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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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 25 of 31)
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of his flock, by casting a stone down this hole sent tidings
of his misfortune to his brother, who was feeding his
sheep near the mouth of the other. It is an example of
the small amount of consistency that a half-savage people
require in a legend. A shooting match was then pro-
posed, and, as a mark, I pointed out the broken stump
of a fir-tree about five feet high, peeled and white, some
300 yards off, on the other side of a gorge. My com-
panion borrowed an European rifle from one of the party,
and hit it in the middle, sending the splinters flying
all about. Then came an Albanian with his long thin-
stocked gun, and grazed the edge ; another followed, and
missed ; last of all came the fortunate possessor of the
rifle, and struck it full. Evidently the native weapon is
not constructed for precision. At last we mounted to
the grassy summit, which is 4890 feet above the sea,
and a salvo was fired in honour of our arrival. On
hearing this, the party we had left below returned the

3 1 6 The Mirdita. Chap. X I V.

salute, and as they aimed their pieces in the direction
from which the sound had come, we heard their bullets
whizz over our heads, or spatter against the rocks below
us, in a manner not wholly agreeable. From this eleva-
tion almost the whole of the Mirdita is visible, together
with a great part of the rest of Upper Albania. The
wild Captain was here of the greatest service to us, for he
proved to have a far more accurate knowledge of the
geography and of the positions of the neighbouring tribes
than any one else in the company. By means of his
explanations, and by the aid of Kiepert's map of Euro-
pean Turkey, which gives, on the whole,^ a remarkably
faithful delineation of this district, we were able to iden-
tify most points in the view. The country of the Mir-
dites forms nearly a square, as it extends about 35 miles
in a direct line from north to south, between the territory
of the Ducadjini and that of the Mat ; and 40 miles from
east to west, between the mountains of the Dibra and the
plain of Zadrima. The elevated ridge on which we are
standing forms a well-marked backbone of considerable
breadth, running directly north and south, and rising in
the latter direction first to the striking summit of Mount
Cunora, and then to the lofty peak of Dyia. The moun-
tains to the west, including those which we had traversed,
though extremely irregular, take the same direction on

* Hecquard's map in ' La Haute Albanie ' gives the river-valleys of the
north-west portion more accurately ; in those of the north he is completely
wrong. He is right in putting Orosch further from the Black Drin than the
other maps, and consequently the chain of the Monte Santo should also be
placed further v^'est. Count Karaczay's map in the 'Journal of the Geo-
graphical Society,' vol. xxii., gives the valleys of the Fandis well, but he
leaves far too little space between the main chain and the Drin, and places
the whole country not sufficiently south relatively to Scodra. The mountairj
which I have called Dyia, is probably his i\Iount Spileon. Kiepert is quite
wrong in the northern boundary line of the Mirdita, which ought to run
much further north, and cross the Prisrend road at one point.

Chap. XIV. Topography of tJic Country. 317-

the whole as the main chain, but are intersected by the
numerous river-valleys which radiate like a fan from
a point in the neighbourhood of Alessio. The aspect of
the country from this point readily explains the unwil-
lingness which the Turks have always felt to attack it.
To turn to the more distant objects — to the south-west
appeared the mountains of Croia, the scene of Scander-
beg's most brilliant triumphs ; a little north of west
the Monte Veglia, beyond which the Adriatic was seen
between Dulcigno and Antivari, about 80 miles off; the
Lake of Scodra was concealed by the nearer mountains,
but on the sea-side of it rose the Mount Rumia on the
confines of Montenegro, and on the other the fine peaks
of the Clementi ; to the north-east were seen the serrated
ridges which overlook the plain of Jacova, while the whole
eastern horizon was bounded by the long line of the
Schar-dagh or Scardus, even at this season still patched
Avith snow, between which and us lay the deep valley
of the Black Drin.

