Henry Fanshawe Tozer.

Researches in the highlands of Turkey; including visits to mounts Ida, Athos, Olympus, and Pelion, to the Mirdite Albanians, and other remote tribes (Volume 1) online

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As we were almost the only Europeans who had visited
Orosch within the memory of its inhabitants, we were
received with great distinction. Having been ushered
into the dining-hall we found the Prince waiting to
welcome us, which he did with profuse offers of hospi-
tality, and apologies for the roughness of the entertain-
ment we should meet with. He excused himself from
supping with us, as it was a fast-day, and after a time
retired, leaving us to the care of his aide-de-camp, Ali
Bey, a Hungarian by birth, and an officer in the Turkish
army, and his secretary. Dr. Theodore Finzi, an Italian.
Here again, as in Montenegro, we were fortunate in
falling in with educated people, who could furnish us
with the information we required, for both these gentle-
men spoke Italian, and M. Finzi French also. Of the
latter gentleman in particular I may say, that he was not
only an agreeable companion, but remarkably well in-
formed about the circumstances and statistics of the
country. The party was completed by Don Giorgio, a
rather sinister-looking man, the priest of a neighbouring
village, who was staying there on a visit.

Chap. XIV. TJic Mirditc Prince. 303

Prenk Bib Doda is a powerfully built man of about
forty years of age, with a dark olive complexion, pro-
minent bony features, and an unintelligent expression of
countenance. He is described by those who are ac-
quainted with him as one to whom fear is unknown, and
he has greatly distinguished himself in several campaigns
in which he has assisted the Turkish Government — in
Southern Albania, against the Montenegrins, and finally
in the campaign on the Danube in 1854, where the
prowess of the Mirdites was conspicuous. In recognition
of his services on this last occasion he received from the
Porte the title of Pasha, a dignity, however, which is,
rather lightly esteemed in his own country, though he
wears the dress of an officer of that rank. The title of
Prenk, which is prefixed to his name, though it is in
reality a Christian name, being another form of Peter, has
come to be regarded, even among his own people, as
equivalent to Prince. " Vous le trouvcrez tin pen barbajT,"
M. Finzi observed to us, apologetically ; and it is true
that he can neither read nor write, and speaks no lan-
suao-e but his native Albanian, though he understood a
good deal of what we said in Italian ; but he is reported
to have a good influence in the country, while a more
civilized man might very possibly have no influence
at all.

Under the same roof where we were quietly passing
the night, a series of domestic tragedies had been enacted
not very long before, hardly unworthy of the palace of
Atreus at Mycenae. To give the reader some idea
of these, it is necessary to go back to the early history of
the existing family. The ancestor to whom they prin-
cipally refer as the head of their dynasty was Gion
Marcu (John Mark), a renowned warrior, who lived in
the first half of the eighteenth century, and having gained

304 The Mirdita. Chap. XIV.

great fame by his success against the Turks, lent his
assistance, for which a high price was paid, to the native
Pashas in their resistance to the central government. It
was he who first established his residence at Orosch.
After his death he was succeeded by his eldest son, Prenk
Lech I. (Peter Alexander), who like him made war his
profession and was killed in battle, leaving three sons,
Prenk Lech II., Dod Lech, and Lech Sii (Alexander the
Black) ; it is with these, as the ancestors of the existing
members of the family, that we are most directly con-
cerned. And here I may notice how often the shortened
form of the name of Alexander occurs in these records,
as it does also in the names of Lesendria, the island in.
the Lake of Scodra, in Alessio,' and in other names found
in these parts. In some cases this is probably to be
referred to the national recollection of Scanderbeg.

Prenk Lech II., the eldest of the three, who succeeded
his father as chief of the Mirdites by right of birth, at
first allied himself with Mahmoud the Black of Scodra,
and was with him in Montenegro at the time of his
death. At a later period, he put his arms at the disposal
of Ali Pasha of Yanina, and when Mustapha Pasha of
Scodra became a formidable rival to that potentate, at
Ali's instigation he became a thorn in his side, con-
tinually ravaging the plain of Zadrima, and pillaging the
villages of the Mussulmans, until at last he was bought
off by the payment of a sum of money. Like most of
his race, he died of the wounds he received in fight, leaving
his command to his son, Prenk Doda, the grandfather
of the present Prince. This chieftain is reported to have
showai himself intelligent and humane as well as brave,

* The name of this town appears to be a corruption of the ancient name
of Lissus; but its Albanian name of Lesch is, at all events, adapted to the
local form of the name Alexander.

