interest and calm unquestioned authority with which he spoke to his men.

Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni (aka Gjergji Lek-Gionaj)

In Mme. Lek-Gionaj, on the other hand, it was easy to see Sarah, or the wife of any patriarch. She was a massive woman, much taller than her husband and immensely broad in the beam, with a large, broad-browed, bigmouthed face, firm and solid as an early Epstein sculpture. Her face in repose was so expressionless as to be almost sulky, but gave a great sense of latent power. Her huge frame was splendidly clothed. Full white linen trousers tapered down from her vast hips to quite small feet, and over them, bell-like, hung the skirts of her white linen tunic, which was most delicately pleated and embroidered on the bosom; over this was a jacket of deep purple velvet, and a brilliantly striped silk apron fell to her knees, held in place by another silk shawl, embroidered this time and tied round the waist. Over all she wore a sleeveless coat of white woollen homespun, reaching in front only a few inches beyond the arm-holes, which were surrounded by a band of embroidery in vivid reds and greens—there was more of this embroidery on the hips and round the neck and hem. It was of an Oriental magnificence, this dress, and the stern impassive countenance was almost oriental too. Her head-dress was as stern as her face. A fringed shawl of black silk was folded squarely across that great sculptured forehead and bound above the ears—it fell in a black cascade of fringe down to the middle of that vast white coat at the back—in front, a great plait of bronze dark hair was somehow drawn up through the black folds, and lay across her head like a coronal. She wore no jewellery, and indeed her natural splendour needed none. Calmly, silent except when addressed, she stood watching her flocks, her husband, and her off-spring—for Marte and Lisa had accompanied them down to the fold, and Pieter stood with his father. Oh yes, so indeed might Sarah have stood, Miss Glanfield thought, or that great matron of whom King Solomon sang, or the notable woman who entertained the prophet Elijah. This was what womanhood meant in a simpler, earlier world. It was impossible to conceive of coquetry, or the competitive spirit, or ruinous extravagance in the pursuit of fashion so much as entering into the conception of that great creature, traditionally garbed, traditionally occupied in secular duties and responsibilities.

Mrika Marka Gjoni (aka Mme. Lek-Gionaj)

(pg 169) They walked round the house, admiring the new portion which had been built on a few years before. The new building had a fine doorway in delicate close-grained pale grey stone, with six names carved across the lintel— of course Miss Glanfield had to know whose they were. Mme. Lek-Gionaj obliged—those of her husband and her five sons (Gjon, Mark, Ndue, Llesh, Dede, Nikoll).

(pg 170) To the left of this entrance another door, less ornate, opened direct from the courtyard into a great room, as large or larger than that on the floor above where they had eaten and slept—here the men employed about the establishment lived, and here the visiting gendarmes and teamsters were housed. The visitors looked in. Except for a number of coarse bright rugs on the floor, the room was quite bare; the pack-saddles of the pony-team were piled up in one corner, and in another on a raised platform quilts and bedding, neatly folded, lay under a vast coloured sheet; out in the centre of the room, under the light of the high-set scroll-barred windows, the teamsters and gendarmes, seated on the floor, were brewing coffee over a small charcoal stove, smoking and chatting.

(pg171) The kitchen in the Lek-Gionaj mansion was, exceptionally, on the ground floor—as a rule in Albania the animals, poultry and farm implements occupy the bottom level of the house, and the kitchen, sleeping rooms and guest-room are upstairs; but the Lek-Gionajs had stables for their animals for winter use, and therefore a ground-floor kitchen. It was another very large room, like a great cavern, faintly lit by a paraffin lamp hanging from the ceiling, and the last of the daylight which crept in through the barred windows. A wood fire burned on a wide open hearth; above it hung a great copper pot in which water bubbled: permanent hot water, Mrs. Robinson murmured to Gloire—the pot was kept there day and night; a metal coffee-pot stood in the ashes—coffee too was on tap night and day to be ready to serve to any chance guest. On the floor in front of the fire a woman knelt, arranging a freshly-skinned lamb on a spit; presently she took it up and placed the spit in front of the flames. Under the window were shelves, on which stood various cooking utensils, and silver-washed copper bowls of kous, the sour milk of the whole Balkan region; very large flat trays or dishes of this same silvered copper, some of them worked in beautiful designs, were ranged against the walls—it was from these, placed on the floor, that meals were eaten, Mrs. Robinson explained. The walls were covered with metal vessels of various sorts, ladles, knives, spoons and tongs; from the smoke blackened rafters hung quantities of dried gourds, they contained beans, pulse and lentils and also dried seeds for sowing. On one wall hung a guitar. As there were neither presses nor tables, obviously everything had to lean or hang, and did. The place seemed full of a crowd of women, occupied in various ways—one, kneeling on the floor, was rolling out pastry on one of the metal trays; another, also kneeling, was chopping up herbs on a smaller dish; Mme. Lek-Gionaj ran an expert and masterful eye over each.

(l to r) Dava Markagjoni, Llesh, Marta (wife of Mark), Kap. Gjon, Kap. Mark, Kap. Ndue, Mrika, Dila, Marta – 1930

(pg 175) ‘”A married woman here has enormous authority and power—but she doesn’t worry about the outward appearances of it. When I see people like Mme. Lek-Gionaj running some fifty women and more men, with her children and grandchildren growing up around her in willing obedience, and affection, and respect, and her husband relying on her for wisdom and counsel, whether she eats with the guests or not seems a small thing! I often compare her in my mind with the professional women and business girls back home, who are so proud of their ‘economic independence’—living alone or with a woman friend in some little apartment, and I think that they have nothing on her. They are puttering around at some little artificial job; she is building men and women.”

(pg 229) Groups of men frequently turned up at the Kapidan’s house; food was cooked for them, and they were closeted for hours with Lek-Gionaj. From Dr. Emmeline she always learned who they were: sometimes members of his own clan, but often of some other—he was the recognised chief of all the Catholic clans, and their problems were brought to him for advice and solution. She had watched the earnest faces grouped in the courtyard, and Lek-Gionaj’s own anxious face, creased with thought, as he weighed and dealt with the difficulties of his people; she had realised his patience and his concern. Once he had had to go down to Tirana to represent their point of view to the authorities; this had been a very important occasion, and every one went about looking serious till his return.

(pg 245) “Why, all right. On Christmas Eve,” said the old woman, “the housewife sweeps the house right through and white-washes it from end to end. She clears most of the ashes from the hearth, and at twilight she puts on the great log, like the Northern Yule log—that’s pretty well the one thing our customs have in common with yours,” she said, nodding her white head at the Swede. “When everyone has come in from work they dine, sitting in a semicircle round the fire; and after that the house-father lights a candle and says a prayer. Then he takes a spray of juniper and puts it on the fire—I really don’t know what the significance of that is—anyway while it is crackling the family chants. When the chant is done the father pours a libation of wine on the log and on the four corners of the hearth; and for each of the corners he says a letter—K, R, Y, Q—that spells the Albanian name for the Cross. Then they bring an unleavened loaf to the table, and the mother sets an apple with a sprig of olive stuck in it on the bread. The part of the loaf under the apple never gets eaten till three days are past—that’s in memory of the three days in the Tomb.”

“Well, they attend Mass, of course—and then there is the special wheaten food. Overnight the mistress of the house puts a vessel of the finest clean wheat on the fire, and leaves it to cook all night; and at the noonday meal on Christmas Day she pours melted butter over it, and they eat it. That’s in remembrance of Bethlehem too—there is a legend that this was the shepherds’ choicest food, and that they ate it in rejoicing for the Nativity on the first Christmas Day.”