The mountain-side directly behind Orosch is a mass of
granite, abutting against the precipices of the Monte Santo,
which, like the rest of this central chain, and the greater
part of the country eastwards as far as the Drin, is com-
posed of limestone. The igneous rock of which so great
a part of the Mirdita is composed has here disappeared.
The vegetation is also changed, for the oaks are no longer
seen, and from the level of Orosch to the summit there
are numerous pines and firs. At this point, too, we take
leave of the flora of the Adriatic, which, to some extent,
we had found reaching up the interior valleys ; many
of these plants and shrubs we shall not see again until
we reach the .^gean. After lingering long over this
m.ost instructive view, we at last began to descend to
Orosch, where Bib Doda was expecting us to dinner. On

3iS TJie Mirdita. . Chap. XIV.

the way we recovered the truant saddle, and, thanks to
its padding, and the grassy slopes over which it had been
trailed, though covered with scratches, it was practically
unhurt, except for a broken girth, which had been re-
paired in the interval. Great was the satisfaction of AH
Bey, who remarked to me with some naivete, "E inolto
curioso il nostra Principe — and as he had specially en-
trusted you to my care, I might have got into an awkward
scrape, if anything amiss had happened to you or your

There was one object which we regretted being unable
to see at Orosch, and that was the parish church, which
contains an ancient cross of very rich workmanship,
which is said to be Byzantine, and to date from the time
of Scanderbeg. The ministrations of this church have
been from time immemorial performed by an abbot, who
was once a personage of considerable influence in the
country ; but the office is now shorn of most of its privi-
leges. The present holder was banished some years ago
for causing political disturbances, but, after a time, re-
turned and gathered his party round him ; in conse-
quence of which, when he was again expelled, the Prince
communicated with the Turkish Government, who put
him in arrest at Constantinople, to which place he had
fled for refuge. One result of this is that his church is
placed under a sort of interdict, and no person is allowed
to enter.

One other custom of this people remains yet to be
noticed, viz., their habit of capturing their wives. The
Mirdites never intermarry ; but when any of them, from
the highest to the lowest, wants a wife, he carries off a
Mahometan woman from one of the neighbouring tribes,
baptizes her, and marries her. The parents, we were
told, do not usually feel much aggrieved, as it is pretty

Chap. XIV. Capture of Wives. 319

well understood that a sum of money will be paid in
return ; and though the Mirdites themselves are very-
fanatical in matters of religion, yet their neighbours are
reputed to allow the sentiment of nationality to prevail
over that of creed ; so much so that at Easter the Maho-
metan shepherds undertake to guard the flocks of the
Christians, while at the Turkish Bairam the Christians
do the same for the Mahometans. Prince Bib himself
won his present spouse in this way. My reader will
naturally enquire, as I did on hearing this strange state-
ment, what becomes of the Mirdite women .'' The
answer is, that they are given in marriage to the neigh-
bouring Christian tribes. If any one considers this
incredible in so large a population, he is at liberty to
adopt the more moderate statement of M. Hecquard,
who only speaks of this custom as existing among the
chiefs ; ^° but I state the facts as they were stated to me,
and since the ground of the custom was distinctly
affirmed to be the feeling that marriage within the tribe
is incestuous, and wherever in similar cases this belief
has existed the custom of exogamy, as it is called,
together with the capture of wives, has existed also, I
feel very little doubt in my own mind that the stronger
statement is the true one. As the Mirdites are the only
people in Europe, as far as I can learn, among whom
this practice exists (though it is maintained by many
savage tribes), and as great light has been lately thrown
on the subject by Mr. McLennan in his remarkable
book on ' Primitive Marriage,' I propose to say a few
words about its history and origin.

Amongst a large number of barbarous races the
custom exists of killing female children. The cause of

*" Hecquard, p. 229.

