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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

Ali Bajraktari or the Word of Honour

Ali Bajraktari is caught by the king’s Hungarian guards and is put into prison. In order to get his hands on Ali’s bride, the king sends back a double, but the plot fails when the bride recognizes that the man is not her husband. The king then writes her, telling her that Ali will remain in prison forever. She resolves to wait for him for three years before remarrying. Three years pass and Ali receives word that his wife is about to marry Halili. He begs the king for six days’ leave from prison, giving his word of honour that he will return. The king’s daughter offers to stand bail for Ali if he should not come back. Ali returns home looking like a poor beggar. His wife, living with Mujo and Halili, recognizes a mark on his forehead and the two escape through a trap door. Mujo follows them, but since Ali had only taken what rightly belonged to him, they make peace and hold a six-day celebration. On the sixth day, Ali announces that he must go back to prison and sets off for the Kingdom. The king, seeing that Ali has kept his promise, then gives him his freedom to return home.




































































Once there was a widowed mother
God bestowed a son upon her,
A fair name his mother gave him,
Called him Ali Bajraktari.
With great trouble did she raise him,
Fed him, begging at the doorsteps,
In rags she dressed him, found on bushes.
Twelve years old the lad had turned now,
Herds God gave him and possessions,
A fair bride did his mother promise,
In three weeks would be the wedding,
Three full weeks came and departed,
To fetch the bride she sent attendants,
Who brought this fairest maiden with them.
The husband had one special feature:
He did not leave his house for three years,
His mother turned to him and wondered:
“Imprisoned you’ve been since you married,
You never go and see your friends, son,
Neither do you see your uncles,
Your father’s friends you have forgotten.”
The lad turned to his mother, saying:
“Damn you, hold your tongue now, mother,
All the problems, you have caused them,
My bride was too young when you found her,
My house, you know, is on the border,
And I’m afraid if I should leave it,
The shkjas would come here and destroy it,
They would take my bride and steal her,
And throw me out onto the highway.
Give me now your word of honour
The door to no one must you open,
Unless your son, Ali, is knocking,
Then I’ll visit friends and go out.”
The mother vowed her word of honour,
The door to no one would she open,
Unless her son, Ali, was knocking.
Ali donned his shoes and garments,
And turning, clambered on his courser,
Setting out upon his journey,
One last time he turned and, looking
At his home, began to curse it:
“May you, home, enjoy no fortune,
May the king’s crowbar thus destroy you,
Scattering roof tiles to the Kingdom.”
Then he set off on his journey,
And when he reached the mountain pastures,
In the shade near springs he rested.
Ali found a spot for sleeping,
Water from the springs he drank of,
His heart rejoiced in the cold water,
And at the spring sleep overtook him.
The king was hunting in the mountains,
And came upon the sleeping Ali.
To his Hungarian guards he spoke out:
“Look, a Turk’s come to the fountain,
And he has not even seen us,
Time has come to hold him hostage,
And of his bride to take possession.”
The Hungarian guards rode down the meadow,
Tied up Ali as he slept there,
Threw poor Ali into prison,
There to be in jail forever.
Now, see what the king is doing!
All his subjects he assembled,
Chose a lad who looked like Ali,
Made him clothes like those of Ali,
Gave him Ali’s horse and sabre,
To the lad he turned, proclaiming:
“If you can make the bride your hostage,
I will make you rich forever!
The lad rode off to Ali’s mother,
And at the doorway called out, knocking:
“Come at once, unbolt the doorway
For your son, Ali, is back now.”
The matron did rejoice and call out:
“Go and open up the door, bride,
For my son, Ali, is back now.”
The bride was of a well-bred family
And put her head out of the window,
Right away, the shkja she saw through,
Calling up to warn the mother:
“It’s not your son and not my husband,
It’s a shkja of Slavic mother,
Who has come to take me hostage.”
To the shkja the bride then called out:
“Be off, shkja of Slavic mother,
For I see you’re not my Ali,
But a shkja of Slavic mother,
Who has come to take me hostage,
For your voice than his is rougher
And much paler is your courser.”
The shkja looked up at her, responding:
“Come and open up the doorway,
My voice is rough from the cold water,
And beech leaves have turned pale my courser,
Open or I’ll kick the door in,
And tear you into little pieces.”
The bride at this was slightly frightened,
What did she answer to the lad now?
“I will first ascend the tower,
With a rifle fire a warning
To tell Jutbina, the krahina.
All to gather and assemble,
Then I’ll open up the doorway.”
What did the lad then say, responding?
“Not even once since I’ve been absent
Have Agas come on time to see me,
All Jutbina’s not at home now.
They would only ridicule us
If you locked the only son out.”
At this the maiden was deluded,
Went and opened up the doorway,
Then she slipped back up the staircase
But the shkja was right behind her,
Caught the bride on the veranda,
“To arms, oh warriors!” did she cry out.
The shkja was awed and panic-stricken,
And, though his hand was on her ankle,
Did he turn and leave without her.
To the king the shkja proceeded
And to his lord he swore, asserting:
“My hands in fact I had around her
When she called out to the warriors,
I was awed and panic-stricken
And I turned and left without her.”
To the king he went on, swearing:
“I’ve ne’er seen a fairer maiden.”
The king inclined to him, responding:
“Come on, lad, now don’t you worry,
Slowly, surely will we get her.”
Then the king wrote an epistle
And to the bride did he transmit it,
What was written in the letter?
“You may be the bride of Ali,
But choose yourself another husband,
For your Ali’s in my prison
And he’ll be in jail forever.”
In her hand she held the letter,
The poor girl’s tears were dripping on it,
The mother turned to her and asked her:
“What, oh bride, is in the letter?
I’ve seen you reading many letters,
But never seen them make you cry, dear.”
The bride turned to her mother, stating:
“It says that they have captured Ali,
And into prison have they thrown him,
He will be in jail forever.
For three full years will I await him,
For three full years I’ll write him letters
And try to free him if I’m able,
It’s a challenge for us, mother.
But if in three full years I fail to,
I will choose another husband.”
For three full years she wrote him letters,
And never did she get an answer,
Then the bride did choose another,
Marry she’d Sokol Halili.
One last time she wrote a letter.
What was written in the letter?
“If you’re still alive, oh Ali,
Let me quickly have your answer,
Mother’s died and I have waited,
Now I’m taking a new husband,
In three weeks they’ll come to get me.”
Ali did receive this letter,
And did open it and read it,
What a scream did Ali let out,
How the palace bricks did tremble!
The king went down to him and asked him:
“Why the screaming, what’s the matter?
Is your uncut beard the bother,
Or the knee-deep mud you stand in,
Or your shirt, that you’ve no clean one?”
Ali turned to him and answered:
“No, king, none of these afflict me,
It’s not my beard that is the bother,
Nor the knee-deep mud I stand in,
Nor that I can’t change my garments.
I left behind my aged mother,
At home alone was she abandoned,
Now I’ve learned that she has perished,
Who will dig the grave for mother?
They’ll eat her up, the birds and ravens,
I would ask you now to trust me,
Though I have no bail to give you,
But I can give my word of honour.
By God I swear upon my honour
That in six days I will return here.”
But the king refused to trust him
Till his daughter spoke out, saying:
“I will stand as bail for Ali,
I will take on all his sentence,
If in six days he’s not back here.”
The king agreed then to release him,
Ali set off for his home, and
When the hero finally reached it,
He found Bylykbashi Mujo.
“Greetings to you, nice to meet you.”
“Welcome to the house, poor beggar,”
Answered Mujo and inquired:
“Where’re you from, where are you going?”
Ali turned and said to Mujo:
“Today I was released from prison.”
“Have you anything to tell me
About Ali Bajraktari?
Three years back, the king did catch him.”
Ali turned to him and answered:
“I was with that man in prison,
And in prison Ali perished,
I threw his bones out of the window,
For in the cell he’d started rotting,
But one final word he told me
And to his bride am I to tell it.”
Tears streamed down the face of Mujo,
He put his hand into his pocket,
Pulled out a hundred golden orums,
“Take this for the soul of Ali,”
Answered Mujo and continued:
“Thirty maids the bride are clothing,
And if they do not open for you,
Cry out ‘Mujo’ in a loud voice.”
When Ali went into the courtyard
There he met Sokol Halili.
“Greetings to you, nice to meet you.”
“Welcome to the house, poor beggar,”
Said Halili and inquired:
“Where’re you from, where are you going?”
Ali turned and thus responded:
“I have come back from the Kingdom,
Today I was released from prison.”
“Have you anything to tell me
About Ali Bajraktari?
Three years back, the king did catch him.”
“I was with that man in prison,
And in prison Ali perished,
I threw his bones out of the window,
For in the cell he’d started rotting.”
Tears streamed down Halili’s face now,
He put his hand into his pocket,
Pulled out fifty golden orums,
“Take this for the soul of Ali.”
When he got to the veranda,
There he met his aged mother.
“Greetings to you, aged woman.”
“Welcome to the house, poor beggar,”
Said the mother and inquired:
“Where are you from, where are you going?”
“I have come back from the Kingdom,
Today I was released from prison.”
“By the God who made you, beggar,
Have you anything to tell me
Of my son, Ali Bajraktari?”
“You must live alone now, woman,
For in prison Ali perished,
I threw his bones out of the window,
For in the cell he’d started rotting.”
Tears streamed down his mother’s face now,
She put her hand into her pocket
And pulled out of it coins uncounted,
“Take these for the soul of Ali.”
Ali walked up to the bedroom,
But the maids refused to open,
So he called out in a loud voice.
Mujo rushed up to the bedroom,
Threw out all the thirty maidens
And allowed Ali to enter.
The bride then bowed and did inquire:
“Where’re you from, where are you going?”
“I have come back from the Kingdom,
Today I was released from prison.”
“Have you anything to tell me
Of my husband, Ali Bajraktari,
Whom three years the king’s held prisoner?”
“I was with that man in prison,
And in prison Ali perished,
I threw his bones out of the window.”
Tears streamed down the bride’s face also.
There was a mark on Ali’s forehead,
His long hair had kept it covered,
Ali brushed his hair aside, so
Then the bride could see his broad brow.
Thus the bride did recognize him
And sent him to the bath attendant.
Ali washed and changed his garments,
With the bride stole through a trap door,
Then they mounted Mujo’s courser,
And the two of them departed.
They were noticed by Halili
Who met Mujo and informed him:
“No poor beggar was that fellow,
He’s a shkja of Slavic mother,
I don’t care about the maiden,
How will we get back your courser?”
Mujo then said to Halili:
“Off with you, you foolish devil,
He’s taken back his own possessions.”
Mujo mounted Halili’s pony,
And spurred the foal into a gallop,
On the mountain pastures caught him,
Ali then cried to him, saying:
“By the Lord who did create me,
I’ve taken only my possessions.”
Mujo turned to him, responding:
“Let us hold two celebrations,
For the bride you have regained now
And another for your safety.”
For six full days they celebrated.
But when the six full days were over,
Ali to his bride lamented:
“I must go back to the kingdom,
I gave the king my word of honour,
That in six days I’d be back there,
But the king refused to trust me
‘Til as bail stood up his daughter,
Then the king agreed to free me,
I cannot deceive the maiden
Though ne’er more I’ll see Jutbina.”
Ali jumped onto his courser
And rode apace back to the Kingdom,
Out came the lackeys to receive him,
To take and care for Ali’s courser,
Thinking him their guest of honour.
Ali then informed them, saying:
“I am not a guest of honour,
Tell the king that I have come back.”
The king descended to the doorway,
Saw before him Ali standing,
And to Ali said, proclaiming:
“Best wishes for your homeward journey,
I see that you have kept your promise.”
Ali to his home then journeyed.

shqip / Albanian


[Sung by Palok Ujka of Kastrat (District of Malësia e Madhe). Published in: Visaret e Kombit, vol. II. ed. Bernardin Palaj and Donat Kurti (Tirana 1937), p. 108-117; and Folklor shqiptar II, Epika legjendare (Cikli i kreshnikëve), Vellimi i parë. ed. Qemal Haxhihasani (Tirana 1966), p. 142-149. 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).]