Chap. XIV. History of the Family. 305

but his tenure of power was of short duration, for after
fighting in the Morea at the time of the Greek revokition,
he was poisoned by a Turkish woman at Scodra, and is
buried at Cattaro, to which place he had gone in hopes
of obtaining medical aid. His legitimate successor was
his brother Nicola, but as he was a minor, the command
was for the time entrusted to his uncle. Lech Sii, the
youngest son of Prenk Lech L, and the fiercest and
darkest character of his race. After some years, how-
ever, this Alexander the Black was exiled to Yanina by
order of the Grand Vizir, Mehemet Reschid Pasha,
against whom he had sided with Mustapha in his war
against the Porte, and was forced to surrender along
with that despot at the siege of Scodra. He thus disap-
pears for the present from the scene, and his nephew
assumed the command.

It was at this time that the furies of the vendetta were
let loose on the devoted house, and, as it is said, not
without the co-operation of the Turkish authorities, who
were only too glad of an opportunity of weakening a
powerful neighbour. The sons of Alexander the Black,
having seen their father in power, were jealous at the
chieftainship having passed into the hands of their cousin,
and at the instigation of their father, whom the Pasha
of Scodra had promised to recall from exile, laid frequent
plots against his life. But Nicola was aware of their
machinations, and when he had several times parried
their attempts, and at last saw no way of escape for
himself except by anticipating the blow, had all three
put to death in one day. Directly after this occurrence,
the sentence of banishment against Lech Sii was an-
nulled, and he reappeared on the scene, thirsting for
vengeance. At first, at the earnest entreaty of the
clergy, he consented to be reconciled to his nephew ; but


306 The Mirdita. Chap. XIV..

a Mirdite never really forgets that blood has been shed,
and accordingly it was not long before he watched an
opportunity of taking Nicola unawares, and killed him
one day vv'hen his back was turned, as he washed his
hands before dinner.

The moment had now arrived when the women of the
family should take their share in the bloody work.
Within a year after this treacherous deed, the murderer
himself was slain in the night-time by the wife of his
victim ; and on this followed a massacre, set on foot
by the wife of Lech Sii in default of any male avenger,
from which the present Prince only escaped by being
removed from Orosch in the darkness, concealed in a
chest. At last, when the family was on the eve of
extinction, a tioice was established, and as the number of
deaths on both sides was found to be equal, they
agreed that the past should be forgotten, — that Bib Doda,
being the representative of the eldest branch, should
be recognised as chieftain, — and that the rest of his rela-
tions should dwell with him in the palace which had
been the scene of the drama. They are but three in
number, two of them being of the second branch,
descendants of Dod Lech, the second son of Prenk
Lech I., while the third is the son of Alexander the
Black, and is said to inherit the ferocity of his father.
Together with them live the two murderesses, the wives
of Nicola and of Lech Sii.~ Such was the happy family
into which we were now introduced.

On leaving my room the next morning, I found M.
Finzi outside, and proceeded with him to a small kiosk
or summer-house, which projects from the front of the
hall, and commands an extensive view, reaching almost

- This notice is abridged from Hecquard, pp. 235-242.

Chap. XIV. Political Constitution. 307

to the sea, of the deep valley to the west, while close in
front the sloping green maize fields, interspersed with
walnut and other trees, and a few cottages, form a
refreshing object to the eye. Behind the house the
mountain side rises steeply ; and in consequence of its
western aspect and the gully in which it lies, the place
only sees the sun for a few hours in winter, while in
summer the heat is excessive during the afternoon. Both
in the kiosk, and in a tent which had been set up in the
court at the side of the house, I had long conversations
with the Secretary at different times of the day : from
these the information about the country which I have to
communicate to the reader is mainly derived.