320 The Mirdita. Chap. XIV.

this is that females, being less capable of supporting
themselves and defending the rest, are far less valuable
members of such a community than males. Further on
in this narrative I shall have to mention a remarkable
instance of the aversion felt to the birth of female
children even amongst the Christian population of one of
the most civilized parts of European Turkey ; but this
feeling is naturally much more powerful where, from
scarcity of food and the neighbourhood of enemies, the
strength of a tribe depends on its freedom from encum-
brances. Side by side with this is to be placed the fact,
that a state of hostility is the normal condition of savage
tribes, so that every one who is foreign to a group is
regarded as an enemy, and every group is hostile to the
neighbouring groups. The result of this state of things
is as follows. When the number of women in a tribe
has been so reduced as to have no adequate proportion
to that of the men — and in some cases this is known to
have gone so far that a horde has no young women of
its own — it is necessary that they should procure them-
selves wives from somewhere else. Now if they were at
peace with their neighbours, this might be brought about
by contract or by purchase ; but as they are usually in a
state of hostility, they are reduced to the same condition
in which the tribe of Benjamin is described to have been
in the Book of Judges, when cut off from intercourse
with the rest of the tribes of Israel, and are forced to
obtain their wives either by spoliation after conquest, or
in some other way by stealth and violence. When this
habit of procuring wives from without, originating first
in the necessity of the case, has existed for some time, it
passes into an actual law of exogamy, i.e., the pro-
hibition of marriage within the tribe, which in its turn
renders the capturing of women more systematic and

Chap. XIV. McLennaii on '' Primitive Marriager 321

universal. After a lapse of time again, when inter-
marriage within the tribe has long ceased to be practised,
the idea grows up that such marriages are incestuous,
because all the members of the tribe are descended from
a common ancestor ; and thus the custom of exogamy
is subsequently explained and justified, receiving at the
same time a religious sanction. The instances by which
these statements may be supported are almost innu-
merable. Mr. Latham, in his ' Descriptive Ethnology,'
goes so far as to say that the principle of exogamy is, or
has been, almost universal. It is found both in North
and South America, in Australia, in the islands of the
Pacific, in Africa, in India and Affghanistan, amongst
the Calmucks and the Circassians. In most of the cases
which have been collected it is accompanied by the
practice of capturing wives, and usually marriage with
the tribe is prohibited as incest. That a shrinking from
incestuous connection was not, however, the original
cause of exogamy, is sufficiently clearly shown from the
fact that, in a primitive state of society, the marriage of
near relatives does not seem to have been considered
improper, as we see, for instance, in some of the marriages
within the family of Abraham. And still more amongst
savages the ties of blood appear, at an early stage of their
existence, to have had very little force.

So far we have been speaking of the state of tribes
living in barbarism at the present time. But it must be
remembered that this condition of existence is one
through which almost every part of the human race has
sooner or later passed, and consequently that there is a
probability of exogamy having existed among them.
That this was so is almost conclusively proved by the
traces which are found in nearly all nations in a pro-
gressive state of civilization, of customs and ceremonies


322 The Mirdita. Chap. XIV.

connected with marriage which are explicable only on
the supposition of the prevalence among them at some
previous period of the system of capture. From these it
would appear that, when the capture of wives as a reality
began to die out, the form of capture was in each case
retained ; that is to say, in order for a marriage to be
considered complete, it was held to be necessary that,
after the contract had been made, the bridegroom, or his
friends, should feign to steal the bride or carry her off
from her relations by force. The process of change by
which this was brought about, and the way in which the
original custom has been broken up and disintegrated
into a variety of ceremonies, may be best learnt from the
enumeration of a few instances.

Olaus Magnus, in the i6th century, describing the
state of Muscovy and Lithuania at that period, says that
the tribes of the north of Europe were continually at war
with one another on account of stolen women, or with
the object of stealing women. When a man had seen a
young woman in a neighbouring village whom he wished
to make his wife, he would call his friends together,
make a descent on the village, and carry off the prize,
after a fight with her kinsmen, if they were on the spot to
come to her aid. According to his account, however, a
change had been already introduced from the original
state of things, for he goes on to say that the marriage
was never consummated until the consent of the parents
had been obtained. Still, in this case, the capture is a
reality : let us now take an instance — one out of very
many — in which the contract comes first and the fight
after, and where the capture is consequently a form.