(pg 247) The last night came. Larsen was going to escort them down, and in addition the General had sent Fran up again to wait on Miss Glanfield. That night, for the last time, Lek-Gionaj and Pieter dined with their guests, and before the evening meal Mme. Lek-Gionaj came and took coffee and raki with them, accompanied by Lisa and little Marte, and Mrs. Pieter, still looking fragile and big-eyed. It was a much less formal visit than the first evening. Dr. Emmeline acted as interpreter, but this time Miss Glanfield and the Princess had subjects in common—her health, Mrs. Pieter’s health, the baby, the imminent migration of the household to the high pastures (which had been postponed for a few days on the writer’s account), gratitude, pleasure. Gloire for her part spoke and laughed independently with Lisa and Mrs. Pieter; though thumbs were occasionally twiddled, it was all much livelier than on the day they arrived. Miss Glanfield had decided to surrender her wrist-watch, a rather charming one with a gold mesh strap, in token of gratitude—this was duly presented and obviously gave great pleasure. It was arranged that Larsen should take it down to Tirana and try to get Mme. Lek-Gionaj’s name and a suitable inscription engraved on it—for a gift without an inscription means little in Albania. Gloire slightly embarrassed everyone by giving Lisa the huge diamond bracelet which Nils had noticed in the train—it was a rather overwhelming present. However, after it had been duly admired on the dark velvet sleeve of the young girl’s jacket, Mme. Lek-Gionaj impounded it, observing that such jewels were only for married women, and that Lisa would be able to wear it later on—at which there was giggling and blushes. The old Doctor, with her usual competence, had caused the messengers who went for the ponies to bring up a large linen bag full of silver leks—these Gloire, on her instructions, gave in handfuls to the children of ail the household servants, the correct and rather pretty method of tipping in High Albania. When dinner—a positive farewell banquet—was over, and the Lek-Gionaj men had gone, Larsen lingered a little.

(pg 251) They made an early start next morning, for the journey was to be in easy stages. Lek-Gionaj had lent a sure-footed pony of his own for Miss Glanfield’s use, with a better saddle than those of the usual caravan ponies, and one of his own men to lead it; the leg, still in a splint, was supported in a broad canvas sling with a loop to pass over a man’s shoulder—Fran and Larsen took turns at carrying this, or walked beside the writer, to steady her if the pony should stumble. A couple of gendarmes from the post at Torosh were to escort them half-way to that night’s camp; these included the cheerful corporal who had given Gloire coffee and played the accordion to her before High Mass on Whit-Sunday.


D.R. Oakley-Hill (part two)


Captain D. R. Oakley Hill (1898-1985) was involved in Albanian affairs for over fifty years and in his time was the best known authority on the country. His first assignment in Albania came when he was recruited in 1929 by General Sir Jocelyn Percy, then Inspector General of the Gendarmerie during the reign of King Zog. From the moment he arrived in the country, Oakley-Hill fell in love with Albania. In his memoirs he relates how he travelled everywhere on horseback, there being few roads, usually accompanied by his wife Rosamond. One of these visits was to the North of Albania where he sojourned at the Sarajet e Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni in 1935.

Below is an excerpt from his book “An Englishman in Albania – Memoirs of a British Officer 1929-1955” pages 57-59 (London – The Center for Albanian Studies 2002).

Our northern trip gave us much to remember: the Shkalla Tunjanit, the stone-staircase pass north of Mt. Dajti; the night camping at Gurabardhe, a place with an excellent spring on a height beyond the next ridge to the east; down to Klos in Mat district, fording the Mat river, and seeing an old water wheel at the riverside; to Burrel, the Rreth center, and past Derjan and the ruins of Zog’s ancestral home; north through the lovely, rolling Mat country, past Perlat, through Kthelle (the Catholic north of Mat), and into the Catholic Mirdite, to the great house of the Kapidan of Mirdite, Gjon Markagjoni, standing palisaded on its isolated hill below the Mali Shenjt (the Sacred Moutain).

There we met Joe Swire and his wife, by arrangement. The Kapidan’s hospitality was famous and we stayed the night. I think he expected we would all like to be together, so he visited us for a drink of raki in the huge guest dining room, but left us to dine alone, served by his men. The room housed the four of us comfortably for the night. Just before sunset the flocks were brought down from the mountain, and the ewes were sorted into separate pens, so that milking could begin. The goats received the same treatment. Guards watched all night, and more than once we heard shots fired to scare seen or suspected wolves.

In the morning we were allowed to go round the dairy, where the Kapidan’s wife was queen. She and her daughter-in-law1 were testing the pans into which the milk had been poured overnight, to see if the kos (yogurt) had set. Zonja Markagjoni was a magnificent matron, in her hand-made Mirdite dress, with its long ornate apron. With the smell of the dairy, the many men working round the yard and the dust rising as the flocks moved away up to their pastures, I could only think of Abraham in the hills of Canaan.

Mrika (l) and Marta (r) Markagjoni

Before we left, the Rreth commander of Mirdite, a lieutenant, called to see the Kapidan. After their discussion, Markagjoni asked me if this young man could be left in his job and not transferred, as officers had to be from time to time. This, of course, meant that he suited the Kapidan and listened to him. I said I would tell the General, and in fact Percy decided he was a good man for the job and would leave him there anyhow.

We said goodbye and thank you to the Kapidan and went downhill to the Cathedral of Orosh. It was a Sunday morning and we were privileged to look in at the service in the large stone-built cathedral church, with its tall and slender tower, a remarkable and curious landmark in the middle of those rough, empty-looking hills. The men of Mirdite were sitting on one side, and the women on the other. We waited outside to see them come out; there they sat or stood in separate male and female groups, chatting to friends, many of whom they probably only met at the church. It was an impressive sight; the men, in their black-braided white woolen trousers, tight from the knees down, somewhat like jodhpurs, short, tight jackets, and white woolen skullcaps, sat on the long church steps or stood around. Most were carrying rifles, as there had been no disarming as of yet. The women remained on one side, standing, with their long straight robes, decorated apron fronts, and handcloths. This sight will not be seeing again till Communism has gone. And then, perhaps, those splendid costumes will have gone too.

All along the mountain slopes are dotted little houses of the highlanders. Every man according to his degree is master of his own house, grazes his few sheep, and works his little patch of land. In this country blood is thicker than water, and men are bound by ties of family and clan and by traditions which have come down to them out of the dim past. Proud, free and independent, these people are the salt of the earth.

1 Marta, wife of Kapidan Mark Gjon Marku (Gjon Markagjoni’s oldest son).




Today we unveiled the newly restored Martyrs Monument in Shpal, Mirdite. This was the first event sponsored by the “Sarejet Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni”. Below is the text which was given at the ceremony. It is written in Albanian, English and Italian.

Kapidan Mark Gjomarkaj, Kapidan Llesh Gjomarkaj, Major Nikoll P. Gjomarkaj, Tun Nikolla, Mark Bajraktari, Frrok Gj. Vokrri, Preng M. Perzefi, Tanush Gj. Lufi, Dom M. Gjani, Dode Gj. Gera, Ndrec M. Bardhi, Pep M. Lufi, Zef Sh. Sinani, Preng P. Ruci, Ndue M. Luli, Ndrec Gj. Ndreca, Preng N. Gjoni, Frrok Melyshi, Bardhok P. Ndoka, Ndue N. Nikolli, Frrok Gj. Sherri, Prend N. Gega, Zef K. Perndreca, Dede Vila, Mark B. Rama, Mehill Kola, Dode Ll. Marku, Pjeter N. Gera, Preng D. Gega, Simon Suma, Llesh P. Bajraktari, Preng C. Prenga, Pjeter Gj. Ahengu, Bardhok Gj. Paloka

Mirëmëngjes të gjithëve dhe faleminderit për pjesëmarrjen tuaj në këtë rast. Fillimisht dua të falënderoj bashkëshortin tim Vincent, i cili ka qenë i rëndësishëm në realizimin e këtij projekti. Faleminderit! Artan Lleshi…i cili me frymëzimin dhe pasionin e tij për Mirditën më shtyn të realizoj projekte që përndryshe nuk do ta shihnin dritën e ditës. Faleminderit Artan.

Te dashur pjesemarres ne kete ceremoni. Te dashur familjare te Martireve te Mirdites. E dashur Mirdite. Ne po zbulojme sot nje pllakate me emra heronjsh te harruar, me emra martiresh saje te cileve u ngrit demokracia por shpejt u harruan premtimet ndaj tyre .Kta heronj i kushtuan rinine, jeten dhe familjet e tyre Mirdites se bukur e te Lire, u sakrifikuan e vdiqen nen torture e si ne asnje vend te botes komunizmi u dhunoi edhe kufomat e tyre, u ndaloi te drejten eshtrave te tyre te kene nje varr vetem e vetem qe lavdia e tyre te shuhet e te mos ekzistoje rasti i asnje mirditasi te ndershem e familjari te bejne homazh e te kujtojne nder dekada patriotizmin dhe sakrificen e Mirdites ne lufte kunder komunizmit, diktatures me te eger e antinjerzore te koherave. Ne nuk kemi ardhur ketu sot te shkruajme fjalime te gjata ne respekt te vepres tone te thjeshte por te kujtojme e marrim me vete mesazhin qe kto burra kushin per Mirditen.

