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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

Halili Avenges Mujo

The Agas in the mountains send Dizdar Osman Aga to fetch Mujo, their leader. Mujo has been ambushed by King Llabutani and lies in bed gravely wounded, attended by an ora, a serpent and a wolf. Dizdar is horrified at the wounds he sees on Mujo’s body. Mujo sends young Halili to replace him, but the Agas make fun of the lad. In his fury, Halili sets off by himself for the Kingdom to avenge the attack on his brother. There he captures Rusha, the king’s daughter, and spirits her off to a cave in the mountains. The king and his shkja warriors besiege the cave. Halili slays the king with his cudgel, but is encircled. The zanas, seeing Halili’s plight, hasten to Mujo, bind his wounds and restore his health with herbs. Mujo comes to Halili’s rescue and the shkjas take flight. It is only when Mujo tells him, that young Halili realizes he has slain the great Llabutani.


















































































Blessed we are, thanks to the Almighty!
For nothing we were until God did create us.
A windstorm did roar and did rage through Jutbina,
With billows of dust like the clouds through it swirling.
Where were the three hundred Agas now off to?
Where were the three hundred coursers now riding?
Kunora they reached in the high mountain pastures,
And there did the Agas espy a fair clearing,
A clearing surrounded by larches and beech trees,
In the midst of the clearing were fir trees and pine trees,
A thousand years old was one of the fir trees,
And three thousand years old was one of the pine trees.
There did the Agas climb down from their coursers,
The heroes sat down to give rest to their bodies,
All of the men were now tired and exhausted,
None of them there had a mind for conversing,
Nor in spring water did they seek refreshment.
Freeing their steeds, which they put out to pasture,
Themselves in the shade of the beech trees they gathered.
First of all spoke out Bud Aline Tali,
Spoke in amazement while watching the Agas:
“Good that we’ve come on a çeta, companions,
However the best man among us is wanting,
To shatter the earth we are lacking a hero,
For here Gjeto Basho Mujo is still missing.
Mujo has always been first in the çeta,
For this is his talent, his skill and profession,
Mujo knows well every inch of the Kingdom,
What will we do on our çeta without him?
With him in the çeta can no one attack us.
Whom will we send off to go and get Mujo?
Let’s send the old man, Dizdar Osman Aga,
Mujo’s his nephew, and very fond of him,
He will bring Mujo back into our çeta.”
To his feet clambered Dizdar Osman Aga,
He shook himself off and he buttoned his trousers,
Two or three times did he twirl up his whiskers,
And without delay did he call for his courser:
“Let us be off, oh good steed, for Jutbina.”
The courser then neighed, the whole clearing did tremble,
It was a fair courser that God had created,
The hide of its body all patchwork resembled,
With blotches of white and of black and of crimson,
Much like the flowers that bloom in the meadows.
“Hey, fellow,” shouted Dizdar Osman Aga,
Putting onto the courser the harness and bridle,
“You’ve eaten enough from the grass in the meadow,
Make yourself ready, we’re off to Jutbina,
To find Gjeto Basho Mujo and return him.”
The courser then neighed, with its hooves it was stamping.
“Calm down now, courser,” the old man did thunder.
Like a twenty-year-old did the old hero mount it,
Turning and taking the road to Jutbina.
Dizdar Osman Aga and his ten companions,
When all of them got to the meadow of Mujo,
There they encountered the mother of Mujo,
She was out washing the clothes at the fountain,
All of the stones there, in blood they were spattered.
The courser it neighed, with its hooves again pawing,
The old man then frowned and his eyebrows were sagging,
“Mother, good God, what is all of this blood here,
What unfortunate çeta, good woman,has caused it?
Nothing of this have we heard or been told of.”
Valiantly answered the mother of Mujo:
“When I awoke and got up in the morning,
Did I look out at the plains in the distance,
Did I look out at the green mountain meadows,
Did I look up at those dark mountain pastures,
Did I look out at the valleys and sources,
But Mujo was nowhere at all to be sighted.