Lord Kames, writing at the beginning of this century,
gives the following description of the marriage ceremony
that, shortly before his time, had been customary among

Chap. XIV. Prevalence of tJie Custom. 323

the Welsh. On the wedding-day the parties of the bride
and bridegroom met on horseback, and when the bride-
groom demanded the bride her friends gave him a
positive refusal, and carried her off, while the other party
pursued them with loud shouts. At last, when both
men and horses were tired out with charging and jostling,
the bridegroom was suffered to overtake the bride and
lead her away in triumph. Similarly at Berry, in
France, at the present day, a regular siege of the bride's
house takes place, and after the bridegroom's party have
gained admittance a scuffle ensues in which heads are
not unfrequently broken.

I must refer the reader to Mr. McLennan's book for
other instances of the form of capture in its integrity,
which he has collected with great learning from a variety
of sources. Suffice it now to add one or two of the more
disintegrated ceremonies in which it appears.

There are traces of its existence among the Jews,
Greeks, and Romans. It is said by good authorities
that the Old Testament expression, " taking a wife," is
to be accepted literally, implying that the ceremony of
carrying off formed part of the marriage rite. Of the
Spartans Plutarch informs us that the bridegroom
always carried off the bride with violence, though
latterly it was considered sufficient for the lady to be
seized and carried from one room to another. At Rome
the form was in different degrees of disintegration among
the patricians and the plebeians. While in the marriage
of the latter the bride's house was invaded, and she
herself torn with feigned violence from her mother's lap ;
in those of the former it was only required that she
should be carried by the bridegroom over the threshold
of his house, and her hair parted with a spear, "in
memory," says Plutarch, "of the warlike manner in

Y 2

324 The Mirdita. Chap. XIV.

which early marriages were brought about." The vic-
lence here offered was supposed to recall the rape of the
Sabines, but there can be little doubt that that legend
also embodied the original practice of capture. The
idea that the resistance offered in these and similar cases
proceeded from maidenly modesty is singularly impro-
bable, being, in fact, the transference of the ideas of a
later and more delicate age to the rude state of society
where these customs took their rise : besides which it
does not in any degree explain the combined plan of
defence, shared in by a number of persons, which is
found in some instances. Again, the old German ex-
pression brutloufti, or " bride-racing," points to the
existence among that people of a custom similar to that
which exists among majiy wild tribes as part of the
marriage ceremonial, of giving the bride a start either on
foot or horseback, and making the bridegroom pursue
her until he catches her. It has even been suggested
that the English ceremony of " throwing the old shoe "^
may be a relic of some custom of the kind, as signifying
a sham assault on the person who carries off the lady.
This, of course, is a mere conjecture ; but as the cere-
mony, though now absurd, must have had an origin, this
explanation may deserve consideration in default of a

It cannot be considered a valid objection to the view
here put forward, that no trace of the system of capture,
or of the circumstances which accompanied it, is to be
found in the sketch of the condition of the early Aryan
tribes which Comparative Philology has constructed for
us. Those peoples were, even at that early period, in a
far more highly developed condition than that which
produced this practice ; nor will any one who has
observed the permanence of customs and legends handed

Chap. XIV. Mirditc zuivcs Mahometans. 325

■down from primitive times, especially those relating to
birth, marriage, and death, be surprised to find that the
form of capture, as a marriage ceremony, may have been
inherited by them from much ruder ages, when the Indo-
European family had not separated from the common
human stock, and may have been passed on by them to
later generations. But it should be remembered also
that the practice of exogamy may arise at any period,
when the same circumstances present themselves which
caused it in the first instance ; and this, no doubt, was
the case with several of the European races amongst
whom it has been found, either as a reality or a symbol.'^
From this imperfect survey of Mr, McLennan's con-
clusions it will be seen that the case of the Mirdites,
which seems to be unknown to him, is a peculiarly
interesting one, because while the system of exogamy is
perfect, it presents us with the reality of capture on the
eve of merging in the form — since a sum of money is
paid afterwards, and but little resistance apparently
offered — but permanently checked in doing so by the
fact that the women carried off are Mahometans, who
cannot without violence be married to Christians. What
causes led in this instance to the practice of marrying
persons of another religion, when it is possible to obtain
wives in a peaceful manner from other Christian tribes,
and from what period it dates we have no means of
knowing. In all probability this also was the per-
petuation of some traditional idea that it was nobler to
obtain a wife by force, and after a time it may have
come to be regarded as an obligation that the object of
the predatory excursion should be one of another creed.