Shpali i Mirdites eshte deshmia me e rralle e tortures dhe e krimeve cnjerzore te komunizmit pasi ketu u sollen kufomat e te gjith atyre patrioteve qe u vrane ne malet rrotull dhe u hodhen nder humnera dhe nje nga ata te pushkatuar ne prite e pabesi eshte edhe Kapidan Llesh Gjomarkaj i cili ne gusht te vitit 1947 u vra ne Livadhez dhe trupi i pajete u soll tek gropa e te humburve per liri, ketu ne Shpal, ashtu sikur po nje vit para vrasjes se Llesh Gjomarkajt, Naten e Shnanoit, u pre ne pabesi Kapidan Mark Gjomarkaj, trupi i tij u shetit per se vdekuri per te bindur popullaten te heq dore nga komunizmi e eshtrat e tij kurr nuk u gjeten, ashtu sikur ne kodren perballe ktij memoriali u hodh trupi i coptuar i kusheririt te tyre Nikoll Prenge Lleshi e kurre as atij nuk ju gjeten eshtrat.

Te dashur Mirditas. Homazhi dhe kujtesa jane veprat me te thjeshta qe mund te beje njeriu ndaj duke kuptuar thjeshtesine por edhe rendesine qe ka historia per tu kujtuar dhe kuptuar, ne shenje respekti per Mirditen, martiret dhe historine e saj, un, e bija e Kapidan Ndue Gjomarkajt, bera vetem nje gjest te tjheshte, ne emrin tim dhe te familjes se Kapidanit te Mirdites u rikonstruktova kete pllakate per tu thene Martireve tane se ne kurre nuk e leme mbasdore historine e tyre  e kurre nuk do ta leme mbasdore Mirditen Fisnike, kurre nuk do ta braktisim nga zemra Mirditen, ate Mirdite per te cilen u pushkatuat ju, qindra te tjere u burgosen  e u internuan e qindra te tjere midis te cileve edhe gjyshi im Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni, babai im Kapdan Ndue Gjomarkaj dhe xhaxhai Kapidan Nikoll Gjomarkaj, vdiqen jashte atdheut te permalluar per Mirditen. U kujtofshin per jete te jeteve martiret e Mirdites tone. Faleminderit!

Good morning everyone and thank you for your participation in this occasion. First of all I want to thank my husband Vincent, he was instrumental in the realization of this project. Thank you! Artan Lleshi … who with his inspiration and passion for Mirdita pushes me to carry out projects that otherwise would not see the light of day. Thank you Artan.

Today, we unveil a commemorative plaque with the names of forgotten heroes, the names of the martyrs who fought for democracy. Sadly, the promises made to them were soon forgotten. These heroes dedicated their youth, life and families for a beautiful and free Mirdita. They were sacrificed and died under torture, and like nowhere else in the world, communism violated their corpses. They were deprived of a burial, only so that their glory may be extinguished and leave no chance for any honest citizen and member of their Mirdita family to pay tribute and memorialize them, for the next decades, for their patriotism and sacrifice for Mirdita in the war against communism. The most brutal and inhuman dictatorship of the times.

We did not come here today to write long speeches about our simple job, but to remember and carry with us the message these men wanted for Mirdita. Shpa, Mirdita is the rarest testimony of the tortures and inhuman crimes of communism, as the bodies of all those patriots who were killed in the mountains and thrown into the abyss were collected here. One of those shot in the ambush caused by a betrayal was also Kapidan Llesh Gjomarkaj, who in August 1947, was killed in Livadhez and his lifeless body was taken to the “pit of the lost” here in this valley. Just like a year before the murder of Llesh Gjomarkaj, on the night of Saint Anthony, the body of his brother, Kapidan Mark Gjomarkaj was loaded and displayed in every street and valley to show the anti-communists what would happen to them. And then he was dispersed. We won’t forget the dismembered body of their cousin, Major Nikol Prenge Lleshi, which was thrown on the hill in front of this monument, and his bones were never found.

The fundamental thing is to remember, because only by remembering can you build a conscience to avoid falling back on the errors that lead to these deaths. We must remember this sacrifice of so many people. Remember our history. Remembering the memory, making it clear what happened and what it cost, so these facts no longer happen.

Homage and memory are the simplest gestures that can be performed to remember and understand, as a sign of respect for Mirdita, her martyrs and her history.

I, as the daughter of Kapidan Ndue Gjomarkaj, made only a simple gesture in my name and in the family name of the Kapidan of Mirdita. I have restored this monument to tell our martyrs that we will never leave their history behind and we will never leave noble Mirdita behind. We will never leave, from the bottom of our hearts, Mirdita, the Mirdita for which they were shot.

Hundreds of others were imprisoned and exiled, and hundreds more, including my grandfather Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni, my father Kapidan Ndue Gjomarkaj and my uncle Kapidadan Nikoll Gjomarkaj, died outside their homeland, outside their beloved mirdita.

May the martyrs of our Mirdita be remembered forever! Thank you.

Buongiorno a tutti e grazie per la vostra partecipazione a questa occasione. Prima di tutto voglio ringraziare mio marito Vincent, e’ stato strumentale per la realizzazione di questo progetto. Thank you! Artan Lleshi…che con la sua ispirazione e passione per Mirdita mi spinge a realizzare progetti che altrimenti non vedrebbero la luce del giorno. Grazie Artan.

Cari partecipanti a questa cerimonia, oggi, sveliamo una targa commemorativa con i nomi di eroi dimenticati, i nomi dei martiri che hanno lottato per la democrazia. Pputroppo, le promesse fatte a loro sono state presto dimenticate. Questi eroi hanno dedicato la loro giovinezza, vita e famiglie per una bella e libera mirdita. Sono stati sacrificati e sono morti sotto tortura, e come in nessun altro luogo al mondo, il comunismo ha violentato i loro cadaveri. Sono stati privati del diritto delle loro ossa ad avere una tomba, solo perche la loro gloria potrebbe essere estinta e non lasciare la possibilita per nessun onesto cittadino e membro della famiglia di Mirdita rendere omaggio e ricordi, per decenni, a il patriotismo e il sacrificio di Mirdita nella guerra contro il comunismo. La dittatura più brutale e disumana dei tempi.

Non siamo venuti qui oggi per scrivere lunghi discorsi rispetto al nostro semplice lavoro, ma per ricordare e portare con noi il messaggio che questi uomini volevano per mirdita.

Shpal Mirdita è la più rara testimonianza delle torture e dei crimini disumani del comunismo, in quanto qui venivano raccolti i corpi di tutti quei patrioti che furono uccisi nelle montagne e gettati negli abissi. Uno di quelli fucilati nell’imboscata causata da un tradimento era anche Kapidan Llesh Gjomarkaj, che nell’agosto 1947, fu ucciso a Livadhez e il corpo senza vita fu portato nella fossa dei perduti, qui nella valle.

Proprio come un anno prima dell’omicidio di Llesh Gjomarkaj, nella notte di Sant’Antonio, il corpo del suo fratello, Kapidan Mark Gjomarkaj fu caricato ed esposto in ogni strada e valle per mostrare agli anticomunisti cosa li succederebbe. E poi fu disperso.

Così come anche il corpo smembrato di suo cugino, Maggiore Nikol Prenge Lleshi, che fu gettato sulla collina di fronte a questo monumento, e le sue ossa non furono mai trovate.

La cosa fondamentale e’ ricordare, perche solo ricordando si riesce a costruirsi una coscienza per evitare a ricadere sugli errori che portano a questi morti. Dobbiamo ricordare questo sacrficio di tante persone. Ricordare la nostra storia. Ricordare la memoria e far capire quello ch’e’ successo e quello ch’e’ costato, cosi questi fatti non avengono piu. Omaggio e memoria sono i gesti più semplici che si possono compiere per ricordare e comprendere, in segno di rispetto per Mirdita, i suoi martiri e la sua storia.