The constitution of the Mirdita is a sort of military
aristocracy ; for though there is a hereditary chief, and an
assembly, in which the whole people is represented, yet
the power is really vested in the heads of the chief
families. All the relatives of the Prince have the title
of Captain, and command the divisions of the army
under him in time of war ; but they have no direct
political influence in the country. Each district has its
bayrakdar, or standard bearer, under whom are the
senators. These are the heads of their respective clans,
so that the office is hereditary, and a child may be a
senator, only in that case his functions are administered
by his guardian until he is of age. No measures can be
taken without the consent of the bayrakdars and senators ;
and when matters of the greatest importance have to be
discussed, a council of the whole nation is called — that is
to say, a representative is sent from each family ; but
these have practically no influence in the deliberations,
and are only summoned in order to give weight to the
general decision. When called together by the Prince, this
senate meets at Orosch ; but they have also the power of

X 2

308 The Mirdita. Chap. XIV.

meeting on their own account, in which case their rcndez-
■V071S is a church of St. Paul in another part of the
country, which belongs to no parish, but serves for an
independent central point for the whole Mirdita. Only-
two days before our visit one of these parliaments had
been held at the palace ; on which occasion three oxen
and several sheep and goats had been killed, and great
feasting had taken place at Bib Doda's expense. This
kind of hospitality is always expected of the chief ; and
when he is at Scodra, he keeps open house for any
of his tribe who come there, and a sheep is killed every
day for the entertainment of the lower classes.

Justice is administered in the different districts by the
senators according to the original laws of the Ducadjini,
from which tribe, though it has now become Mahometan,
the Mirdites consider themselves to be descended. The
rigour of these is extreme, and in some cases barbarous,
as was shown by an instance that had lately occurred,
where a woman who had murdered her husband was
sentenced, according to the law, to be burned alive.
At the late meeting of the senate the Prince had
endeavoured to persuade them to change the punish-
ment and abolish the savage custom, but he did not
seem as yet to have carried his point. In many
similar ways he appears to be exerting his influence
on the side of humanity ; thus the custom of salting and
keeping the heads of enemies killed in battle, though
it existed later here than among the Montenegrins, is
now forbidden. "But you must not think," observed
Mr. Finzi, " that severity, not to say violence, is other-
wise than necessary in dealing with this wild people.
This was forcibly impressed on me by an occurrence
that happened shortly after I entered the Princes
service. It was at Constantinople, to which place he

Chap. XIV. A dministratio7i of Justice. 309

had gone to receive from the Sultan the title of Pasha,
taking with him a number of his retainers. One of these,
a groom, stayed out very late several nights, contrary
to order, and was sharply reprimanded by his master for
so doing. One night, however, he repeated the offence,
and on his coming in the Prince was greatly enraged,
and at once ordered him to receive one hundred blows
of the bastinado on his feet. This punishment was
inflicted in a room adjoining that in which I was sleeping,
and I was horrified at being waked by the shrieks of the
miserable creaturG piercing the stillness of the night.
On learning what was going on I was extremely dis-
gusted at such barbarity, and determined to send in my
resignation to the Prince the next morning. About
daylight, however, two hours after this had happened,
I visited the sufferer, and to my surprise found him
sitting up and drinking a cup of coffee. As soon as he
saw me, he hobbled across the room to me on his
mangled soles, kissed my hand, and entreated me, — not,
as I had expected, to procure him his escape from such
treatment, but — to intercede for him with his master, that
he might not be discharged from his service."

The custom of forming fraternal friendships, and having
adopted brothers {pobrativi), is common among the
Mirdites, as it is also among some of the other races
of European Turkey. According to this, two young
men engage to support and aid one another during their
lives in all contingencies, whether of war or peace. This
relationship, which reminds us of some of the passionate
attachments of ancient history, such as those of David
and Jonathan, of Achilles and Patroclus, is regarded as of
the most sacred and inviolable character, insomuch that
in some places, according to M. Hecquard, the children of
those who have contracted the alliance are not allowed

310 The Mirdita. Chap. XIV.

to many one another ; and the same writer mentions the
ceremony of initiation observed by some, in which the
two persons, after receiving the Communion together,
have a small quantity of their blood mixed in a bowl of
wine, which is drunk by both when they have sworn an
oath of fidelity, — a primitive form of contract mentioned
by Herodotus^ as existing among the Lydians and Scy-
thians, and by Tacitus,'* as practised by the Armenians
and Iberians. It used even to happen that alliances of
this sort were formed between persons of different sexes,
but this is now of rare occurrence, for " vicssiairs Ics
p7'ctrcSy'' said the Secretary, appealing for confirmation to
Don Giorgio, who was standing by, "find that it often
leads to concubinage, and use all their influence to put it