" See on the subject generally McLennan's 'Primitive Marriage,' chaps,
i. -vii., passim; also an Essay by the same writer in 'The Argosy' for
June, 1866.

326 The Mirdita. Chap. XIV.

It would also lessen the difficulty arising from the
number of women in this tribe who have to be provided
with husbands elsewhere, if we could suppose that female
infanticide prevails. There is, however, no authority for
saying that such is the case, and in a Christian com-
munity, however wild, it is improbable, as there is no
other crime which Christianity has more uncompro-
misingly or more successfully opposed.

( 327 )



Departare from Orosch — A Native Guide — The Bertiscus Mountains —
Mirdite Shepherds' Encampment — Mode of Divination ^Junction of
Black and White Drin — A Nocturnal Visitor — Prisrend — The Kaima-
kam — Turkish Administration — The Castle — View from it — Churches
— Visit of Dr. Earth — The Roman Catholic Archbishop — Popula-
tion — Concealed Christians — Their Origin, Histoiy, and Present Con-

Early the following morning we started from Orosch on
our way to Prisrend. The Prince had risen to see us
off, and we took our leave of him and our other friends
at the palace with many expressions of gratitude on our
part and regret on theirs. A guard of three men had
been appointed to accompany us, — two of them on foot,
and the other, one of the captains, who was the Prince's
financier or accountant, on horseback. At first we
followed the same path which we had taken on the
previous day, but when we reached the depression in
the ridge, from which we had mounted to the Monte
Santo, we descended into a thoroughly Swiss-looking
upland valley, with firs and beeches clothing its steep
sides, from which the limestone cliffs cropped out at
intervals. The meadows at the bottom were occupied
by numerous herds of cattle, some of those, no doubt,
belonging to Bib Doda, while in other places hay w^as
being made. The pastoral look of everything, combined
with the freshness of the air, which was as balmy as that
of a May morning in England, made this part of our ride
extremely pleasant. At last we reached a point where

328 Orosch to Prisrcnd. Chap. XV.

the valley comes suddenly to an end, and a precipitous
descent commences over loose rocks and debris, difficult
for horses, by the side of steep and richly-coloured cliffs.
When we reached the lower country we found a con-
siderable undergrowth of hazels, but the oaks did not
reappear until the following day when we began to
descend to the Drin valley. There were few dwellings
in this part and little cultivation, but both here and
elsewhere in the Mirdita we observed that there was no
appearance of want or misery among the population, nor
any beggars, though we had several times met with
these in Montenegro.

At midday we rested at the village of Sedjin, where
notice had been sent on to the chief man to prepare for
our reception. The clay floor of his best room was
strewn with a luxurious bed of ferns, and a large piece of
beef had been dressed and a lamb roasted. The liver
was served as first course ; but the most remarkable
part of the entertainment was the bread, which was
baked in circular flat cakes a couple of feet in diameter ;
these were made of maize, w^hich, when rudely ground
and kneaded, is very heavy and heating food. When we
had partaken the rest of the company had their meal ;
but we observed that our host himself ate apart from his
guests, and not until after they were served : this, we
were told, is the custom of the country. During this
time, one of the numerous storms which had been
hanging about the mountains descended upon us, with
thunder and lightning and torrents of rain ; but after an
hour it cleared up, and we were able to pursue our
journey under the guidance of our host, who replaced
our other guards, as they were to leave us at this point.
This man, a wild Albanian, with shaven head and one

Chap. XV. Tlie Bcrtisats Mountains. 329

long lock hanging down behind, looked at first sight like
one who might take your scalp at any moment ; but,
despite his appearance, we found him not only a first-
rate guide, but also a most agreeable companion —
attentive, considerate, and polite. Our route lay along
the mountain sides, through extensive forests of beech
and fir, the general direction of our course, both on this
and the following day, being towards the north-east.
Before sunset we reached the only shelter that was to be
found in the elevated region to which we had gradually
ascended, a niandra or shepherd's encampment on the

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 25 of 31)