Io, come figlia di Kapidan Ndue Gjomarkaj, ho fatto solo un semplice gesto nel mio nome e nel nome della famiglia del Kapidan di Mirdita. Ho restaurato questo monumento per dire ai nostri martiri che non lasceremo mai alle spalle la loro storia e non lasceremo mai indietro la nobile mirdita. Non lasceremo mai dal profondo dei nostri cuori Mirdita, la Mirdita per cui sono stati fucilati.

Centinaia di altri furono imprigionati ed esiliati, e centinaia ancora, incluso mio nonno Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni, mio padre Kapidan Ndue Gjomarkaj e mio zio Kapidan Nikoll Gjomarkaj sono morti fuori dalla patria, fuori dalla loro amata mirdita.

Che i martiri della nostra Mirdita siano ricordati per tutta la vita. Grazie.


Rosita Forbes


Rosita Forbes, née Joan Rosita Torr, (1890 – 1967) was an English travel writer, novelist and explorer. In 1920–1921 she was the first European woman to visit the Kufra Oasis in Libya (together with the Egyptian explorer Ahmed Hasanein) in a period when this was closed to Westerners. She was the daughter of a British MP, was an indomitable and widely-travelled adventuress who journeyed to the most exotic, remote, and dangerous locations and lived to write about them. She would visit ancient bazaars and mix freely with the local population, as well as interviewing colorful nomadic characters along the way. Forbes crossed through Libyan deserts on a camel in the 1920’s, searching for the forbidden city of Kufara. She journeyed from Peshawar to Samarkand via Kabul, Afghanistan, in the 1930’s. Other adventures took her to the Middle East, Abyssinia, Kenya, and South America. Rosita had a flair for languages from childhood and loved to travel. She joined her first husband, a British army colonel, on his garrison duties in China, India and Australia. During World War I, she drove ambulances on the Western Front. In 1918, now divorced, Forbes was commissioned by a French magazine to study French colonialism in Africa and was dispatched to Morocco. From then on, she developed an interest in both history and politics which were later infused with her travel writings.

A Revelation of the Incredible Lives Lived the Tribesmen in the Most Picturesque and Untamed State in Europe

By Rosita Forbes – Who Has Just Returned from the Wilds of the Adriatic (published November 9, 1929)

In Oroshi each house has a rock to itself, and there are not more than a dozen of them, half a mile apart, but each is a patriarchal affair wherein dwell three or four generations. Built of grey stone, with loop-holed walls and a curious jutting-out machicolation from which boiling water could comfortably be poured onto any unwelcome head, they are reinforced by huge palisades to protect them against the packs of wolves which in winter, a hundred or two hundred strong, range the countryside.

In the largest of these grim buildings lives Jon Marcojon (Gjon Markagjoni). Chief of the Mirdite, and his hospitality is in keeping with the strength of his bones, for though he is not very tall, his knee joint is just about treble the size of an ordinary man’s, which is perhaps as well, for it needs a human goat to climb his mountains. We reached his house towards sunset, our arrival heralded by shouts from the crags, from which sentinels watched the valley. Marcojon, in dark breeches and coat, girt with a cartridge-belt wherein gleamed the ivory handle of a revolver presented by King Zog, was sitting on the edge of the cliff, where a circle of roughly-hewn stones made a sort of council chamber between the palisaded house and the ravine below. He welcomed us warmly and took us to the huge guest-room on the first floor.

There was a bed in one corner, quantities of bright red rugs from the hand-looms of Kossava on the floor, and a long deal table at which coffee was instantly served. Then came the usual three-hour pause, during which conversation was stimulated by a raki, and after that dinner appeared, borne by armed henchmen, while the sons waited on their father’s guests. We ate mightily on sheep, curdled milk, and goat’s cheese, and schewing the bed piled high with scarlet quilts, we slept on the floor-when we were allowed to sleep at all, for the Albanian is content with a short four hour’s rest in summer, and thinks his guest is ill if he or she requires any more. It is quite impossible not to rise with the sun, for if you don’t, the whole family sits around and shakes you gently at intervals to say it is after dawn.

“I must sleep, I will sleep.” I used to mutter, distraught, and burrow out of sight in my flea-bag with my fingers stuffed in my years.

After half an hour there would be a sibilant inquiry: “Are you ill?” Are you sure you are not ill?” And someone would be sent for raki.

“I shall be ill if you don’t let me sleep.” I would cry, with murder seething in my brain, and be left in peace for ten minutes, after which the old grandmother would be summoned to decide whether I was so ill I was going to die.

Dava Markagjoni with guards and grandson Ndue in the left corner – 1928

The only human being in Albania who ever suggested I could sleep was Jon Marcojon’s mother, a splendid creature, strong-featured and stalwart as Sarah the wife of Abraham. She saw me return from a twelve-hour ride which had turned out to be mostly walk, over rocks which I imagined could only exist in the nightmares of over-excited goats. My face was like damp beetroot. My eyes were scarlet. Doubtless I blundered up the last spirals with as little control of my limbs as a camel surprised that it can walk at all. Brilliant with crimson embroidery on a long white coat, hung with necklaces of gold coins and gold earrings, capable, cool, and quite ready at sixty-seven (as she informed me) to walk all day with many kilos on her back, the old lady grasped my arm and led me straight to a mat. “Sleep,” she commanded, but she and several other women sat on the same carpet and patted me at regular intervals to see if I were all right, and after an hour they woke me. “It is unhealthy to sleep too much” they said cheerfully.

The Albanian tribeswoman is as strong as her brothers, and she has to do most of the work in the field and market, because the men are always involved in a feud and cannot leave their house without a rifle. Marcojon’s wife, who was living in a hut with the flocks pasturing high above Oroshi, was deep-bosomed, broad and comely, with a confident smile and the smooth skin of a girl in spite of her ten children.

Kapidan Ndue, Kapidan Gjon and Kapidan Mark Markagjoni

As usual in the mountains, she and the Mirdite chieftain had had a trial span of domesticity (“to see if she were strong,” explained with delicacy, the eldest son, who was evidently devoted to his mother), and then when the first boy was born, they had married. The Albanian woman has no choice in the matter of her future husband, and so strong is her tribal instinct her greatest devotion generally goes to her brother who is of the same blood. A story is still told in Scutari of a Mirdite woman whose husband betrayed her brother to an enemy. The wife waited till her lord was asleep and then killed him with his own knife and killed their two sons as well, so that the line of a traitor should not continue.

In Oroshi I noticed one of the qeraxhis (the men who drive their pack-ponies from one end of the mountains to the other) was clean-shaven and had small feel. One day it was necessary to use the mountain telephone, that is, to shout the news that a guest was coming across twenty miles of valley. A tribesman leapt on to a rock and turned himself into a human megaphone. His face grew blotched and purple, his veins swelled, he stuck his thumbs into his ears, apparently to keep the drums from bursting and from his tense strained figure there issued a howl which leaped like a living thing from rock to rock. In this way news travels from one district to another faster than our telegrams, for anyone hearing is bound in honor to forward the message to its destination.

“Can you do that?” I asked the beardless tribesman, and it was only then I learned she was a woman. She had refused to marry the man to whom her parents had engaged her, prenatally, and so she had been obliged to swear the oath of virginity before twelve witnesses, after which she had the right to live as a man, smoking and eating with her fellow drivers, wearing the same felt trousers and ragged shirt, carrying a rifle and taking part, if she chose, in vendetta.

Published by “The Sphere”, November 9, 1929


D.R. Oakley-Hill


Captain D. R. Oakley Hill (1898-1985) was an English officer who, for over nine years, was “Lieut. Colonel and Inspector of Gendarmerie” in Albania. He was staff officer to Major General Sir Jocelyn Percy, British organizer and Inspector-General of Albanian Gendarmerie, and acted as interpreter between his chief and King Zog. He visited Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni at the Sarajet in Orosh on a number of occasions during his stay in Albania. The following account was published in the “Sheffield Telegraph and Daily Independent” on Monday April 10, 1939.


We British officers were stationed in the various towns: Scutari, Korca, Elbasan, Durazzo, Valona. I was most of the time at Tirana with my chief. We used to make frequent tours of inspection, visiting the little gendarmerie posts which were scattered all over the land, a land consisting mostly of mountains. We would hire two or three pack ponies, take our gendarme orderly and set off.

