The Founding of the Hoti and Triepshi Tribes
The legend of the founding of the Hoti and Triepshi tribes in the mountains of northern Albania and Montenegro is preserved, in one version, by the German scholar Johann Georg von Hahn who heard it from a Father Gabriel in Shkodra in 1850.
“Highland Landscape” by Zef Kolombi, 1948-1949, National Art Gallery, Tirana.
The ancestral tribal leader of Hoti and Triepshi was called Keqi. It is not known where he came from but, like Klement of Kelmendi, he must have been an Albanian because his descendants spoke Albanian and were Catholic. According to legend, because he was being pursued by the Turks, he fled to a Slavic region now called Piperi that belongs to the Brda [highlands] of Montenegro. There, he had six sons: Lazar Keqi, Ban Keqi, Merkota Keqi, Kaster Keqi, Vas (Vash) Keqi and Piper Keqi. When they were growing up, they killed one of the natives of the village and, according to local custom, the whole family was obliged to flee. Father Keqi, however, realised that he was too old to leave, and that his youngest son, Piper, was too young and weak (he limped on one leg) to follow his brothers into exile. He therefore endeavoured to pacify the family of the dead man and begged for permission to remain in the country in view of his and his son’s precarious situation. He received permission, which is rarely denied under such circumstances, and thus remained in the village with Piper. The large clan of Piperi that now has 200 households and 1,500 Orthodox, Slavic-speaking members, stems from this lad Piper. They are in constant conflict with the neighbouring Muslim towns of Spuž and Podgorica.
The other five brothers settled in Triepshi that is situated on the northern bank of the Cem River (a western tributary of the Morača), an hour to the east of Gruda and Fundina. Merkota Keqi soon found life in this stony region too hard so he settled on the plain of Podgorica, two hours to the west of the town, because he preferred to make his living in a fertile area rather than to wander free and independent in the mountains. His descendants gave the village which they had formed the name Merkotaj [Mrkovići] after their ancestral father. It now has 70 households and over 500 souls. They are followers of the Orthodox church and speak Slavic.
The other four sons of Keqi remained for a while in Triepshi. However, there came a time of great hardship for the region and grain could only be procured on the fertile plains and in the valley of the White Drin far to the east. The two youngest brothers, who were unmarried, therefore set off for the town of Peja to buy grain for their families. In the inn where they were staying, they met two fair maidens who had come to Peja for the same reason. The maidens took a fancy to the slender lads and asked them who they were and where they came from. The young men told them the sad tale of their family, that they were poor shepherds treated badly by fate. The maidens replied that they were, each of them, the only daughters of rich parents and if the young men would marry them, they would inherit a substantial fortune from their parents. They also told them that there was enough fertile land where they came from to feed the two brothers. The young men raised the objection that their older brothers would not go with them and that they could not leave their elderly father alone. They did not live with him, but were not so far away that they could not visit him from time to time. After much discussion, the four young people agreed to meet at a later date in the same inn to exchange information about what they had achieved. Each then went his own way. When the two young men got home, they told their brothers what had happened and asked for their advice. The brothers advised them not to leave because this would weaken the position of the family and others would be able to insult them and go unpunished. They feared they would never see one another again if they lived so far away from one another. These objections convinced the two young brothers for quite a while, but in the end, love won out, as did the realisation that their descendants would live in eternal poverty if they remained in Triepshi. They thus decided to leave home and thereby divide the family. They invited old Keqi, their brother Merkota who had settled near Podgorica and the lame Piper to Triepshi for a feast and, when they had all eaten their fill, the two young men took leave of the remaining clan and set off for Peja. They met the two maidens there on the appointed day and followed them to their homes.
One of these maidens was from Redzica. She married the young Vas Keqi, and from their union stemmed the large Vasevich [Vasojevići] tribe that now counts 200 households and 3,000 souls. The Vasojevići follow the Orthodox church and speak Slavic. They are known as inveterate robbers and carry out raids on the neighbouring territories as often as they can. They also ambush Muslim caravans from Gusinje [Gucia], Bijelo Polje and Rožaje. They can be divided into two groups: the upper Vasojevići and the lower Vasojevići depending on whether they live on the eastern or the western side of the mountain range that serves as the divide between the waters that flow into the Mediterranean and those that flow into the Danube basin, as well as the divide between the northwards-flowing Lim and the Morača that flows southwards into Lake Shkodra. The upper Vasojevići inhabit the valley of the Redzica that comes down from the eastern slopes of those mountains and ends at the Lim. The lower Vasojevići inhabit the mountains between the Morača to the west, the Malo Rika [Mala Rijeka] Creek to the north and the wooded Lievo Rika [Lijeva Rijeka] River to the south. It is because of this latter name that they are also called Lijevo Rijekjani. The region of Lijeva Rijeka was long uninhabited but during the Turkish conquest, most of the inhabitants of Redzica withdrew to the other side of the mountains and this region was thereby settled. Those who remained in Redzica became tenant farmers of the Turks. When things settled down, many of the refugees returned in small groups and there are now 40 to 50 households of Lijeva Rijeka in Redzica. On the other side, as mentioned, the descendants of Vas who had emigrated there continued to harass their Muslim neighbours and many of them had to flee. They crossed over the mountains and settled in Lijeva Rijeka. As such, one now finds the original inhabitants mixed in with the later immigrants on both sides of the mountains. However, both parts call themselves Vasojevići. Turkish rule over the valley of the Redzica was never particularly strong. In times of trouble or whenever the opportunity arose, the inhabitants refused to pay taxes or tribute. Whenever the Turks gained the upper hand, they once again declared their submission. The Turks usually found it to their advantage to accept such declarations and forget the past. The Lijevo Rijekjani living on the western side of the mountains, whose district normally forms part of the Montenegrin Brda, have, however, never recognized Turkish rule. Both tribes are now (1850) led by a monk, the Archimandrite Moses, who is said to be an intelligent and cosmopolitan man and who resides at the Monastery of Saint George. This monastery is situated in the valley of the Redzica, about five hours from Bijelo Polje, in a settlement called Hasi.
The other maiden stemmed from a region of Dukagjin between the Drin and Valbona rivers, not far from Jakovo [Gjakova]. She married Kaster Keqi and from their union arose the clan of the Kastravich who speak Albanian and who have mostly converted to Islam.
We now return to the two sons of old Keqi who remained in Triepshi. These were Lazar Keqi and Ban Keqi. Their families and herds prospered to such an extent that the small region they owned was insufficient to sustain them and they could no longer remain together.
Lazar decided to move southwards to the neighbouring region of Hoti, on the other side of the Cem River. They agreed that the river was to be considered the border for the herds of the two brothers. However, something odd happened during the separation which was to become a source of much strife and conflict between their descendants. When Lazar departed with all of his goods, it so happened that on one of the horses he took with him as his property, a saddle remained that belonged to Ban. Lazar was already riding up the southern slope of the river valley when his brother called to him from the northern side to return the saddle. The thought of having to ride all the way back down the mountain and up the other side was too much for Lazar and he called back to his brother saying that, in exchange for the saddle, he would give him the southern side of the valley, that is, the slope he had just ridden up and that was supposed to belong to him. As such, the Triepshi own this slope, that is to say, they own the whole Cem valley even today.
The Hoti continued to fight over ownership of the land with their northern neighbours, with many open confrontations. In 1849, for instance, the two tribes battled twice for possession of the land. In the first battle, the Hoti suffered two dead and five wounded, and the Triepshi two dead and three wounded, although the Hoti had over 400 warriors and the Triepshi only 80. In the second battle, the Hoti suffered four dead and many wounded, and the Triepshi only one dead and four wounded. But in one battle that was fought many years ago, 20 Hoti and only seven Triepshi fell. The Triepshi attribute their constant military advantage to the fact that they are always on the defence and lie in protected positions on the northern slope as they await their numerically superior foes. To put an end to the eternal conflict, the Hoti offered the Triepshi a golden saddle to replace the saddle of their ancestral father, but the Triepshi have always refused.
From Ban Keqi stemmed the four large Catholic Albanian clans of Triepshi that now make up over 70 families and, together with the original inhabitants of the place, constitute the village of Triepshi that counts 115 households and about 700 souls. The original inhabitants are also Catholic and speak Albanian. Triepshi is a geographically secure site, and its inhabitants are very warlike by nature. They are thus in constant conflict not only with their immediate neighbours but also with the distant Muslim towns of Podgorica and Gucia that they perturb with their frequent incursions. They lie in ambush to attack caravans and kill as many Muslims as they can manage to find.
Lazar Keqi, who had crossed the Cem River, originally took tenure of land from a rich Hoti man. His family grew to such an extent that they were able to oppose the natives in the region and gradually made themselves masters of this arid land. The original inhabitants either emigrated or were driven out such that, in the end, there were only six households of natives and they were in a wretched state.
Of Lazar Keqi’s son, Geg Lazari, stems the great clan of the Hoti Gegas. He had four sons: Pjec Gega, Gjon Gega, Laj Gega and Jun [Gjun] Gega.
From Pjec Gega stems the village of Trabojna with 180 households and 1,000 souls. The other three brothers and their descendants formed the village of Arapshi that now has 190 households and 1,150 souls.
With the exception of four families who converted to Islam, the Hoti are all Catholic and all speak Albanian. Both of the villages have their own banners [bajraks] and their inhabitants are considered to be the bravest of all these highlanders. The bajraktar of Trabojna is even called the leader of all of the highlands of Shkodra, and in Ottoman military formations, his banner is second only to that of Mirdita which is to be found at the extreme right wing, whereas the banner of Hoti is raised on the left wing. On the battlefield he receives thrice the normal rations, a privilege that was granted to an ancestor of his for some great deed and which he inherited.
When the Venetians attacked Dulcigno [Ulqin/Ulcinj], the Pasha of Shkodra hastened to save the town and camped across from the Venetians. One day, when the pasha had given his army a day of rest, the bajraktar of Hoti began disputing with another highlander as to who was the bravest. The infuriated Hoti man suddenly seized his banner and, taking the Venetian battery by storm, planted it in amongst the enemy cannons. When the men of Hoti saw their banner moving, they did not want to abandon it and set off on the attack, too. The rest of the army followed and, in this way, the Muslims took the whole battery.