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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Oral Verse

 

   
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Cham Folk Songs

The following collection of Albanian historical folk songs, still sung throughout southern Albania, derives from the Chameria (Çamëria) region of Epirus, now in northwestern Greece. This one-time territory of Ali Pasha, with its capital Janina (now known in Greek as Ioannina), was long part of the Ottoman Empire, like the rest of Albania. In 1913, during the First Balkan War, Greek forces invaded the region and, after bitter and often chaotic fighting involving the various ethnic groups living there - the Albanians, Greeks, Turks, and Aromanians (Vlachs) -  forcefully incorporated Chameria into Greece. These songs are among the many that remain in the collective memory of the Albanian Chams, most of whom fled or were driven across the border to Albania in the First and Second World Wars. They are sung to mournful, haunting melodies in southern Albanian iso-polyphonic style.

 

Street View of Ottoman Janina, 19th century

 

Song of Çelo Mezani

The sun arose in Malavire,
Çelo came out in Harile,
Çelo came out in Harile,
Out to offer his condolence,
Out to offer his condolence,

Near the well of Sulejmani
They awaited Çelo Mezani.

When the rifle rang the first time,
Çelo turned and looked around him,
Çelo turned and looked around him.

When the rifle rang the second time,
Çelo folded, closed his eyelids,
Çelo folded, closed his eyelids.

When the rifle rang the third time,
Çelo then was truly slaughtered,
Çelo then was truly slaughtered.

Off they went to tell his mother
That her son had now been slaughtered,
That her son had now been slaughtered.

“Do not utter these words to me,
For my Çelo is still living,
For my Çelo is still living.”

[Kënga e Çelo Mezanit, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]

 

 

Song of the Ottoman Foot Soldier

I must leave you, fellows, leave you,
Beyond the Bridge o’er to the Kaaba.

Convey my greetings to my mother,
Those two oxen, let her sell them.

Those two oxen, let her sell them,
With a new bride I’ve contracted.

Should my mother ask about me,
Tell her I have just been married.

Should she ask what guests attended,
Tell her two dervishes and hodjas.

Should she ask you who the bride was:
In my chest the seven bullets.

Should she ask you who was feasting:
Blackbirds, ravens at the pickings.

[Mbeçë, more shokë, mbeçë, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]

 

 

What was it Janina’s Eyes Saw

What was it Janina’s eyes saw?
Ja-a, Janinë-o!
On a Friday did it happen,
Ja-a, Janinë-o!
At the five wells in the canyon,
Ja-a, Janinë-o!
Zenel Çelo and another,
Ja-a, Janinë-o!
Zenel with that Velça fellow,
Ja-a, Janinë-o!
And the hero Jaçe Mavro,
Ja-a, Janinë-o!
How he rose in daring venture,
Ja-a, Janinë-o!
Cleaved the enemy’s battalions,
Ja-a, Janinë-o!
And did slaughter the young pasha,
Ja-a, Janinë-o!

[Janinës ç’i panë sytë, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]

 

 

I Took the Road Down to Janina

I took the road down to Janina,
Alone I was,
Together was I with the coachman,
’twas at night,
Together with the coachman that night
Did they lay an ambush for me,
Alone I was,
Chopped my liver, heart to pieces.

[Mora rrugën për Janinë, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]

 

 

At the Fortress of the Five Wells

At the Fortress of the Five Wells
Did appear that wretched Jorgo.
On the cross swore Constantine that
He’d hold Easter in Janina.
I’ll give in, said Riza Bey,
Change my faith and go to Athens.
Oh Janina, poor Janina,
See the troops that are approaching,
Mahmut Bey’s ten thousand soldiers.
Oh Janina, oh Janina,
Sheikh Ali will be your master.
With his wife, the kajmakam
Is plucking strings and making music.
Metsova, you held up well and
This is why they have attacked you.
Rushing forth are the Albanians,
Dashing, brandishing their sabres.
Who was it who led the fighting?
Selman Hasani from Vlora,
From his sword the blood is dripping.

[Në Pesë Pusë Kala, song from Grikëhuar near Gumenica (Igumenica) and recorded in Vlora in 1948. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]

 

 

Janina, oh Poor Janina

Janina, oh poor Janina,
Janinë-o!
Look and see how they have served you,
Selim Qori and Uznia
Went to Corfu, sold you out there,
For three thousand gold Napoleons,
Janina, the lake has drowned you,
Open your eyes and see what’s happened,
If you see them taking over,
Set on fire the powder tower,
Better to engulf yourself than
Let that wretched Greece subject you.

[Janinë, e zeza Janinë, song from Kardhiq near Paramythia, and recorded in Vlora in 1944. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]

 

 

Janina, Sister Janina

Janina, sister Janina,
Come and see the lads arriving,
All of Vlora’s troops are coming
For Bezhan and for Janina.
All the people have come out and
Joyfully express their greetings.
And the music they are making
Quakes the ground throughout Janina.

[Janinë, motra Janinë, recorded in Pandalejmon near Saranda in 1945, and translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]

 

 

To Janina’s Come an Order

To Janina’s come an order,
Troops and soldiers are arriving.
Come out, Ali Pasha, fight them,
Come out, Pasha, night is falling,
Cross-legged sitting on your sofa.
Troops and soldiers are arriving,
Ali Pasha, come and fight them,
Come out, Pasha, night is falling,
For it is your head they’re after.
Troops and soldiers are arriving,
They have sealed your fate in Turkey,
Troops and soldiers are arriving,
Oh, vizier of Janina,
You have won out over treason.

[Vjen fermani në Janinë, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]


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