There is hardly a corner of the country I have not see. We would more often camp, but sometimes we would accept hospitality and stay in a private house. It was then that we realized the meaning of Albanian hospitality. The people of the mountains are dreadfully poor, except the few local chieftains – they are not rich – but all are friendly, charming and hospitable.

Everything they have is their guest’s. The poorest will ply him with precious coffee, kill a sheep or chicken, set his wife to prepare savory dishes without thought of the inroads into the meager supplies. The honor of the house is at stake.

The chieftains are most lavish, within their means. I stayed once or twice with Gjon Markagjoni, the hereditary chief of the Mirdita tribe. He has built himself a strong house on a bluff half way up a five thousand feet mountain and there he holds feudal sway.


His men take the sheep and goats up to the higher pastures early in the morning, and in the evening they file slowly down again. The sheep and goats are led into separate pens, and the milking begins.

Nenshjet (pastures)

Wooden pails of milk are carried to the dairy where the stately lady of the home herself prepares the cheese and kos (yogurt) which with maize bread are the chief food of this mountain folk.

Inside we sit round the great hall with the chieftain and talk and drink little glasses of raki, the home brewed spirit, while outside the night closes in and the stillness of the mountains is broken only the barking of the sheepdogs, or a sudden shot fired by the watchmen at lurking wolves.

All along the mountain slopes are dotted little houses of the highlanders. Every man according to his degree is master of his own house, grazes his few sheep, and works his little patch of land. In this country blood is thicker than water, and men are bound by ties of family and clan and by traditions which have come down to them out of the dim past. Proud, free and independent, these people are the salt of the earth.

“Sheffield Telegraph and Daily Independent” – Monday April 10, 1939 – page 6


Arthur Moore


Arthur (William) Moore (1880-1962), was a traveler and international journalist. In late 1904 Moore was employed as secretary to the Balkan Committee established to publicize the plight of Macedonian Christians. He travelled extensively in the Balkans, and in 1908 he reported on the Young Turk revolution for a number of British newspapers. While in Macedonia he became, in his own words, ‘the first west European to penetrate central Albania’. In late 1908 Moore was employed by a consortium of newspapers to report on the civil war in Persia. Arriving in Tabriz on 19 January 1909, he found himself trapped in a 100-day siege. In March he joined the constitutionalist cause, and on 19 April led the final sortie on royalist forces, which helped to alleviate pressure on the town until Russian relief forces arrived. He later returned to Albania for further travelling in 1914. While in Mirdita in 1908 he was a guest at the Sarajet. What follows is an excerpt of his account of the visit in Mirdite in 1908.


From Bourgayet I struck straight north, making for the heart of the Mirdite country. Mat is entirely Mohammedan; Mirdita is entirely Catholic. Between the two lies Kethela, which is mixed.

To the outward eye there is very little difference between Mohammedans and Christians. The Moslem women go unveiled and do not hide themselves from men. The Christian women wear veils for ceremony, like their Mohammedan sisters, and are in general no less in the background of the picture; they have also their own quarters in the house. The mosques have no minarets and, save for the absence of the Cross, are indistinguishable from the rustic churches. The blood feud rages everywhere, but between Albanians in the mountains there is no religious quarrel whatever.

I found a family living under one roof in Kethela in which some were Christians and some Mohammedans. The Catholics of Mirdita take Mohammedan wives from Mat, who dutifully accept the religion of their husbands. Polygamy is possible for the Mohammedans, but is rarely practiced, and the moral standard is high.

The feudal chiefs of Mirdita are called bajraktars, that is, bannermen, or kapedans (captains). There are five Kapedans in Mirdita, which has therefore five banners, to which the Mirdites gather for councils of war or peace. Jelal Bey has drunk of the blood of the son of the Kapedan at Orosh, which is the center of Mirdita, and the son has drunk Jelal’s blood. Consequently they are blood brothers, and the Mohammedan chief was in a position to pass me safely into the Christian country of Mirdita. He gave me two of his young retainers, who were to be my cards of introduction, and I set off at sunrise. For four hours we rode by cool and pleasant forest paths through Jelal’s estate, resting once at his chiflik, or farm-house. The two boys, Gjon and Ali, were great friends and in high spirits. At intervals they fired their Martinis in sheer glee, dexterously swinging these behind their backs and up under their left shoulder so that the bullets went whizzing upwards, past the ears of the Bey Effendi whom they delighted to honor with this inconvenient exhibition of their skill. Gjon is a Christian and lives in Kethela, so he took us all to lunch at his home. There are forty members in his family, which is not considered large.

In Kethela there are three kapedans with three banners. This was a new world, for Kethela had not yet accepted the Constitution. Consequently the blood feud was not yet checked, and men who had enemies hid themselves and walked with greater care than usual, fearing lest their foes would hasten to wreak their vengeance before the truce was made.

This was the very day of deliberation on the Constitution, and as we passed the open place of assembly the clans were already gathering. They pressed me to stay, but the meeting would not be till evening, so regretfully we pushed on to Gjon’s house. There, while we ate, a party of warriors dropped in from the wayside to share the open hospitality of the house, according to the custom of the country. “Are you brave?” was the greeting of the grizzled leader to me. Fortunately it is not necessary to answer this customary question except by direct tu quoque. Coffee was freshly roasted and served for all. We smoked in a semicircle, and fell to talking. The grizzled leader and his party were fresh from an exploit, and told us their story. The day before, with the view of forestalling the Constitution, a man had killed not his enemy, who was hiding himself, but his enemy’s friend whom he took unawares. The murderer had fled; so my new acquaintance and his friends had that morning burnt his house and all his goods, to their great satisfaction.
“Had he a wife and little children?” I asked.
“What will become of them?”
“We shall do something for them; we shall take care of them,” he answered.
Weary with this hot morning’s work, the party was resting at Gjon’s house before going on its way to the meeting for the acceptance of the Constitution. It looked as if the Albanians were prepared to fight like devils for conciliation!

Of what the Constitution meant, and of the manner of its coming, they knew nothing. The head of Gjon’s family, an old Christian in the corner by the charcoal, crooned of the new liberty the Sultan had given. He called him “the king,” for the Albanians have their own word Mbret for king, or sultan. The younger men said the jemaat had done it themselves. “But how can it come without the king? There must be a king. It is he who has done it,” persisted the old man. The young men, Mohammedans for the most part, laughed at him. They understood that the jemaat could surround the king and tell him what he must do. But the old man could not understand how such a thing could be.

“Are you a consul ?” the leader asked me. “The consuls at Scutari disturb everything in this country. I think this Constitution is something you have made the king do.” More questions were fired at me. “Is it because they want us to go and fight some enemy that the Turks have made the Constitution?”
“Would you go?” I asked in return. He made no answer, and silence fell on the whole group.
“What will you do with all the rifles now?” I asked.
“If you live at peace amongst yourselves you will not need them any more.”
“Ah, we shall keep them to fight the Giaours,” he said quickly. By Giaours he meant non-Albanian Christians, for the Albanian Catholics are not reckoned Giaours.
“But why should you want to fight the Giaours? Are you not all to live as brothers now? I am a Giaour; are we not friends?”
“Ah, that is different. You are with us. You will speak for the Skipetari (Albanians). Let the Skipetari, the sons of the eagle, be free in their mountains.”
And with that the party rose, and bidding me a hearty tungjatjeta, Godspeed, went on its way to inaugurate the Constitution.

Gladly would I speak for the sons of the eagle had I the power. I realized that the Young Turks would have to walk warily if they were to tame these wildfowl of the mountains to the sober limits of the Constitution. What would happen when Mat and Kethela and Mirdita were asked to pay taxes I did not know. But on the whole I was glad that I was not the tax gatherer. The ancient Illyria meant the “land of the free”; and lirija to this day means “liberty” in the tongue of the Skipetari.

Gjon and Ali took the road again, and, after shots had been fired to celebrate the start, they burst into song. It was a song of Jelal Bey, and told how, six weeks before, a young man had carried off a girl from her parents and fled with her to the mountains. Thereupon Jelal Bey had sent pursuers, who had burnt his house and all that he had, thus avenging the parents and fulfilling the law of the mountains. We fell in with more company than usual, and should have fared ill without Gjon and Ali, but they were a sufficient passport. When friends meet they butt each other on each side of the forehead like calves, at the same time clasping hands. Gjon and Ali rubbed many foreheads that day, and after dark they brought me to the castle of Kapidan Marko at Orosh. Again I was received in patriarchal style, and this time my Homeric chieftain did not fail me. Kapedan Marko was away on a great errand, so Kapidan Ndue, his brother and the next in seniority in the famous Mirdite family, was my host; and Kapidan Ndue, like his retainers, was clad in the fashion of the sons of the eagle.

