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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Oral Verse


  Webdesign J. Groß

Songs of the Frontier Warriors

INTRODUCTION  8. Mujo’s Courser 16. Mujo and Jevrenija
 1. Mujo’s Strength  9. Young Omeri 17. Halili Avenges Mujo
 2. Marriage of Mujo 10. Zuku Bajraktar 18. Omer, Son of Mujo
 3. Mujo’s Oras 11. Osmani and Radoica 19. Death of Omer
 4. Mujo Visits the Sultan 12. Ali Bajraktari 20. Ajkuna Mourns Omer
 5. Marriage of Halili 13. Arnaut Osmani 21. Death of Halili
 6. Gjergj Elez Alia 14. Zuku Captures Rusha 22. Mujo Wounded
 7. Mujo and Behuri 15. Mujo’s Wife Kidnapped 23. After Mujo’s Death

Mujo and Behuri

Mujo summons his thirty Agas to assemble for a raid in the mountains. Halili and his bosom friend, the young Zuku Bajraktari, hold vigil all night while the Agas sleep. The next day, a dispute arises among the Agas and the çeta is divided into two groups. Halili is separated forever from his beloved Zuku Bajraktari. Up in the high pastures, Mujo catches sight of the daughters of the Slavic warrior Behuri, guarded by thirty pandours. He and his warriors ambush the pandours and seize the maidens. Later, Mujo, in search of a forgotten lance, meets an ora who tells him he must slay Behuri. Mujo secretly enters Behuri’s mansion, there to find the severed heads of the other half of the çeta. Setting a wick to the sacks of gunpowder, he blows the mansion up. Mujo and Behuri duel in the mountain pastures. With the intervention of an ora, Mujo slays his rival. All return home to Jutbina and celebrate a wedding.





































































































May you be blessed, oh our God Almighty!
For nothing we were until God did create us.
Mujo was early to rise in the morning,
He put on his boots and his belt and his buckle,
And turning, he built up a fire in the fireplace,
He poured himself coffee and added some sugar,
Then did he turn and cry out to Halili:
“Rise now, oh Halili, get up now or never,
A full thirty days have now passed, oh Halili,
Since we’ve been out on a raid with the çeta.
Halili, rush off and go down to Jutbina
And ask all the thirty Agas to assemble,
For we will go raiding today with the çeta.”
See how reacted now Sokol Halili,
In less than no time did he sprint up the staircase,
And out on the parapet cried from the kulla,
He roared a command for the men of Jutbina,
To call them to arms from throughout the krahina.
Responding to Mujo, they sent their best greetings.
Swiftly did Halili muster the horses,
And skilfully, too, did he manage to shoe them.
When he was finished, he went back to Mujo,
The warriors put on their clothes and their footwear,
And each of them girded his sabre for fighting,
Taking up with them their arrows and lances,
As this was their custom when out on a sortie,
In no time at all, in a dash were they ready,
The thirty Agas had arrived at the doorway,
“Good evening, oh Mujo and Sokol Halili!”
“You are most welcome here, men of Jutbina!”
“Where are we off to today on our sortie?”
“The right hand of God will point out the direction.”
Departing, they made their way into the valley,
All the time singing, they rode through the flat land,
And there did they meet with Dizdar Osman Aga,
He too had thirty Agas in his party,
With a kindly selam did they offer their greetings,
And the Agas saluted them even more kindly.
None of the men deigned to dismount their coursers,
But high on their steeds did they hail one another,
Some of them greeted, some played with the horses,
And others rode down to the river for water,
“Lead us, oh Mujo, noonday is upon us,”
Muttered the old man, Dizdar Osman Aga.