In front of the gateway did I see two coursers,
Mujo’d gone raiding up in the high pastures,
There did my son come upon the king’s çeta,
And there did the shkjas slyly wait and surround him,
With their thirty spears all at once did they chase him,
Ten of them hit him, bored into his body,
Thanks be to God that the courser did save him,
The courser, good beast, did bring back to me Mujo.”
Weighing his words, did the old man address her:
“God would now seem to have willed our destruction.”
Then did he turn and did spur on his courser,
Grieved were the heroes and grieved were the horses,
Straight down the road, riding off on their journey,
Right to the door of the manor of Mujo.
Mujo himself stood and opened the doorway,
Barely erect, he returned to his bedside.
Dizdar Osman Aga inquired of Mujo:
“What’s going on here, Gjeto Basho Mujo?
All of these wounds, good man, where did you get them?”
With a smile on his lips did Mujo give answer:
“Up in the mountains had I gone out hunting,
Secretly did the king’s çeta surround me,
Thirty arrows did I see streak towards me,
Ten hit my body, my kneecaps the others,
Three of them injured my heart in the centre,
But thanks be to God that the courser did save me,
And managed to bring me somehow to the manor.
Up to that time I had never been injured,
But this one attack has indeed overwhelmed me,
For a sick person’s home may well be his graveyard,
A burden he is for himself and his family.”
Mujo crawled under the bedding and cowered.
Tears swelled the eyes of Dizdar Osman Aga,
But Mujo, despite this, would get up no longer.
Now began speaking Dizdar Osman Aga:
“Woe upon woe’s overtaken us, Mujo,
Three hundred Agas I’ve left in the mountains,
They were the Agas who sent me to get you,
None of the Agas had even imagined
The danger, the mishap that you have encountered,
Now we’ve no way to escape from the mountains!
Do me a favour, oh Mujo, I beg you,
Lend us your brother, young Aga Halili,
That with us he come when we raid in the Kingdom.”
Faintly did Mujo respond to the old man:
“I can’t give Halili, Dizdar Osman Aga,
For he’s never been on a çeta without me,
Should anyone there ever deign to insult him,
He’d fly off the handle for he is too young still.”
Dizdar Osman Aga did now interrupt him:
“Your protest, oh Mujo’s of no great importance,
For you must this moment accord me Halili,
Should anyone there ever deign to insult him,
I promise you, Mujo, that I will protect him!”
Mujo did pivot and spoke to Halili:
“Stand up now, my boy, go and saddle your courser,
So you can go on a raid with the kreshniks,
Gird on your weapons as best you can manage,
You don’t need to fret or to worry about me.”
Then turned Halili, replying to Mujo:
“I’m thrilled to set out, oh Mujo, with the çeta,
But don’t want to leave you in bed gravely injured,
I do not know, brother, who caused you the injury,
So by the Almighty who made us, oh brother,
And by our dear mother who once rocked our cradles,
Tell me, oh Mujo, who caused you the injury,
For I won’t know otherwise how to avenge you.”
“I’ll tell you now, brother, who caused me the injury,
It was Llabutani, a man from the Kingdom,
His palace is found at the end of the Kingdom,
At the end of the Kingdom is found his white kulla,
Be off with you now and godspeed to your çeta!”
Then spoke up the old man, Dizdar Osman Aga:
“Mujo, we’re ready to leave on our çeta
Now that Halili has girded his weapons
And now that Halili has saddled his courser.
Show us the wounds on your body now, Mujo.”
Mujo then pulled back a bit of the blanket,
And showed to the old man the wounds on his body.
The old man took note of the terrible lesions,
The blood and the pus there had covered his body,
A wound on his chest was as big as a fist is,
And all of his lungs were exposed by the lesions.
The heart of the man which continued its beating,
Was one full of knots and of knolls which deformed it.
Mujo pulled back even more of the blanket,
The old man was shaking in dread and in horror.
At the head of the hero there cowered an ora,
In grief and affliction she studied the hero,
On one elbow she rested, her eyes did not leave him,
The ora, though she was a figure so tiny,
Had eyes on her forehead that sparkled like lightning,
The old man could not even view her twice over.