Kapedan Ndue Gjoni

The trouble about travelling in Albania is the lavishness of the hospitality. I arrived nightly, late and tired and always an unexpected guest, but no mere hasty meal was considered sufficient to set before me. I had to wait three hours while a lamb was brought from distant fields, killed, and roasted whole; wheaten bread had to be cooked, for the maize bread in store was never thought good enough. There was also a soup, a pilaf, several made vegetable dishes, all excellent and better late than never. Grapes are eaten all through dinner, as though they were salted almonds.

Kapedan Ndue gave me a royal supper in his almost royal castle, while his own son and Marko’s son, who has drunk blood from Jelal Bey’s arm, acted as noble waiters. The center of the castle is in ruins, for the Turks destroyed it with artillery thirty years ago in the days of the famous Albanian League. Kapidan Ndue showed me the ruins, and explained the plans Mirdita was now forming to rebuild it for the exiled chief, Prenk Pasha, to whom the Young Turks had given permission to return. Time and again the Turks tried to destroy the rule of the kapedans and to establish their own governors; but always the new-comers were driven out. Once they sent a Bimbashi as Kaimakam, and Kapedan Ndue slew him with his own hand. For this a price was set upon his head, and for twenty-two years the kapedan had not been out of his own country nor taken the road to Scutari. Was it strange that men were weary of these wars and wanted to move once more in the face of their fellows, free from the shadow of death?

Mirdita is such a strange world to find in Europe that it deserves more than a passing notice. It covers a district which on the map is some thirty miles by twenty, but in reality its superficial area is greater. The northern portion is occupied by the mountains of Gajani and the Mundela range, which attain heights of 5,000 and 5,500 feet. In the East is the elevated plateau of Holy Mountain, some 4,200 to 4,700 feet high. South and West are an infinity of wooded heights, averaging 1,200 to 1,800 feet, and intersected by the valleys of the Greater and Lesser Fandis and innumerable smaller streams. The only level ground to be found anywhere is near the bottom of the river valleys, and the greater part of the whole area is forest-clad. Sandstone and granite are common, and there is limestone at Holy Mountain.

Mirdita owes the independence which it has so long preserved very largely to the fact that there are in general only two ways of entering it, for the way by which I came from Dibra is no way at all. It can be approached from Scutari, or from the sea, but both these ways lie for several hours through narrow gorges with steep sides. Except for punitive expeditions, Mirdita has been left alone ever since the first Turkish occupation in the second half of the fourteenth century. After the death of Skanderbeg in 1467 and the fall of the confederate chieftains in the following years, it seems that the family of Count Pal Ducagjini, who had ruled over the territory lying to the north of what is now Mirdita, took refuge in these mountains, possibly at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Alexander at no great distance from Orosh, which subsequently became the seat of government and chief village of Mirdita. The name Orosh is not improbably derived from the Slav word varosh, signifying “town,” inasmuch as it was the only collection of houses. At its most flourishing period, Orosh is said to have consisted of no less than one hundred houses, encircling the Sarajet, and situated so close to one another that “a rat could pass from one end of the town to the other without quitting the tops of the houses.” The legislation of the Dukagjini was the traditional Kanun of Lek Ducagjini, which to this day remains the only law recognized in North Albania, and had already been adopted by Skanderbeg and applied to the whole territory under his sway. In the absence, therefore, of any direct representative of their natural chief, Skanderbeg, the Mirdites readily accepted the dominion of the Dukagjini, whose descendants, according to tradition, have continued to govern to this day. Since the beginning of the eighteenth century the ruling family has been known as the “Dera Gion Markut”, that is, the dynasty of Gjon Mark.

The early Sultans seem to have left the Mirdites full liberty, the sole condition of this autonomy being that they should supply a fixed contingent of mercenaries in time of war. There is a tradition that Murad II, delighted by the prowess which the Mirdites had exhibited at the battle of Kosovo (1389), ordered a charter of privileges to be inscribed on a tablet of brass and presented to their chief, Kapedan Tenekia. Teneke is the Turkish for “sheet of metal,” and either this was the origin of the kapedan’s name, or the kapedan’s name was the origin of the tale. In 1690 Suleiman II granted the chiefs a present of a hundred horse-loads of maize, and the record of this is also said to have been inscribed on a tablet. This custom has persisted to the present day, and every year seventy horse-loads are given by the Sultan to the governor and thirty to the elders of the five clans. If the Sultan be recognized as the suzerain of the new Principality of Albania, which the Powers are creating, the custom may even survive that annus mirabilis 1913.

The accompanying genealogical table was compiled many years ago, when he was Vice-Consul at Scutari, by Mr. H. H. Lamb, now Consul-General at Salonika, and I am very greatly indebted to him for permission to use it and a great deal of other information on the subject of the Mirdites. From this it will be seen that a direct line was maintained in the ruling family from the seventeenth century to the death of Bib Doda Pasha in 1868. Prenk, his son, was then aged twelve, and the Porte appointed Bib’s cousin, Kapedan Gion, as chief, styling him Kaimakam. Prenk was sent to Stambul, ostensibly to be educated, but really as a hostage. During the war with Montenegro in 1875 and 1876 the Porte called upon the Mirdites to furnish their customary contingent, whereupon they demanded as a condition of compliance that Prenk should be sent back to them. In the autumn of 1876 he was sent back to Scutari with the titles of Pasha and Mutessarif of Mirdita, but his ambiguous conduct and his intrigues with the Prince of Montenegro resulted in two Turkish expeditions being sent against the Mirdites in the
following years, in the course of which the old Sarajet was devastated, as I have already described. There followed a period of disorder, and great impoverishment of the family. In 1878 Prenk made his peace with the Sultan, but in 1880 he was again taken to Stambul and subsequently banished to Anatolia. The English Government, mindful of the fact that his father, Bib Doda, had fought gallantly in the Crimean war, is said to have interceded for him, and he was allowed to return to Stambul some fifteen years ago. His cousin, Kapedan Kola, was appointed Kaimakam by the Sultan. He in turn was succeeded by another cousin, Marka Gjoni, the actual Governor at the period of my visit. But during the whole of the latter’s rule and up to the present day there have been constant disorders.

Administration is in the hands of the Bairaktari of the five clans; Oroshi, Kushneni, Spatchi, Fandi, and Dibri. Justice is administered in each clan by its own Elders called in Albanian Kreen or Piece who, like the Bairaktari or kapedans, hold their position by hereditary right; the nearest male relative acts for a minor. Capital sentence can only be pronounced by the captains, but is executed by the elders or by the representatives of the aggrieved party. When fines, which are generally in cattle, are imposed, the amount levied is divided between the captain and the
elders, the former taking half.

The whole tribe is said to contain over two thousand families, which, if we take an average, not a very high one for the country, of twelve in a family, gives a total of about twenty-five thousand persons. Their pursuits are chiefly pastoral as, although the soil is not unfertile and there is good water, which they convey for purposes of irrigation in a system of open wooden aqueducts, the hollowed halves of tree-trunks, there is insufficient cultivation. There is not enough grain for the whole year, though rye, barley, wheat, and, on the low ground, maize are grown. Charcoal is burnt, and in the undergrowth there is a shrub called “scodano” (sumach), the leaves of which are dried and pounded for export via Scutari to the tanneries of Trieste. Skins, sometimes the skin of a bear, wool, sheep, goats, pitch, resin, pinewood, and honey are brought by the Mirdites for barter to the bazaars of Scutari, Alessio, and Prisrend. It is a good fruit country, and the vine, white mulberry, the wild pear, and the cherry are all plentiful. There are oak forests at Dibra, but at a height of fifteen hundred feet pine replaces the oak. Fir, beech, plane, poplar, elm, and yew are all to be seen. Iron is plentiful; silver, lead, antimony, and copper are said to exist, and in more than one place I saw surface coal.

