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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Oral Literature  |  Legends

 

   
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Shega and Vllastar

 This Italo-Albanian legend evinces the motif of the reunification of brother and sister, which exist in several variations in Albanian and Balkan folklore. Action in this version takes place in Koron, now Koroni in the Morea (Peloponnese), under Ottoman rule. A maiden, called Shega, meaning 'pomegranate,' is kidnapped by an Ottoman janissary called Vllastar, meaning 'sprout, scion' from Greek 'Vlastari,' who is intent on having her for himself. Behind the tale is no doubt an incest taboo. At the last moment, the voice of a bird is heard from outside the tent, as a supernatural signal of doom, causing the officer to realise that the maiden is actually his long-lost sister. In some versions it is thunder and lightning, hail or rain in the form of blood which prevents the act of incest from taking place. In yet other versions, the underlying motif of incest is censored and suppressed completely, making the tale rather incomprehensible. The legend also exists in Slavic (Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian and Croatian) and in Greek versions. Here is a short prose rendition of the best known Albanian variant:

It was spring and the sun was shining with renewed strength. No Turks were to be seen outside the walls of Koron on that festive day during which, according to an ancient custom, the doors and thresholds of the houses were decorated with flowers and greenery.

A pretty young maiden strolled out of the town to pick flowers on the Plain of Koron. Singing a song of sorrow in her faint and delicate voice, she stooped to gather the flowers.

The Turks had destroyed everything when they passed through her native village. They had put the whole village to the flames and carried off her little brother. No one knew what had become of him. Her father had not been in the village at the time for he was off fighting in Scanderbeg's army. Shega's uncle had taken her and seven other children up to the mountains to escape the war. But when the Turks arrived there, too, he returned down into the valley with his companions to do battle. Shega continued alone from peak to peak trying to escape the carnage. In the end, she arrived back in Koron where she had relatives. This town had been attacked by the Turks many times. They had left many dead in their path, had disappeared, attacked other towns and then suddenly turned up again outside the walls. What would happen tomorrow? Would she ever see the land of her birth again?

Climbing slowly up into the hills, the maiden sang her song of sorrow and picked the flowers. As the sun set, she tied them into a bouquet. When she noticed that it was getting dark, she turned, and with the bouquet of flowers in her arms, hurried back down to Koron. All of a sudden, a Turkish horseman appeared before her, seized her by the hair and forced her onto his horse. The flowers fell from her grasp to be trampled by the horse as it sped off. Nature took pity on the screaming maiden, but the Turk did not.

He took her to his commander, a handsome, not as rough looking young man who wore a knife in his belt and a sword at his side. He forced the maiden into his tent and stared at her with eager eyes. He watched her for a long time and then made his approach. She stepped back into the corner, glaring at him fiercely.

There was a bright moon shining that night. Circling the tent above was a black bird which spoke in a human voice, "What a bird of misfortune I am. A brother is about to kiss his sister!" This the black bird repeated two or three times.

Coming even closer to the maiden, the Turk went pale. "Keep away from me, you bastard!" she shouted in Albanian. The Janissary froze and asked, "Are you Albanian?" "Yes," she replied, "how do you know our language?" He gave no reply, but after a while inquired again, "What family do you come from?" "I am from the clan of the Mirditas, a clan of horsemen and warriors." "Did you have a brother?" "Yes, I had a brother, but the Turks captured him when he was little and made him a Janissary. And now misfortune has placed me in your hands." "What was your brother's name?" "He was called Vllastar," she replied. The Janissary clapped his hands and exclaimed, "Then you are my sister Shega! I am Vllastar, your brother!" The two then embraced and wiped away the tears of joy which were streaming down their cheeks.

Vllastar asked his sister, "Where is our mother now, Shega?" "Mother died in the flames when the Turks burnt down our house." "And what became of our father?" "Father was fighting in Scanderbeg's army when the Turks attacked and razed everything to the ground. He is still with them to avenge us. If you were to come to Albania, you might stand eye to eye with him. You would do battle and kill one another. You are no Albanian. You have become a foreigner." "No," exclaimed Vllaster, "I was an Albanian and still am! We will never do battle with one another but fight shoulder to shoulder to free our native land." He whistled and five other Janissaries entered the tent, all as huge as oak trees, girded with daggers and bearing sword in hand. "You summoned us, my lord?" they asked. "Yes, brothers," said Vllastar, "come over here. Do you recognize this maiden?" "No, my lord, we don't." "This is my sister Shega." The Janissaries bowed their heads and greeted her respectfully. Vllastar continued, "Blood is flowing in our homeland. Our country's leader, Scanderbeg, is doing battle and resisting the Turks. My father is fighting them, too, and so are your fathers. Let us return, brothers, and fight for our native land!" "You have spoken our very thoughts," they replied.

And so the seven of them set off for Albania to fight the Turks there. Shega and Vllastar led the group and returned joyfully to the land of their ancestors.

 

[from Mitrush Kuteli (ed.) Tregime të moçme shqiptare (Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1965, reprint 1987, 1998). Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]

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