Onward they ventured, rode up through the valley,
The great Gjeto Basho Mujo was their leader,
Behind him there followed Dizdar Osman Aga,
Two of the lads with their steeds did make merry,
Who with their frolicking lingered behind them,
Bajraktars both of them riding their coursers,
One of them, he was named Sokol Halili,
The other one, Zuk Bajraktari, they called him.
Band upon band of the Agas now followed,
Continuing forth, they rode down to the river.
There they arrived and did water their horses,
Leaving no water to flow down the valley,
Onward they rode to the high mountain pastures,
But none of them managed to find any game there,
None of them there caught a glimpse of a çetnik.
All day did they wander the high mountain pastures,
And landed at dusk at the foot of a fir tree,
Its branches as thick as a high mountain beech tree,
Nine hundred men in its shadow could shelter,
There did the men make their camp for the nighttime,
Putting their steeds by a grove out to pasture,
Grazing, the coursers erred up through the meadows,
The Agas themselves then sat down to their dinner,
Splendid the feast that the Agas partook of,
And when they had eaten, had finished their feasting,
Among them arose and spoke out two young kreshniks:
“Listen to us, oh Agas of Jutbina,
Here are your beds and your places for sleeping,
Take your rest now with no care and no worry,
For we will watch o’er you all through the nighttime.”
The Agas were guarded by Sokol Halili,
And watching nearby, too, was Zuk Bajraktari,
In the beech forest made merry the coursers,
Next to the water were singing the zanas,
The song of the nightingales set them to dancing.
The Agas slept tight in the shade of the fir tree,
None saw the zanas but Zuk and Halili,
The two of them heard them, the two of them watched them,
They watched how the zanas did sing and did frolic,
And how in the meadows they went to pick flowers,
Watched how they lured the goats out of the pine trees,
And how they disrobed and did bathe in the sources.
The night of Saint Andrew seemed to them an instant,
As the moon was descending behind the beech forests,
And quickly endeavoured to make its departure,
Despite the appeals of the young men to keep it.
When declining, the moon it did sink o’er the hilltops,
Spoke out the great zana and called to it, saying:
“The dew has now fallen, the sun has not risen,
Linger, oh moon, do not hasten to leave us,
Only at night are the waters refreshing,
The breezes delight us as never beforehand,
Cast your light still on that double-peaked mountain,
Keep up your vigil, watch over the pine trees,
Linger, oh moon, and take time in your setting.”
How well did the moon hear the words of the zana,
And hovering over the hills took position
Until the sun made its ascent o’er the mountains,
Spreading its sunbeams of white and magenta.
And when the Almighty consented to daylight,
The moon finally set and sank into the pine trees,
And the zanas abandoned their springs and departed,
And the nightingales broke off their song and fell silent.
The two lads got up and returned to the campsite.
Asleep there like logs they encountered the Agas,
All resting like tree trunks spread out in the clearing.
At the top of his voice cried out Sokol Halili,
“Arise, oh good men, for the sun is now shining!”
They woke up the Agas one after the other,
All of them slumbering in the high pastures.
The men, sitting down, took their place by the fire,
Sullenly scowled the old man of the çeta,
And, not a word to the others did mumble.
Sulking he sat plucking grass from the meadow,
And only much later did he begin speaking:
“Listen to me now, my kreshnik companions,
Together have we many exploits accomplished,
But Mujo has stolen the praise and the honour,
Our ways must now part, oh Gjeto Basho Mujo,
You have no more need for this old fellow’s çeta.”
Gjeto Basho Mujo at this was offended:
“May the Almighty curse you, Dizdar Osman Aga,
As long as the sun shines we’ll not split our çetas.”
In anger the old man turned back to him, saying:
“Let him curse if he will, oh Gjeto Basho Mujo,
Our çetas are split now, we’ll ride back divided.”
“A curse be upon you, you grey-headed Aga,
You’re destroying yourself and destroying me, also,
It seems to me now that you’ve lost all your reason,
Unyoking the oxen and letting them wander.”