To Mirdita there are three allied bairaks, or banners; Selita, Kethela and Kansi. And Kethela again is divided into Upper and Lower Kethela and Perlab. These belong to Mat rather than to Mirdita, but the majority of the inhabitants are Catholic. And in 1858, when Said Bey Sogol of Mat was in open insurrection, they availed themselves of the opportunity to place themselves under the protection of Bib Doda Pasha. Administratively they are in the Kaza of Kruga, but actually they have, of course, been absolutely independent of the Turkish Government. Kethela is very near the border line between Mohammedanism and Christianity. Polygamy exists, and the priests have much less influence than in Mirdita, where they are a superior and highly respected class.

I paid a visit to the famous monastery of the Mirdites, which lies beyond the castle of Orosh and is the first halt on the road to Scutari. The abbot is a great power in the land and all men speak well of him. He has travelled both in England and America. The Catholics of Albania are allowed many privileges, and priests and abbots all wear moustaches, for in Albania no one is counted a man without a moustache. In the mountains there is also a kind of polygamy amongst the Catholics, for when a brother dies the survivor takes his wife, according to the Mosaic law.
The priests set their face against this custom, but they have not yet succeeded in stopping it.

From Orosh, with one of Kapedan Ndue’s retainers for my guide, I made a day’s journey to Kasanjeti. My host at Kasanjeti was an old man, the father of a priest, and at his door was a school where some instruction is attempted in the Albanian tongue. The old man’s sister is a nun, who mingled freely with us without a veil, and for the first time in Albania I was greeted by the lady of the house. Mirdita had not yet accepted the Constitution, and the proclamation was fixed for Sunday. Meantime the blood feud raged. The youngest grandchild of the house, much
petted by the nun, was a little boy, whose father had just been killed in the vendetta. We talked of the Constitution and of the forgiveness of trespasses. The nun was intelligent, but implacable. She saw the beauty of the general principle, but she utterly rejected its application to a particular case. “Why,” she asked, “should the murderer of this child’s father go free? We must kill him or one of his friends. It is our right to kill him.” So spoke the Christian nun, representing the conservative force of women. The only possible pitch for my tent was some three hundred yards from the house. “Lark ! (it is far)” they said, “and we have enemies.” But on reflection it was remembered that the turn to kill rested with my host, and I was voted safe.

My Kasanjeti host gave me a grandson as a guide, and with him I made the journey to Scutari. Two hours from the town we fell in with an Austrian monk on an ambling pad, with a native of the country for escort, and in this company we made the rest of our way. The monk spends his holidays in the mountains around Scutari, holds evening classes for the priests, speaks Albanian, and takes hundreds of photographs of the places he visits. He carried a powerful telescope, and while I was with him he made many stops, sometimes to gaze through his telescope, sometimes to take a photograph. The people of the country declare that he is a monk pour rire, and that the cowl conceals an Austrian political agent. What the truth may be I cannot tell. To me he seemed a gentle soul, strange and taciturn, a man not unfriendly, but one who weighed his words and had little store of talk. It may be that men wrong him, and that he seeks the service of his Master in the wild land of the Mirdites, where there is much room for that love which is the fulfilling of the law. We left him at the custom house at Scutari, a weird figure of mystery to which I have no clue.

“The Orient Express” by Arthur Moore, F.R.G.S., published by Constable & Company Ltd, London, 1914


J. Swire



What follows are excerpts from an account of J. Swire‘s visit to the Sarajet e Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjonit in September of 1930. He, among many other notable figures of the 19th and early 20th centuries, had the privilege of being hosted at the Sarajet and experience first-hand the hospitality and warmth of the Kapedan and the people of Mirdita.

Down through the pines we went to the valley where an old woman ran from a house with a gift of cucumbers and words of welcome. Then, by a steep hot climb, we reached the house of Kapedan Gjon Marka Gjoni, Hereditary Chieftain of Mirdita and paramount chief of all the Catholic clans of Northern Albania. Gjon met us with solemn greetings as we scrambled over the last few yards of rough track. Like his house he is square-built and sturdy. Beneath a white skull cap his hair was close-cropped, his face bronzed. His dress was a collarless shirt, tweed coat and waistcoat and breeches, stockings, elastic-sided boots, and at his waist a dark red sash holding a tobacco box and a silver-mounted pistol from the King.

The house is of stone, whitewashed, with narrow iron-barred windows, standing enclosed by rough wooden palings 2,000 feet above the valley of the Fani-i-Vogel river. It was built in 1925, much in the style of a Scottish highland farm. By it are plots of maize and scrub but no big trees. Before it, beyond the valley, lie tumbled hills of light brown loam mottled with scrub and smudged, here and there, with sombre pine forests. Behind it the mountain goes up yet more steeply to the crags of Mali Shenjt (the Holy Mountain), so called because the famous Abbot of the Mirditi, Primo Doci, built on its summit a small wooden house and chapel for his use in summer. Behind those crags lies a wide grassy plateau, rich pasture, hemmed by great fir trees; and on the mountain’s eastern side are the tall forests and fertile plain of Lurja.

We sat under the arbour of oak branches for coffee while Gjon talked of himself, his land and his clansmen. He is Kapedan of nearly 20,000 Mirditi. He could raise 5,000 fighting men from his own clan in three days and as many more from neighboring clans within a week if the cause was popular.

The Mirditi were constantly at war, either against the Turks or with them against the Montenegrins. Though nominally under Turkey they paid no taxes and were independent in all but name. The founder of the present line of chieftains was one Marka Gjoni, who assumed the title and position of Kapedan in the 1700’s.

Mirdita remains a last stronghold of feudalism in Europe. “We pay no taxes” Gjon told me. “We never have, nor do we see why we should until the government is of use to us. We have supported ourselves for generations and can still do so. Nor will our men work on the roads. When the government builds roads in Mirdita we will labor on them, but we will not build other people’s roads for them.” No order by the Prefect could take effect without Gjon’s consent, and commune officials were chosen by the people and approved by Gjon. As there were no roads, only enough corn and other produce was grown for the clan’s needs and a margin for exports against very modest imports. In winter the flocks must go to the lowlands by Tirana and Lesh since Mirdita is under deep snow. There are many wolves, a few bears, ibex, chamois and wild goats.

Mirdita still abides by Lek Dukagjin’s laws which are modified at need by the official codes. “But the new laws only confuse us,” said Gjon. Of feuds there are almost none and they caused only four deaths in Mirdita in 1929. But only six weeks before our arrival Gjon had been nearly killed for blood himself. The cause of the trouble was the commonest one – an infant bethrothal. When the time came for the couple to marry, the girl would not have her man – from whose parents hers had doubtless taken her price long since; nor would she swear perpetual virginity which alone would free her. So she fled to Gjon, whose mother sheltered her until he could send her safely to Shkoder. The outraged bridegroom and his father scrambled down the mountain-side behind Gjon’s house and fired at Gjon through a window. But they missed and were chased away. A few days later they cut off Gjon’s water, then lay in ambush, but they were outwitted and overpowered. Such cases were difficult, because if a girl refused the man her parents had chosen and eloped with another, the man she went off with was held guilty of abduction; and for abduction a man was liable to imprisonment by the authorities and owed blood under the laws of the mountains too.

Our room in Gjon’s house was comfortable with tables, wooden chairs, one iron bedstead, carpets, a gramaphone (from the Italian Minister) and a big metal lamp hanging from a ceiling of stained boards. On the whitewashed walls were crude photographs of Gjon’s father and mother and other family groups, much like those in any English cottage. A big table was spread with a cloth and there were even table napkins! Gjon’s chief man attended us – a delightful character, a fair-haired highland Scot in type, who seemed to combine the functions of personal servant, Master of Ceremonies, and Privy Councillor. Over the collarless shirt he wore a coat and waistcoat a la Franka; but his baggy white linen trousers were like pijamas and his shirt tails hung from beneath a red sash at his waist. In the sash were a revolver and a silver tobacco box. He never stirred from the house without his rifle.

Gjon’s sons, lithe silent youths, waited upon us in true medieval fashion, directed by the Master of Ceremonies. The eldest Mark had married here only six weeks before with all the pageantry which has always characterized the wedding of the Kapedan of Mirdita’s heir. Stirling wrote in The Times his account of the event.