The account he gave of the vendetta confirmed all that
we had already heard of its ravages. Rightly, indeed,
has it been called " the web of murderous feuds at which
the barbarian sits all his life weaving, and which he
bequeaths to his children."^ The following instance
which he mentioned may give an idea of its interminable
character. Fifty years ago two men of this country
quarrelled, and fought so desperately, that both of them
died of the wounds they received. Time rolled on, until
it might have been thought that the event was forgotten.
But it had happened that as they lay wounded on the
ground, one of them had managed to deal the other a
blow over the head, which caused him to die first. The
recollection of this circumstance had been preserved, and

' Herod., i. 74; iv. 70.

^ Tac, 'Ann.,' xii. 47. It would also seem to have been found among
the Romans, from the existence of the word "assiratum" in Latin, signi-
fying a mixture of wine and blood.

^ ' Ecce Homo,' p. 299.

Chap. XIV. Ravages of the Vendetta. 31 1

only the other day a descendant of the one v.ho died
first presented himself before a descendant of the other,
and reminded him of the fact, threatening at the same
time to burn his whole village unless he gave him one
hundred goats by way of satisfaction. The Prince heard
of the affair, and, sending for the man, persuaded him to
delay his vengeance ; but beyond this he could not
proceed, for the laws of blood are superior to every other
law. Thus the matter stood at the time of our visit.
This state of things has given rise to an institution
the existence of which forcibly realises to us the value of
a similar establishment among the Jews. A number
of the Mirdites who had fled their country as com-
promised persons from fear of assassination, formed
themselves into a colony, and settled in the plain near
Prisrend, where they work as labourers. They have
since been joined by many others who have left their
homes for the same reason, and in this way the place has
become a complete city of refuge.

At ten o'clock we breakfasted with the Prince in the
dining-hall : the party consisted of the Prince, his aide-
de-camp and secretary, Don Giorgio, and ourselves. The
entertainment had decidedly a martial appearance, for
though the guests were not expected to "carve at the
meal with gloves of steel," yet the dishes were handed to
us by fierce-looking warriors (among them was one of the
captains), with their belts full of pistols and daggers. A
German butler, a Prussian by extraction, acted as major
domo, so that the room contained a curious mixture of
nationalities, — Italian, Hungarian, German, English, and
Albanian. Before we took our places it was carefully
inquired which of us was the elder, that he might be
seated on the Prince's right hand : and when breakfast
was half over, a boiled lamb's head was brought in on a

3 1 2 The Mirdita. Chap. X I V,

dish and placed before our host, who immediately trans-
ferred it to my plate, to my no slight astonishment, until
it was explained to me that this is the highest compliment
in Albania, and is given to the man whom the chief
"delighteth to honour." His idea of hospitality con-
sisted in ordering that we should be helped to as much
as possible, and that the silver tankards which were
placed before us should be continually refilled with the
light wine of the country. Though he often apologized
for the roughness of our reception, the viands were excel-
lent, if not much varied. On one occasion he tumbled
on to my plate with his own hands half a dishful of mul-
berries, a fruit which is scarce in these parts ; indeed I
was surprised to find them at all at such an elevation, for
Orosch is 2360 feet above the sea ; but there was a fine
mulberry-tree growing in front of the building. The
quantity of meat forced upon us at length became em-
barrassing, until we were told that this profuse hospitality
was the custom of the country, and a compliment, so that
we should give no offence by leaving what we were not
inclined for. All this was truly patriarchal, and our
thoughts naturally reverted to Benjamin's mess, the size
of which seems at first sight rather a questionable token
of fraternal affection when all the party had as much
as they could eat. The Prince's possessions are of an
equally patriarchal character, consisting of 800 oxen and
cows, 1300 sheep, and a number of horses and other
cattle besides. Before the end of the meal, the Prince's
son was introduced, — a tall fat boy of six years' old, with
a round, heavy face, and dressed for the occasion in richly
embroidered clothes. We rose to receive him, but his
father requested us to be seated, and made him kiss our