Mujo then rose to his feet and departed,
Left in a huff to be near to his courser,
There did he find that his horse had been weeping,
Shuffling about with its front legs a-pawing,
The courser, it seemed, had shown pity on Mujo.
At once he returned to the camp of the Agas,
“Do you hear me, oh men,” did he cry to the Agas,
“We must never divide them, no, çeta from çeta,
For from a signal my courser did give me,
We will not reach our houses alive if divided.”
In reply did address him Dizdar Osman Aga,
Speaking in words full of scorn and derision:
“It looks to me, Mujo, as if you are aging,
If it’s but a few Slavic fighters who scare you.”
At this interrupted him Sokol Halili:
“We haven’t set out, men, to fight and to quarrel,
We’ve set out together to go on a sortie,
And in all our raiding we’ll travel the highways,
And çeta from çeta we’ll not be divided.”
In anger replied then the grey-headed Aga:
“What could you know as Mujo’s little brother?
I wish you fair journey, be off now without me!
Sufficient in width for us both are the highways,
Each of the çetas will now go its own way,
The route to New Kotor is what I’ll be taking,
Perchance for some booty will I go marauding,
Perchance I will chop off a head with my sabre,
Perchance I’ll be able to capture a maiden,
And with her make happy some boy in Jutbina.”
With these words of farewell did he make his departure,
Onto the back of his horse jumped the old man,
And following him did embark thirty Agas,
Who with him set out for the town of New Kotor.
Last in the party, a young lad looked backwards,
Just as the coursers were crossing the beech groves,
Through the beech forests and harsh rocky valley,
Gazing in longing was Zuk Bajraktari.
His eyebrows were raised as he searched the horizon,
Searching to find his one friend and companion,
Hoping he’d see his friend, Sokol Halili.
With a lance in his hand was Halili now standing
At the edge of the beech grove, on his steed was leaning,
Watching his friend disappear through the beech grove,
Watching his friend vanish into the woodlands,
And when their eyes met in despair and in longing,
When their eyes met through the trees of the forest,
When their eyes met in one last contemplation,
In sombre affliction tears streamed down their faces.
Behind the tall peaks now the sun was fast setting,
The çeta continued its way through the mountains,
Thirty Agas stayed put and accompanied Mujo,
Among them reigned silence, not one word was spoken,
Mujo then turned to his friends and suggested:
“Let us return in good health to Jutbina,
But from a signal my courser did give me,
We’ll never succeed in uniting the çetas.”
Following him spoke up Sokol Halili:
“Listen to me now, my dear elder brother,
If they return home in such arrogant humour,
Never will we have respite from their bragging!”
They made themselves ready and saddled their coursers,
And spent the day searching the high mountain pastures,
Nowhere at all was there game to be sighted,
Nowhere were çetniks to combat and vanquish.
They spent the next night at the foot of a fir tree,
The coursers were put out to graze in the meadows,
The Agas refreshed themselves near the cool fountains.
Alone at the fir tree paused Mujo and pondered,
Watching the steeds as they played in the meadows,
How splendid the Agas looked eating their dinner,
Then, later on, when the feasting was finished,
Mujo addressed once again his companions:
“Hear me once more, oh Agas of Jutbina,
I shall look out for your safety this evening.”
Mujo held vigil for all his companions,
Who slept safe and sound until dawn in the morning.
The Agas were washing in springs and the fountains,
A bonfire was set ablaze under the fir tree.
Mujo arose and went up the hill, climbing
Through the beech forest he hiked to the hilltop.
There he surveyed the whole Realm of the Christians,
Casting his eyes on the roads and the highways,
Nowhere at all was there game to be sighted,
Nowhere were çetniks to combat and vanquish,
But when his eyes met the Peak of Mount Xhuri,
There, at a crossroads right under the summit,
Under the summit up in the high meadows,
Did he catch sight of the maids of Behuri.
They had gone up to the high mountain pastures
To cool themselves off in the springs and the fountains,
Thirty pandours were with them to guard and protect them.