Then did the old man see coiled up a serpent,
The skin on its back was all covered in spirals,
And under its head there stretched two little paws out.
The old man then looked at the feet of the hero,
Curled up in a ball was a wolf there before him.
When the eyes of the two beings met one another,
The wolf bared its teeth, gave the old man a snarl,
Slowly it rose, one paw stretched out before it,
And arching its back as the wolf is accustomed
Whenever the beast is about to attack you.
The old man was shaking in dread and in horror,
He took a step backwards and lunged for his sabre,
Desiring to slaughter the wolf to save Mujo.
Loudly, however, the hero did cry out:
“Whatever you do, do not hurt them, oh Dizdar,
For none of these beings are present to harm me,
Indeed they provide me with help and assistance.
Look at the ora who lies at my head here,
By day and by night is she here to protect me,
And the serpent now slithering over my lesions
Was given by God as great help and assistance.
Under its tongue there are nine types of ointments,
Three times a day does it cleanse my wounds with them,
And whenever the aching is too great to suffer,
The serpent begins then to sing me a carol,
A strange type of carol that I’ve never heard of.
My pain I forget and I sink into slumber.
Then do I see myself once more out hunting,
See myself resting again in the meadows,
Sometimes I hunt the wild goats in the mountains,
Sometimes I swim in the rivers and oceans,
When I wake up from my dreams is the pain gone.
Here at my feet is a savage wolf guarding,
No one is able to pass or approach me.”
The old man desisted and set down his sabre,
Mujo he took by the hand and responded:
“Don’t worry, my good friend, Gjeto Basho Mujo,
From what I have seen here, you seem to encourage
Our çeta to raid in the high mountain pastures.”
To the high mountains then set off the heroes,
And when they had climbed to the loftiest pastures,
There did they meet with the three hundred Agas.
Halili they greeted with open displeasure:
“How are things coming, men?” did they salute them,
“Slowly but surely,” they heard as an answer.
Badly then spoke out Bud Aline Tali,
Turning, he spoke to Dizdar Osman Aga:
“We sent you, oh Dizdar, to go and get Mujo,
What shall we do here with Halili Aga?
He is too young, of no use to the çeta.”
The old man was taken aback and insulted.
Then turned Dizdar Osman Aga, replying:
“Greetings does Mujo send to you, companions,
And wishes you fortune while off in the Kingdom,
But wounds now are covering all of his body.
Mujo was up in the high mountain pastures,
And there in an ambush the shkjas did attack him,
He does not remember what then happened to him,
But somehow was brought home by his faithful courser,
To those of his friends setting out on the çeta
He wishes good fortune, success in your raiding,
And upon you bestows the young Aga, Halili.”
Halili himself was no more to be seen there,
Such was the fury the young lad was seized with,
Three times did he venture to pull out his sabre,
But then he remembered what Mujo had told him:
“Never must weapons be drawn on the meadows.”
Leading his steed by the reins to the sources,
He started to let the beast drink of their water,
And there did he put on its saddle and armour,
And in sweet, friendly tones did he talk to the courser:
“Heard you with what words, steed, Tali did rile me?
Let us now swiftly depart for the Kingdom,
We will take vengeance for my brother Mujo,
Though we may both perish today on the war grounds.”
The courser then neighed and the trees gave a quiver.
Onto its back jumped young Aga, Halili,
The flames that the courser emitted were yellow,
Angry the steed was, more angry the rider,
In fury the two did set off on their journey,
The beech trees collapsed as they rode through the forest,
Dust clouds arose as they rushed up the valley,
Until he arrived and espied the white kulla,
There did the steed put an end to its gallop,
There, right before him, arose the king’s palace,
And there Llabutani’s three-storey high kulla.
Walking his courser, Halili now entered,
“Who are you, boy?” did inquire a maiden.
“Who are you, maid?” did reply young Halili.
“I’m the king’s daughter, and what do you want here?”
“To pay off a debt have I come here, good maiden,”
Did he give answer and captured the maiden.
A vociferous scream was let out by the maiden.
“It’s now or it’s never, good steed,” cried Halili,
And rode in a lather right through the town centre,
Leaving the townsfolk all crushed on the pavement.