Hearing us mention the name of Scanderbeg, he told

Chap. XIV. The name Mirditc. 313

us he could show us a Hkeness of his reputed ancestor.
Accordingly he ordered a book to be brought, which
proved to be a life of that hero in Italian ; and, after
turning over a number of the pages, holding the volume
upside down, he had the satisfaction of displaying to us
the grim (though not genuine) portrait. Passing from
the domain of history to that of philology, he proceeded
to explain the derivation of the name Mirdite, according
to the tradition of the country. This relates that, on
the morning of the battle of Kossova, Sultan Amurath
meeting the chief of their tribe, who had brought an
auxiliary force to his assistance, was saluted by him with
the words mire dite (" good day " in Albanian) ; and that
in consequence of this, when the battle was over, and he
undertook to guarantee the rights of his valiant allies,
he gave them the name of jMirdites, in commemoration
of the words of good omen which he had heard in the
morning." Though this explanation is inadmissible, yet
it has some plausibility in it ; for it will be remembered
that in the Russian war the English and French soldiers
who fraternized, used commonly to know one another
only by the names of "I say" and "Dis done;" and
readers of French history are aware that the regular
name in French for the English at the time of Joan of
Arc, was derived from an expression (not a very pious
one) which was frequently in their mouths."

In the course of the day it was proposed to us to make
an expedition to the highest point of the mountain be-
hind Orosch, which is called the Monte Santo. We were
accompanied by Ali Bey with six attendants, three on
horseback and three on foot, one of whom, an excessively

^ See also Hecquard, p. 233.

7 Michelet gives it as "Godden;" see also Sharon Turner's 'Histoiy of
England in the Middle Ages,' ii. p. 567.

314 TJic Mirdita. Chap. XIV.

wild-looking fellow, though clad in the ordinary costume
of the country, was a captain ; he is said to be a lion in
battle, and one would not, I think, be far wrong in re-
cognising in him the son of the ferocious Lech Sii. As
soon as we were outside the palace, a feii de joie was
fired, the guns being discharged at random, and the
bullets flying in all directions about the valley. Our
cavalcade mounted the hill-side diagonally by a steep
path, until a depression in the mountain-chain was
reached ; from this we proceeded upwards over grassy
slopes to a spring by the side of a cavern, in which in
former times was a chapel of St. George, though now it
has been destroyed by a fall of rock. While we were
resting at this place, a little diversion was caused by an
accident happening to my saddle, which nearly resulted
in the loss of that important part of a traveller's equip-
ment. One of the Albanian attendants, wishing to make
fast his horse, had attached his saddle to the stirrup-
leathers of mine. The horse became fidgety, and at last
by continual pulling dragged the saddle over the hind-
quarters of my horse, a process which the bad girths of
the country render comparatively easy ; and then, finding
himself encumbered with this unusual appendage, took
fright, and galloped off across country at full speed with
the unhappy saddle trailing behind him. After he had
gone about three-quarters of a mile, he pulled up, and
one of the men was sent to secure him : meanwhile I had
requested to be mounted on another horse, and we pro-
ceeded up the mountain. At last we reached a very
steep part of the path, called the Scala Santa, where the
rock was broken in steps (it was curious to hear the
Italian words mutilated by the Albanians) ;^ and on

8 Thus in Count Karaczay's map, which was constructed from informa-
tion orally obtained, the Monte Santo is called Monte Scintet, or Shintit.

Chap. XIV. The Monte Santo. 315

reaching the top of this we found a rude stone church,
dedicated to St. Benedict, with the ruins of an old Bene-
dictine monastery, close to which rose a clump of finely
grown elms, the only ones which I saw in the country.
Of the history of the place we could learn nothing.

From this point we Avere taken to a spot about a
quarter of a mile off, where was a deep hole, descending
for some distance into the bowels of the earth, which was
regarded with great wonder by the natives, from the
booming sound it emitted when a large stone was cast
down, and bounded from point to point of the narrow
passage. A story of course was attached to it, and a
very rigmarole one it was — how that a similar cavern
existed in another part of the Mirdita, where the rever-
berations of any sound produced in this place were
heard ; and that once a shepherd, who had been robbed

Online LibraryHenry Fanshawe TozerResearches in the highlands of Turkey; including visits to mounts Ida, Athos, Olympus, and Pelion, to the Mirdite Albanians, and other remote tribes (Volume 1) → online text (page 24 of 31)