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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

Zuku Bajraktar

Zuku Bajraktar captures the Slavic warrior Baloz Sedelija and takes him home as his prisoner. His mother secretly falls in love with the baloz and offers to free him. The baloz is afraid of Zuku’s strength, so the mother offers to blind her son. The mother taunts Zuku, telling him his father was stronger and could burst ten ropes tied around him. Zuku lets himself be bound and is thus captured by the mother, who blinds both him and his courser. Wandering aimlessly in the mountains, the blind Zuku is met by an ora who restores his sight with some herbs and tells him to take vengeance. A friend of Zuku’s advises him to dress as a beggar and steal his way into his mother’s home. At midnight, Zuku slays the baloz and reveals himself to the horrified mother. In the forest, Zuku ties the mother to a beech tree, covers her in pitch and burns her to death. “May God give no one such a mother.”




























































When Zuku Bajraktar was living,
What a splendid lad he looked, and
Strove to be just like his father.
The lad, they say, got up one morning,
Saddled his horse and girded on armour,
He seized his rifle, took it with him,
He snatched his cudgel and his sabre,
And turning did he mount his courser,
To hunt up in the mountain pastures.
Through many pastures did he wander,
But nowhere was there game to shoot at,
No shkja fighters for the slaying,
Zuku cursed the mountain pastures:
“May no game graze on these pastures,
And may no çeta come here raiding!”
But there beside him was his ora,
She’d been watching out for Zuku,
The ora turned to him and spoke out:
“Do not curse the pastures, Zuku,
Have a look into your field glass,
There, you’ll see the game for hunting,
A band of shkjas out on a sortie.”
Zuku looked into his field glass,
There he saw the game for hunting,
Saw the shkjas out on a sortie.
He went riding to pursue them,
And came upon two great shkja fighters:
One was Smilaliq Alija,
The other Baloz Sedelija.
God did grant the lad good fortune,
He slaughtered Smilaliq Alija,
And captured Baloz Sedelija,
And then returned home with his prisoner.
He locked his prisoner in a chamber
Hands and feet bound, with a trap door.
Zuku turned to his mother, saying:
“These nine chambers may you open,
But the last one do not enter.”
But what did mother do, the poor thing?
She watched the baloz through the closet
And staring at him, did desire him,
Approaching, she addressed the baloz:
“Shall I open up the chamber,
Shall I free you from your shackles?”
The baloz turned to her and answered:
“By the grace of God be quick now,
Swiftly open up the chamber,
Swiftly free me from my shackles.”
The bitch, addressing him, responded:
“Give me first your word of honour,
That you’ll take me for your wife now.”
So said Baloz Sedelija:
“I can’t take you for my wife now,
For your son is a great hero,
I am far too frightened of him,
For he’ll seize us both and slay us.”
The bitch, addressing him, responded:
“With my son we’ll have no problem,
I can easily deceive him,
I’ll then tie his hands and feet up,
Then I’ll blind him, gouge his eyes out,
And carve the eyes out of his courser,
I’ll put the boy onto his courser
And send him off into the mountains
Up there he will be abandoned,
And the bears and wolves will eat him.”
The baloz gave his word of honour:
“I will take you for my wife now.”
To her son returned the mother:
“God damn you, little son, my Zuku,
You’re no hero like your granddad,
Nor as strong as was your father,
He could knock down ancient beech trees
And could lift up weighty boulders,
No work did he leave unfinished,
He slaughtered lads before they grew up,
Kidnapped seven-year-old maidens,
Often did he go to battle,
And never left his prisoners living,
When with ten ropes they bound and tied him,
All ten ropes at once he ruptured!”
The boy now trembled and responded:
“I will be just like my father,
In fact, I’ll be a greater hero.
Though I’m only thirteen years old,
I sliced down three shkjas with my sabre,
And made a prisoner of a baloz.
Take ten ropes and tie me with them,
And ten ropes I’ll break like father.”
The mother took ten ropes and bound him,
Little Zuku could not break them,
The more the boy now strove to rend them,
The more his skin was lacerated,
And in pain he started screaming,
But the mother did not free him,
Rather weighed his feet in shackles
And his hands she bound in fetters,
Then she went to see the baloz,
Taking with her wine and raki,
Well with food and drink they feasted.
And when midnight was upon them,
What was Zuku’s mother doing?
She heated pokers in the fireplace,
And with them she put his eyes out,
And with them the courser blinded,
She placed the boy onto his courser
And bound his legs under its belly,
And sent him off into the mountains,
There to leave the boy abandoned,
So that the bears or wolves would eat him.
Oh, have mercy, God Almighty,
How the boy wept and lamented,
How the courser shrieked and cried out,
“What’s wrong, courser, why the howling?
If I had the eyes I once had,
We’d do many deeds of daring,
But now my mother’s gouged my eyes out,
And I don’t know where to take you.”
To the boy replied the courser:
“How can I find drinking water,
How can I get leaves as fodder?
I’m so weakened by my hunger
And can’t see where I am going.”
How the courser kept on neighing,
Making deaf the mountain pastures!
But the mountain oras heard it,
And heard Zuku and approached him,
And of Zuku they inquired:
“What is all this noise here, young man?”
“I can’t speak to tell you, oras,
For my mouth is blocked by foaming,
For my tongue has now been shortened,
For my mother, she did blind me.”
The oras turned to him, responding:
“You must give your word of honour,
To take vengeance on your mother,
We’ll restore your eyesight to you,
And make your eyes as you once had them.”
