Albania’s Unusual (and Dying) Tradition

I remember reading about Albania’s rural tradition of women who are accepted socially as men years ago. Women — often in families lacking a patriarch — would take the status of men and would acquire all of the privileges men enjoyed in a rather patriarchal society. The Washington Post had an interesting article on the topic today: “The Sacrifices of Albania’s ‘Sworn Virgins’.”

It’s quite a story. If you’re interested in the folklore of a very interesting and unusual country, I recommend reading two very colorful (if not always scholarly or entirely reliable) books by two rather daring ladies who visited the country early in the 20th century: Edith Durham‘s High Albania and Rose Wilder Lane‘s The Peaks of Shala. (The latter has been long out of print; I own rather old editions of both and enjoyed them immensely after returning from Albania.)

I’ve not been back to Albania, which I would like to revisit soon. (I flew to Tirana from Budapest as the Albanian Communist state was collapsing and arranged for translation into Albanian and publication of Paul Heyne’s textbook The Economic Way of Thinking and other works. As preparation, I managed to learn a fair amount of conversational Albanian, or “Eagle,” as the language is known; the old communist-era textbook and tapes I used had exchanges such as “Question: Ketu eshte kafeneja? [Is the cafe here?] Answer: Jo, kjo eshte nevojtorja. [No, this is the public lavatory.]” Another bit, which has also stayed with me — and which turned out to be quite useful when I was there, was “Sillmeni mish me qepe me patate, ju lutem,” or “Bring me meat with an onion and a potato, please.” I’ve heard that the cafes, restrooms, and cuisine have improved greatly since the collapse of socialism.)

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