Losing no time, he returned to the Agas,
In less than a moment they made themselves ready,
His band of companions he led to the fountains,
And there in the haystacks he set up an ambush,
Fifteen companions he hid on one roadside,
Fifteen companions he hid on the other,
Placing himself in the midst of the highway,
To Sokol Halili he turned and did ask him:
“Will you chop off their heads, or would it be better
To capture the pandours and make them our prisoners?”
“Chop off their heads, may the devil dispatch them,
I’ll capture the maidens and make them my prisoners!”
In no time at all, in a flash they were sighted,
All thirty pandours the trap were approaching,
Mujo then aimed and shot one of his arrows,
Hitting the first one who fell and was slaughtered,
All thirty Agas sprang out of the ambush,
Killing and slaughtering all of the pandours,
Many a head there was chopped off by Mujo,
And the maidens were taken by Halili prisoner.
Then they returned to the high mountain pastures,
There did they rest at a site in the meadows,
Mujo gave a slap to his thighs as he sat there,
Causing Halili to cry out and ask him:
“Why are you slapping your thighs, brother Mujo?”
“My lance and my arrows I left at the fountain.”
“You can forget them,” Halili advised him,
“Lances and arrows are easy to come by,
And many a rifle we have in Jutbina.”
“Of many a weapon we’ve taken possession,
But I’ll not go back to Jutbina without them.”
“I will then go,” said Halili, “and find them.”
But Mujo would not let his brother depart, and
Instead, he got up and he mounted his courser,
And off at a gallop he rode down the mountain,
The arrows he found at the side of a beech tree,
His lance was still lying not far from the fountain.
When Mujo bent over to drink of the water,
He turned his head sideways and noticed an ora,
“Do not, for God’s sake, partake here of the water,
Till you fell the head of Behuri the Captain,
Where are you going, what is your direction?”
“Back to Jutbina, if it be the Lord’s pleasure.”
“And what if they happen to ask in Jutbina
How the kulla is doing of Behuri the Captain?”
“May God give increase to your dance-line, oh ora,
Well have you spoken,” replied to her Mujo.
“Drink, oh Mujo, to your fill,” said the ora,
But Mujo refused to partake of the water,
Neither would drink nor give drink to his courser.
Mujo swore an oath to the Almighty, saying:
“I shall set off and go straight to his kulla!”
Onto the back of his courser climbed Mujo,
Not one command did he bother to utter,
The courser itself knew too well the direction,
Out of its mouth there were yellow flames spewing,
Billows of smoke and of dust rose behind it,
As if it were flying, from hillside to hillside,
The courser continued apace towards the kulla.
The gate to the courtyard did Mujo find open,
And on his steed did he venture to enter,
With two keys of steel had the ora supplied him
And, leading his courser down into the stables,
He passed through the doorway and entered the parlour.
There he discovered a gold-handled sabre,
Much finer it seemed to him than any other,
And into one thousand small pieces he broke it,
Then to another room did he continue,
The walls of the chamber, in blood they were covered,
There thirty heads he found hanging around him,
He knew who they were, “they’re my Agas, commanders!”
Seeing the heads, Mujo grew pale in horror,
No longer could he withstand it or stay there
And without delay a new room did he enter,
There lay the sabres, full thirty in number,
He knew them full well, they belonged to the Agas.
Next was a hall which he opened and entered,
It was the warehouse for storing gunpowder,
Piled high with powder sacks, up to the rooftop.
Mujo got a long wick ready,
Placed it in the sacks of powder,
Then he hastened to the courtyard,
To listen to the earth exploding,
But then he saw Behuri coming,
Watched him go down to the gateway,
And call out for his missing daughter,
But no one to his call responded.
To a vantage point he clambered
And gazed at the view around him,
There he glimpsed his only daughters
At a beech tree by a fountain,
To their knees Halili forced them.
