Friday, April 8, 2011

Weddings in Old Albania

Friday, April 8, 2011
Loretta reports:

In my story in Royal Weddings I refer to Queen Victoria’s marrying a man she loved.  This, as we've mentioned before, was not at all common in royal families.  In fact, marrying for love wasn’t common in general, in many cultures, until relatively recently.  Consider my Albanian ancestors.

Following are a few excerpts from the lengthy Code (or Kanun) of Lekë Dukagjini, an extremely detailed compilation of the Albanians' customary law, which dates to medieval times, possibly earlier.

The Kanun requires marriage (a) be arranged by male heads of family and (b) involve a matchmaker.

“A young woman who has been abducted or who has run away to find a husband cannot be adorned as a bride; she must go as a girl—in a girl’s clothes—because she has been taken or has left home outside the laws of the Kanun and without a matchmaker.”

Once the couple is betrothed, the young man has the right to reject the girl. Following certain formalities, he and she are free to marry someone else.  However,

“The girl who is betrothed may not reject the young man, even if she does not like him.”

Some girls must have put up a fight, making the following rules necessary:

“If the girl refuses to submit to her fate, under any circumstances, and her parents support her, she may never marry another man.”

Without her fiancé’s permission, she can’t marry anybody else and nobody’s supposed to ask her.  It doesn’t matter if the rejected fiancé marries someone else.  The only way she gets out of this deal is if he dies.

“With the death of the fiancé, the Kanun frees the girl and, if she so desires, she may marry.”

However, in the case where the parents don’t support her—
“If the girl does not submit and marry her fiancé, she should be handed over to him by force, 'together with a cartridge,’ and if the girl tries to flee, her husband may kill her with her parents’ cartridge, and the girl’s blood is lost [remains unavenged*], because it was with their cartridge that she was killed.”

*Blood feud was common, and the code involving it is extensive & minutely detailed in the Kanun.

Kanuni I Lekë Dukagjinit: The Code of Lekë Dukagjini
Illustrations:  "Rok, tribesman of the Skreli," by William Le Queux, 1906, and Albanian Woman's Portrait, both courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


Chris Woodyard said...

Then (as I'm sure you know, Loretta) you have the burrnesha, the "sworn virgins" who cut their hair, dress in men's clothing, and take an oath of virginity, thus becoming a man in a legal and societal sense. This is a way to get out of an arranged marriage without dishonoring the groom and his family and without creating a blood feud. Sworn virgins could take traditional men's jobs, freely associate with men, smoke, own property, and have all the freedoms of a man. They did not, however marry.

Anonymous said...

Makes you wonder how many women became widows after unwanted hubby had a bit of wolfsbane for dinner.

On the other hand, while the law is one thing, there have probably always been plenty of parents who want their children to be happy as well as well married.

LorettaChase said...

Chris, that NY Times piece describes the situation as well as the virgins very well. Thank you for posting the link, because it’s well worth reading for insight into the culture. (BTW, Alice Munro wrote a short story, The Albanian Virgin, that appeared in the New Yorker.) The key to understanding this phenomenon is realizing it was an extremely patriarchal society.
Anonymous, I'd like to believe that parents took into account their children's feelings. That sounds reasonable, given 21st century sensibilities. But in arranging the marriages, the parents were doing what they believed was good for their children—as in the case in other cultures where marriages are arranged. I know the kids were married quite young. My paternal grandmother was married at age 14 to a man at least twice her age. What father (the mother had no say) would believe his teenage daughter knew better than he did what was good for her? And this was a culture in which women were not important. “The Kanun considers the woman as a superfluity in the household.” “A woman is a sack, made to endure.” I think _most_ women (always, everywhere there are exceptions—like my maternal grandmother) accepted this way of thinking: It either didn’t occur to them that things should be different or the consequences of rebelling were too frightful. The good news is, things have turned around quite a bit in Albania in the last half-century, as the NYT piece says, and women have considerable power . . . except for some of those little isolated pockets.

Unknown said...

Very interesting post.
Can you imagine what that must have been like? What if the man was cruel? I think I'd have to take the path of the sworn virgin. I'd rather fend for myself than live under the thumb of such a man.

Jane O said...

I think I might have packed some of that wolfsbane in with my trousseau, just in case.

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