The boy gave them his word of honour:
“I’ll take vengeance on my mother,
Who dares treat her son as she did,
Shan’t remain among the living,”
The oras, having heard him speaking,
Left to find a mountain flower,
There they plucked an alpine blossom,
And on the boy’s eyes did press it,
Three drops alone were quite sufficient,
Then they washed and cleansed his eyes out,
And to him restored his eyesight,
Made his eyes as he’d once had them.
The oras left, the boy departed,
To go and see his one companion,
There ten days and nights he rested,
Until his body’s strength is recovered,
To his friend he turned and uttered:
“I gave the oras my word of honour
That I’d take vengeance on my mother.”
Zuku’s friend was of great wisdom,
And did teach him what to do next:
“Put old clothes and shoes on, Zuku,
Carry a ragged sack now with you,
So you’ll look just like a beggar.
Walk the road and see your mother,
And try to get in through the doorway.”
The boy then put old clothes and shoes on,
He took a beggar’s staff to lean on,
And a sack for round his shoulders,
This he filled with several wheat corns.
To his courser did he speak then:
“You go your way, I’ll go my way,
For today I must take vengeance
No one else has ever taken,
Did you hear me, my good courser?
Wander freely, my white courser,
For when at last the day is over,
Searching door to door, I’ll find you.”
Zuku, dressed up like a beggar,
Appeared before his mother’s doorway,
The mother looked but did not know him.
She cast some grain into his old sack,
Full of holes through which it tumbled,
Zuku bent down to collect it,
Picking until night stole on them,
Then he turned and asked his mother:
“I beg you, let me spend the night here!”
This is what the mother answered:
“No, I cannot let you enter.”
Once again Zuku implored her:
“I beg you, let me spend the night here,
For the steep hill to this kulla
Has been too much for my kneecaps,
And I fear the wolves will eat me
Before tonight I reach the village.”
The baloz shouted to the mother:
“Why not let the beggar enter?
You’ll put me otherwise to shame here,
For I’ve never left a guest out,
Rise and open up now quickly!”
So they opened up the doorway,
And set the boy beside the fireplace,
Bread and salt they offered Zuku,
But he refused to touch his dinner,
Fearing some trick from his mother,
When at last came time for sleeping,
Did they give him little bedding,
A bit of straw served as a mattress,
And as covers served the house beams.
The baloz retired with the mother,
Well with food and drink they feasted,
And the two of them made merry
Til they fell asleep together,
And when midnight was upon them
The boy rose to his feet, awake now,
There the wooden chest he opened,
Dressed in his Hungarian garments,
Girded on his golden sabre,
The blade he sharpened, dipped in poison.
With a kick he broke the door down,
But neither of them was awakened,
Then he pounded on the floorboards
And this time did wake the woman.
The mother saw her son before her,
The viper sprang forth to embrace him,
“You have no son to kiss,” cried Zuku,
“Go and kiss the man you’ve taken,
Had you wanted to embrace me,
You’d have looked me in the eyeballs,
For I’m not a beggar begging,
Your first-born son now stands before you
Whose father’s dead and mother’s evil.”
Hastily he drew his sabre,
A mighty kick he gave the baloz,
And with his voice let out a war cry:
“Rise, oh shkja, may God confound you,
Whose eyes did you once dare to gouge out?
Whose hands and feet did you once tie up?
Know who Zuku Bajraktar is!”
To his feet now jumped the baloz,
Only twice did Zuku strike him,
Causing head and arm to plummet,
The head, he seized it by the whiskers
And hurled it bumping down the staircase,
He fixed his eyes then on his mother,
“Don’t be like that,” said the mother,
“For he’s not been a bad husband,
A friend he was of your forefathers.”
“Wish you’d never been my mother!
What kind of friend of my forefathers
Would shame my father in his coffin?
But you’re, woman, like all women,
Put no store in what you utter,
You had one infant, your own son,
And him you blinded for a lover.
Tell me, mother, one thing only,
How is it you wish to perish?
Covered up with tar and brimstone,
And your two feet set on fire?
Or shall I tie you to my courser
For, may you know, I’ve my horse back,
And, as you see, I’ve my eyes back,
These my eyes which you did gouge out,
The oras gave me back my eyesight.
The earth cannot bear such a mother,
For as long as there’s been sunlight,
Son by mother’s ne’er been blinded.”
“If that’s the way you treat a mother,
You will put yourself to shame, son.”
“What you did will be done to you,
You to me and I to you now,
Think and choose the death you wish for.”
The mother took flight to the neighbours,
And told the people of her trouble:
“Farewell to you, friends and neighbours,
For ne’er more will I now see you.”
All the neighbours fell before him
And begged the boy for mercy, saying:
“Do not do this to your mother.”
“It’s no more than she did to me,”
Said the boy and would not listen.
Instead, he took with him his sabre,
And in the forest felled a beech tree,
Two hundred years old was the beech tree,
And chopped the tree into four pieces,
At the crossroads did he plant them
And to them did he tie his mother,
Set her up as an example,
For dealing with such crime and evil.
With tar and pitch did Zuku paint her,
And at her head and feet laid fire
So that her soul would flee such evil.
Ten days and nights he left her burning,
May God give no one such a mother!
And may the world be as it once was,
And may God grant our salvation.

shqip / Albanian


[Recorded in Shala (District of Shkodra). Published in: Visaret e Kombit, vol. II. ed. Bernardin Palaj and Donat Kurti (Tirana 1937), p. 89-96; and Folklor shqiptar II, Epika legjendare (Cikli i kreshnikëve), Vellimi i parë. ed. Qemal Haxhihasani (Tirana 1966), p. 126-132. 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).]