Behuri, two heads beside him,
Hurled them out into the courtyard,
In an instant Mujo knew them,
One was Dizdar Osman Aga,
The other one Zuk Bajraktari,
Mujo was profoundly shaken,
Behuri set off up the mountain.
To himself did Mujo ponder,
“Should he reach the mountain pastures,
Like lambs will he dispatch the Agas.”
Hastily Mujo departed
Nowhere did he rest his courser.
When Mujo arrived at the head of the valley,
Behuri was nearing the side of the valley,
When Mujo arrived at the heart of the valley,
Behuri had already reached the high pastures,
Mujo then turned and he asked of Behuri:
“Who is this man riding through the high pastures?”
Behuri then turned and to Mujo gave answer:
“Is it you my eyes see, Gjeto Basho Mujo?”
“Yes, I am Mujo,” he told him, responding,
“I have been looking for you in the heavens,
But, thank God, here on the earth have I found you.”
Behuri turned back and rode down to the valley,
Down to the war grounds for them to do battle,
Behuri then gave to his rival the option:
“Will you take flight, Mujo, or first attack me?”
“Whenever I come for a duel on the war grounds,
I prefer to take off, let the rival attack me.”
With this did he turn and take flight in a gallop.
Behuri advanced and caught up with his rival,
Hurling his thin lance in Mujo’s direction.
Down on its knees did fall Mujo’s swift courser,
And over their heads did the lance whistle by them.
Behuri then took out his cudgel and hurled it,
Up on its hind legs jumped swiftly the courser,
Under its jaw did the cudgel streak by them.
Behuri then turned and took flight at a gallop,
Mujo called out to his courser, proclaiming:
“Rise, for the day is upon us, oh courser,
For you now to act, for restoring our honour!”
How swiftly the courser caught up with his rival,
Mujo approached, riding quickly behind him,
And hurled his thin lance in Behuri’s direction,
Onto its girth fell the dapple-grey courser,
And the lance, flying by, was unable to graze them.
Mujo then took out his cudgel and hurled it,
But to one side sprang the dapple-grey courser,
And the cudgel flew by, was unable to strike them.
Then did the heroes assail one another,
And sabre to sabre did fight in a battle,
The sabres lost half of their length in the fighting,
Dismounting their horses, now on the ground standing,
The warriors tackled the belts of each other,
And in man-to-man combat were turning and twisting,
Neither was able to toss down the other.
The sun was descending in gold hues and colours,
Vaunting, the warriors sang out their praises,
As they were wrestling and grabbing each other,
Of all of their feats and their deeds were they bragging.
Then to Mujo did Behuri turn, saying:
“I’ve chopped the head off of so many an Aga,
Thirty of their heads do I keep in my palace,
Severed I have all their heads from their bodies.”
“But where, tell me where, are your pandours awaiting?”
Mujo then turned and of him did inquire,
“And I’m in possession of both of your daughters,
Bereft of their heads are now all of your pandours,
I left them behind on the high mountain pastures.”
Taken aback by the challenge of Mujo,
Behuri repeated his vaunting by saying:
“But thirty Agas I’ve slaughtered, oh Mujo,
And chopped off the heads of the two of their leaders,
One of their names was Dizdar Osman Aga,
And the other one was known as Zuk Bajraktari.”
Then on the spot, in no time whatsoever,
Did they hear a thunderbolt echoing distant,
Like a storm on the sea bringing frightening weather,
Like a storm in the sky with the flashing of lightning,
The warrior paused, Mujo turned to Behuri:
“Can there be thunder when skies are uncovered,
Or is it the sea which we seem to hear roaring?
There can be no thunder when skies are uncovered,
Nor is there a storm on the sea which is roaring,
For it is the din of your kullas, Behuri,
The earth is now quaking, they’re falling to ruins,
For while you were out in the courtyard, Behuri,
It was I, it was Mujo inside of your manor,
It was Mujo who broke down the door of your stables,
It was Mujo who ransacked the rooms of your kulla.