We slept comfortably, upon mattresses on the floor; and next morning there was an excellent breakfast of coffee and cakes. Then the Master of Ceremonies led us, by the precarious track which is the only way to and from Gjon’s house, to the old home of the Bib Dodas and Marka Gjonis not far away. Destroyed in 1921, part still lay in ruins; but Gjon had rebuilt the less ruinous part, a solid building of grey stone, and let it to the government as a boarding school. Then asked the government to enlarge it; but the government, who never did more for the mountaineers than they were obliged, pleaded poverty. “Unless they do enlarge it,” said Gjon, “I will enlarge it myself and put up the rent.” He equipped the school but the government paid the teachers. There were forty-three boarders and twenty-five day boys in five classes. A blackboard, a neat time-table and a row of cots seemed anomalies in this wild land!

Convict or School – 1925-1926

Gjon’s was the only boarding school in all the northern mountains; and though education is nominally complulsory, not half the children go to school. Boarding schools in the mountains are urgently needed, but the mountaineers have been sadly neglected in favor of the influential landowners and townsmen. When the mountains lie in the iron grip of winter, covered deep by trackless snows and roamed by raveningn wolves, children cannot tramp miles each day to school. Nor can they go readily in summer, for communities are too widely scattered and distances too great.

Next day my three friends left me, returning to the capital under Abdulla’s guidance; and their places were taken by Major Oakley Hill (of the gendarmerie) who joined me here with his wife, his gendarme-orderly Ahmed, and a little qiraxhi1 (dubbed Tirana) who bounced and rebounded after his ponies like a piece of india-rubber and spoke in the sonorous nasal tones of the central Albanian lowlander.

J. Swire “King Zog’s Albania”, published Robert Hale and Company, 1937 – pages 99-111

1 horse-boy



Dera e Gjomarkut (Gjomarkaj Porte)

After the death of George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, in the year 1468, in Lezhe, the Turks invaded Albania. The only castle still left in the hands of the Venetians and Albanians was the castle of Shkodra called “Rozafa”. The defenders of Shkodra were the famous Venetian Captain Antonio Loredano and Albanian Prince Leke Dukagjini. In 1479 the city of Shkodra was taken by the Turks. With the fall of Shkodra, all of Albania was conquered by the Ottomans.

At that time all of Albania was Christian (Roman Catholics). With the occupation of Albania by the Turkish (Ottoman) empire, trouble began for the Albanians. A large mass of the people, especially from the south, took the routes of emigration. The first to Greece and then from Greece to Italy where, still today, there is a large Albanian colony, especially in Calabria, Puglia and Sicily, preserving language and traditions. The Albanians in Italy are called Arberesh.

In Albania, the Turks began to dominate with fire and sword. Gradually most of the Albanians began to renounce the Catholic faith (religion) and embrace Islam, except in the mountain regions of the North with Mirdita at the head and those of the South in Himara. Those in the north are Roman Apostolic Catholics and those in the South are Orthodox Schismatics.

The Mirdites have never lowered the standard of the Catholic religion, and of their nationality, even within the framework of the Turkish Empire.

The princes of Mirdita also known as “Kapidan of Mirdita” are believed to be descendants of a Dukagjini (Prince of the Dukagjini), precisely from Nikoll Pal Stefan Dukagjini, contemporary of Skanderbeg. History teaches us of the first leader of Mirdita with the name Gjon Marku (Mark Kole Pal Stefan Dukagjini) from which his dynasty is called “Dera e Gjomarkut”. The headquarters of Gjon Marku is in Orosh, the capital of Mirdita.

While the Mirdites sought the protection of the Kings of Naples, in 1502 they also turned to Carlo Emanuele of Savoy, but not being able to receive help from them they recognized the sovereignty of the Sultan. Turkey, unable to rule Mirdita by force, was constrained to enter into an agreement with Gjon Marku. The agreement was based on these basic points:

  1. Turkey will be satisfied with Mirdita recognizing the nominal authority of the Sultan.
  2. The right of juridical, civil and religious liberties (Roman Catholic apostolic) is recognized (by the Sultan) in Mirdita.
  3. Mirdita will be excluded from all state taxes. They will not pay taxes or fees.
  4. Mirdita is governed by the “Kanun” (Kanuni of Lek Dukagjini), its natural and traditional law administered by the traditional leaders of the area and defined by Gjon Marku, who recognizes himself as the supreme authority of Kanun.
  5. Mirdita has to send volunteer soldiers in case of war for a fixed period. These soldiers will be commanded by the traditional leaders of the area (region) and will be commanded by the Kapitan or its Prince. The Mirdita army will go to war wearing their national costume.

This agreement gave Mirdita peace and unity. Gjon Marku gathered the villages and divided them into Bajrak (flags) creating three Bajrak:

  • The first was Orosh: the county seat or capital
  • The second Bajrak was Spac
  • The third was Kusheneni

Thus Mirdita became a political entity headed by “Dera e Gjomarkut” (The Door of Gjon Marku). The head of the Dera e Gjomarku and the head of Mirdita saved the situation. Gjon Marku’s fame goes beyond the borders of Mirdita and also resonated abroad. Gjon Marku left a son, Marka Gjoni, who showed his distinguishment through his missions.

After the death of George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, in the year 1468, in Lezhe, the Turks invaded Albania. The only castle still left in the hands of the Venetians and Albanians was the castle of Shkodra called “Rozafa”. The defenders of Shkodra were the famous Venetian Captain Antonio Loredano and Albanian Prince Leke Dukagjini. In 1479 the city of Shkodra was taken by the Turks. With the fall of Shkodra, all of Albania was conquered by the Ottomans.

At that time all of Albania was Christian (Roman Catholics). With the occupation of Albania by the Turkish (Ottoman) empire, trouble began for the Albanians. A large mass of the people, especially from the south, took the routes of emigration. The first to Greece and then from Greece to Italy where, still today, there is a large Albanian colony, especially in Calabria, Puglia and Sicily, preserving language and traditions. The Albanians in Italy are called Arberesh.

In Albania, the Turks began to dominate with fire and sword. Gradually most of the Albanians began to renounce the Catholic faith (religion) and embrace Islam, except in the mountain regions of the North with Mirdita at the head and those of the South in Himara. Those in the north are Roman Apostolic Catholics and those in the South are Orthodox Schismatics.

The Mirdites have never lowered the standard of the Catholic religion, and of their nationality, even within the framework of the Turkish Empire.

The princes of Mirdita also known as “Kapidan of Mirdita” are believed to be descendants of a Dukagjini (Prince of the Dukagjini), precisely from Nikoll Pal Stefan Dukagjini, contemporary of Skanderbeg. History teaches us of the first leader of Mirdita with the name Gjon Marku (Mark Kole Pal Stefan Dukagjini), from which his dynasty is called “Dera e Gjomarkut”. The headquarters of Gjon Marku is in Orosh, the capital of Mirdita.

While the Mirdites sought the protection of the Kings of Naples, in 1502 they also turned to Carlo Emanuele of Savoy, but not being able to receive help from them they recognized the sovereignty of the Sultan. Turkey, unable to rule Mirdita by force, was constrained to enter into an agreement with Gjon Marku. The agreement was based on these basic points:

  1. Turkey will be satisfied with Mirdita recognizing the nominal authority of the Sultan.
  2. The right of juridical, civil and religious liberties (Roman Catholic apostolic) is recognized (by the Sultan) in Mirdita.
  3. Mirdita will be excluded from all state taxes. They will not pay taxes or fees.
  4. Mirdita is governed by the “Kanun” (Kanuni of Lek Dukagjini), its natural and traditional law administered by the traditional leaders of the area and defined by Gjon Marku, who recognizes himself as the supreme authority of Kanun.
  5. Mirdita has to send volunteer soldiers in case of war for a fixed period. These soldiers will be commanded by the traditional leaders of the area (region) and will be commanded by the Kapitan or its Prince. The Mirdita army will go to war wearing their national costume.

This agreement gave Mirdita peace and unity. Gjon Marku gathered the villages and divided them into Bajrak (flags) creating three Bajrak:

  • The first was Orosh: the county seat or capital
  • The second Bajrak was Spac
  • The third was Kusheneni

Thus Mirdita became a political entity headed by “Dera e Gjomarkut” (The Porte of Gjon Marku).

The head of the Dera e Gjomarku, as the head of Mirdita, resolved the situation. Gjon Marku’s fame goes beyond the borders of Mirdita and also resonated abroad. Gjon Marku left a son, Marka Gjoni, who showed his distinguishment through his missions.

%d bloggers like this: