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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Oral Literature  |  Legends

 

   
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The Founding of the Kastrati Tribe

The legend of the founding of the Kastrati tribe in the mountains of northern Albania 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 Woman with a Cradle” by Ismail Lulani, 1987.

Legend has preserved the name of the ancestral father of the Kastrati. He was called Detal Bratoshi. It is not known whether he was an Albanian or a Slav but legend has it that he came to the area which his descendants now inhabit, from Kuči, a Slavic region. The reason why he emigrated with his seven sons, whether a murder or destitution, is not known. The sons were called: Ivan Detali, Pal Detali, Nar or Ndoc Detali, Gor Detali, Jer Detali, Gjon Detali and Ali Detali. They initially took up residence in a cave on Mount Veleçik that is now called the Cave of the Sheep (Shpella e dhenvet) and was situated one hour from the home of the native Pjetrović. They lived in that cave for seven years. Since both their families and their herds grew tremendously in numbers, the native population began to look upon them with fear and concern for their future. One day, they assembled the whole tribe consisting of three clans, the Pjetrović, the Tutović and the Pelaj, and discussed what should be done with the new cave dwellers. Some thought they should be invited over and made brothers with them. Others thought they should be attacked and slain. While they were arguing about a strategy, without reaching a conclusion, an aged man, one hundred years old, appeared in their midst and spoke as follow: “My dear friends, I am an old man and I have gained much experience in life. Listen to what I have to say so that an ill-conceived resolution does not do you harm. If it is God’s will that brought these people to us, you cannot oppose them for they will destroy you all. However, if it is not God’s will, they will flee from you like the clouds in the wind. To find out which it is, prepare a feast and invite the foreigners to partake of it. When everyone is assembled for dinner, place the table so far away from them that they cannot reach the food from where they are sitting. Then pay attention to what they do. If they get up and go over and sit at the table, you will know that they are submissive and will be your slaves. If, however, they get up and draw the table over to where they were sitting so that you are then too far away, pack up your possessions and flee in the night, because they will otherwise rob and enslave you. The assembly agreed to act as the old man had told them. Detal was invited over and arrived with his seven young, strong sons, who all made a warlike and haughty impression. According to custom, a calf was roasted and placed on the table, the edge of which the invited guests could not even reach with their fingertips. When they understood what was going on, they frowned because they believed the natives were making fun of them. Visibly annoyed, they rose to their feet, seized the dining table and drew it over to them, leaving their hosts too far away, and proceeded to enjoy their meal.

Fate had spoken against the natives and they fled that very night, taking their kith and kin with them and leaving only the old and weak behind them, those who would not have survived the journey. When Detal learned that the natives had fled, he left the cave with his children and went down and took over their houses and fields. The tribe he founded still owns that land to this very day. […]

His sons took the best fields for themselves and left the rest to the remaining original inhabitants as they deemed fit. In this manner, although originally poor refugees, they came to form the main stock of the population.

Having lived a long life and having seen his family grow with many grandsons and great-grandsons and all the property they needed, Detal died. His grave is to be found on a small field and is covered with a heap of rocks.

Detal’s sons remained in their new settlement for some time after his death. Since it was, however, a long and difficult way to their fields, they decided to settle in the old village to make life easier for them. They also hoped with time to acquire the region of Budisha where some of the inhabitants of Triepshi owned vineyards. The rest of that region lay fallow because of a lack of labourers. The settlement was largely abandoned because the Turks had carried off and enslaved all of the inhabitants. As such, they managed to extend their land right to the borders of Hoti, Shkreli and Budisha.

The tribe soon grew in numbers such that they could no longer all live together. They therefore built several new houses that were not far from one another. They also divided the land into three parts and drew lots to apportion it among their families. The southern part of the land was thus taken over by Ali, Gor and Jer, the northern part by Pal and Ndok, the middle by Ivan, Kaça and Leka, and the eastern part was left to the original inhabitants. The way they divided the land up has remained to this very day, each clan and assembly with its own property. Although they grew in numbers, they remained in these settlements. Only Ali, who was a shepherd and was wont to spend the wintertime on the plain, preferred the warmth and fertility of the lowland regions. Leaving only a few family members in the mountains, he settled on the plain with the rest. They still live there and form the main branch of the Kastrati tribe, although they are all Muslims.

The vineyards of Budisha belonged for a long time to the Benkaj [Benkani] of Triepshi. They were one of the clans of Triepshi and consisted of 25 families. However, they came from a settlement in Montenegro called Rijeka Ivan Beka. Because of a blood feud, their ancestors had fled to Triepshi where they swiftly prospered. They were all brave people and were much respected by the beys of Shkodra. One of their leaders had distinguished himself particularly and gained favour with the pasha. On behalf of his clan, he asked for and was granted the abandoned vineyards of Budisha that stretch for about three-quarters of an hour up the valley at the foot of Mount Veleçik. Initially, the Benkani came over from Triepshi to work the land and harvest the grapes, but as the Detali clan grew in number, the Benkani decided it was easier to give them the vineyards in tenure and receive half of the harvest in compensation, or one-tenth as others say. The Detali thus paid tribute to the Benkani for many years. In the end, a conflict broke out among them that led to the Benkani losing the vineyards. This happened in the following manner.

One of Pal Detali’s sons called Vuk Pala had many sons of his own, among whom were Ull Vuka, Kat Vuka and Ded Vuka. No man in the region equalled them in size and strength.

One day, Kat and Ded went over to Triepshi to call the Benkani to come and harvest the ripe grapes. There, they learned that two of the dogs in the house of the chief of the Benkani were called Kat and Ded. They were so infuriated at this that they drew their knives, slew the dogs and returned home. When they got back, they told their brothers about the insult, i.e. that the Benkani had named their dogs after the Kastrati, and that they had slain the beasts. In retaliation, they decided to stop paying the Benkani the tribute they owed them. Accordingly, they harvested the grapes alone, without waiting for the Benkani. When the Benkani heard what had happened, they assembled a corps of men from Triepshi and Kuçi and carried out a raid on the Detali herds that were grazing up on Mount Veleçik. They surrounded the pen at night and attacked at dawn, but the four shepherds who had been posted there fought back until three of them were killed. The fourth one managed to escape and sound the alarm, but the attackers plundered the pen and drove the animals off with them.

Ull Vuka was busy putting on his sandals when he heard the alarm call early in the morning. Without delay, and still without one sandal, he set off in a rush. Others joined him with such speed that they caught up with their foes at the crossing of the Cem River.

The Triepshi were driven back and lost four men on site. The Detali men chopped their heads off and stuck them on poles, returning home triumphantly with their retrieved herds. From that time on, they paid no more tribute and divided the valley of Budisha among themselves. One half was given to the Ivanaj and the other half to the Goraj who now bear the name Budishaj.

The descendants of the Detali subsequently grew in power such that their neighbours feared them. They carried on with their raids and incursions that caused wars with the other tribes, the Shkreli, then the Hoti, and then the Kopliku, etc. They were even in conflict with the pashas of Shkodra, but always won out when the pashas sent troops against them. The pashas finally decided that it was best to win over the chiefs of Kastrati with gifts and good treatment and thereby preserve peace. This turned out to be the best strategy because the Kastrati were quiet for quite some time, and even paid some tribute, a few paras per house.

Finally, a certain Tahir Bey of the great Chaushen family became Pasha of Shkodra. He planned to make the Christian Kastrati equal to all the other rayah [non-Muslims]. They were to pay haraç [the head tax] and submit to the legal authority of the kadi [Muslim judge] like the people living in and around the town. The men of Veleçik were not too happy about this. They considered the blood that flowed in their veins and resumed their raids and incursions once again. The pasha then mustered a large army that set off for Kastrati land. The Detali realised that they could not match the superior numbers of the pasha’s army and took their women, children, livestock and other possessions back to the cave where their ancestors had once lived. Only a couple of old people remained in the village. They were too old to be harmed by the pasha’s soldiers.

Ull Vuka, Detal’s great-grandson, was now chief of the mountain tribe. When the pasha discovered that the village had been abandoned and was empty and heard that the inhabitants had fled into the mountains, he sent his men in their pursuit, not knowing how difficult the terrain was. The pasha himself stayed at the house of Ull Vuka. The attackers soon encountered fierce resistance. They were subjected not only to the tribe’s projectiles, but also to boulders and tree trunks that were hurled down the mountainside at them by the women and children. These resulted in many casualties. Ull Vuka observed the assault from his doorstep and, seized with fear, called upon Saint Mark for assistance, promising to build him a church and celebrate his feast day if the saint would help the men of Kastrati achieve victory. The battle then turned in their favour. When the pasha, who was staying with him, asked him who was winning, he replied: “Your men, pasha, for they are well equipped. My men are naked and have nothing.” The pasha sent him outside to observe the fighting again and, when Ull saw the Turks fleeing for their lives and his own men shouting and pursuing them, he went back inside and cried: “It has been done! It has been done!” The pasha asked: “What has been done? Who won?” Ull Vuka replied: “Now you will see!” and thrust a dagger into the pasha’s heart. Even today, people will show you where the pasha was buried.

Turkish troops prevailed no longer. The Detali pursued them to the so-called Dry Creek (Përroi i thatë) and from then on, the bed of the river became their border. Those living on one side of it pay taxes like all the other people and submit to the authority of the kadi. Those on the other side live according to the laws of the mountains and only recognise the pasha.

The church that Ull Vuka promised to Saint Mark during the battle was built and his feast day is still held in honour by the Detali.

Fighting with Shkodra continued until a more reasonable pasha took over and gave the Kastrati back their old privileges. Since that time there has been peace between them and Shkodra.

When they grew in numbers and the region where they lived could no longer support them, they began following Ali’s example, who upon the death of his father had moved to the plain of Bajza between the Dry Creek and the lake. Since the land here belonged to the beys and aghas of Shkodra, they leased it and initially only built a few simple huts on it where they spent the winter. In the summer they returned to their mountains where the climate was healthier. Gradually, however, the families on the plain sold their land in the mountains and, in return, bought the properties that they had earlier leased. And so it came about that more Detali now live on the plain, which they now own almost entirely, than in the mountains.

 

[extract from Johann Georg von Hahn, Albanesische Studien (Vienna 1854), vol. 1, p. 188-192. Translated from the German by Robert Elsie.]

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