A wick did I put to the room with the powder,
And see, I have razed to the ground your fine palace!”
Mujo had vented his spleen with perfection.
Behuri in rage now railed out at him, saying:
“If I am alive and am able to do so,
I will build in its place yet another one, better,
And your head’ll be planted right in the foundations,
Be careful, Mujo, for your downfall’s approaching.”
With forearms ramming one another,
They hurled each other at the beech trees,
Their flesh all torn among the sharp rocks,
The coursers took off for the valley,
Set aflame were all the oak trees,
Singed the beech trees, all did wither.
And what gasping as they grappled,
From the meadow to a clearing
In which stood a blackened tree stump,
Mujo tripped upon it, stumbled,
The shkja got Mujo to the ground now,
Pinned him down with both hands captive,
To the mountain oras Mujo
Cried out: “Can it be you’re sleeping?
Where’s the promise that you made me?
I’ve never been worse off, oh oras.”
In flight an ora hastened to him
And into Mujo’s ear she whispered:
“Have you forgotten what I told you,
Not to start a duel on Sunday?”
“I know it well, but I was forced to,
It wasn’t me who started fighting.”
Never did he listen better:
“‘Oh look, the sun!’ shout to Behuri,
And when he turns his head to see it,
Put your hand in his left pocket,
There you’ll find a poisoned dagger,
And if you skilfully manoeuvre,
The shkja will look at you no longer.”
The ora flew off to the mountains,
How well had Mujo listened to her!
Skilfully did he address him:
“Look, we’ve stopped the sun, Behuri,
We’ve been duelling since morning
And not an inch has it moved forward.”
The shkja then turned his head to see it,
And Mujo rammed the dagger in him,
To the ground fell dead Behuri,
With Mujo lying caught beneath him.
Mujo called his steed in Turkish,
“Neath the dead shkja I’m caught lying.”
Neighing then, approached the courser,
And rolled the Slavic fighter over.
To his feet jumped Mujo, bloodied,
And chopped the head off with his sabre,
And by its whiskers he attached it
To the pommel of his saddle.
Mujo went back to the mountains,
There to find his thirty Agas,
Behuri’s girls were with Halili.
Seeing Behuri’s head was with him,
Did three Agas faint in horror.
Mujo turned to them and stated:
“Curse you, Agas of Jutbina,
How you’ve all turned into cowards,
Had alive you’d seen Behuri,
You would all have died in horror.”
Behind the peaks the sun was setting,
The moon was beaming through the beech grove,
Glowing on the mountain highway,
A wedding procession was on it,
All the escorts were on horseback,
With only one on foot, Halili,
Loudly were the maidens weeping,
The stars looked at the moon and asked it:
“Cast your light, the Earthly Beauty
Looks as if she’s lost her way now!”
Cleverly, the moon responded:
“We’re too far off to view them clearly,
But they are not the Earthly Beauties,
They’re the daughters of Behuri,
See the head at Mujo’s saddle.
They’re on the highway to Jutbina,
I who shine will be first bridesmaid,
The second bridesmaid is the ora
Who guards Halili’s foot from slipping.”
When they finally reached Jutbina,
Did they hold a celebration,
Finely feasting at the wedding,
With brides the fairest ever seen there!

shqip / Albanian


[Sung by Lulash Zefi of Curraj i Epërm (District of Tropoja). Published in: Hylli i Dritës, Shkodra, 1924, p. 257 sq.; Visaret e Kombit, vol. II. ed. Bernardin Palaj and Donat Kurti (Tirana 1937), p. 49-62; and Folklor shqiptar II, Epika legjendare (Cikli i kreshnikëve), Vellimi i parë. ed. Qemal Haxhihasani (Tirana 1966), p. 92-103. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie and Janice Mathie-Heck, and first published in English in Songs of the Frontier Warriors (Këngë Kreshnikësh): Albanian Epic Verse in a Bilingual English-Albanian Edition (Wauconda, Illinois: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2004).]