The maiden did weep while Halili was shouting:
“Thus the young Aga, Halili, takes vengeance!”
The young man rode off to the high mountain pastures,
Leaving the shkjas in distress and confusion,
Aware they weren’t even of what had just hit them.
Groups of them gathered and started to wonder:
“What was the shout that we heard in the Kingdom?”
“They say it was that of young Aga, Halili.”
Shortly thereafter, in less than a moment,
Arrived Llabutani in front of his kulla,
Looking for Rusha, but she was not present.
There he inquired of two old women weeping,
One was a shkja, seven hearts she had in her.
“Whose head did you chop off, my good Llabutani,
That Mujo has come and has stolen the maiden?
He’s put us to shame in the whole of the Kingdom,
The whole of Slavonia’s now been dishonoured,
No one can tell you of what we have gone through,
All that we heard was a steed that was neighing,
But when we endeavoured to block off its pathway,
There was nothing to see, neither courser nor rider.”
His temples were swelling, his veins almost bursting,
As he frowned, his eyes rolling, the shkja fulminated:
“You’re an old woman,” he cried to her, saying,
“If you were a man, I’d be able to slay you,
You’re not out fighting Mujo and Halili,
Mujo did have seven hearts in his body,
And each of the hearts did I pierce with my sabre.
If God seven sons in one year bestowed on you,
And each of them seven hundred years did survive,
Mujo’d still slaughter them all with his sabre.”
The shkja then emitted a burst of frustration,
And gave a war cry to assemble his çeta,
“We have been shamed by young Aga, Halili!”
Up to their feet did spring all the shkja fighters,
And set off in fury to climb the high pastures,
Wild animals ran down the hills from the çeta,
But Sokol Halili was not to be frightened,
The hero had entered a cave in the mountains,
And let out a cry to defy the shkja fighters:
“Here, men, young Aga Halili awaits you!”
The king in his rage did advance up the hillside,
But Halili was born with good luck and good fortune,
And when the king got to the mouth of the cavern,
Halili at him hurled his gigantic cudgel,
Which struck hard the king who collapsed and did perish.
Joyfully whinnied the steed in the cavern,
The maid who was with them lamented in sorrow.
Placing his foot squarely on the king’s belly
And drawing his sword, did Halili shout to them:
“Mark now my words, all you shkjas of the Kingdom,
Prick up your ears to the boy of Jutbina,
Do not do battle and do not attack me,
Return to your homes and select a new monarch,
Because I will chop off the head of this last one,
And send it to Mujo to lie at his bedside.”
As the hero stood poised there to chop the king’s head off,
The shkjas in a fury rushed forth to attack him,
But thanks be to God, to you we are grateful,
For never has raged a more terrible battle,
The hero smashed all of the shkjas on the boulder,
Collecting their lances like sticks from a willow,
With one hand he gathered, with the other he hurled them,
He struck one man down, thirty toppled behind him,
One did he slay, with his heels thirty trampled,
Like the wolves in the mountains, the men did assault him,
But Halili held fast in the cave like a dragon,
And seized the dead king by the legs, pulled him over,
And placing his foot on the king’s royal belly,
The lad then derided the shkjas in defiance:
“Come, take your time, my good men, what’s the hurry?
You can kneel to your king for as long as I’m in here.”
Then in Albanian he cried to his courser:
“Charge, my good steed, let us drive all the shkjas out!
Shoulder to shoulder we’ll fight them together,
You kick with your hooves, I’ll hurl lances and sabre!”
The zanas were touched by the lad and took pity,
Three of the zanas flew off in departure,
Two overland, through the heavens the lightest,
Winging their way to the bedside of Mujo:
“Where have you been, Mujo, where’ve you been hiding?
Damn you, may sleep never open your eyelids,
For you have heard nothing of what’s been occurring,
Rise to your feet now and dawdle no longer,
Never has Halili been in more trouble,
All of the shkjas have encircled and trapped him.”
They hoisted the hero and got him up standing,
They bound all his wounds and healed all of his ailments,
They brought forth his courser and put on its saddle,
They handed the hero some herbs to inhale from,
Giving him back all his might and his power.
Mujo set off for the high mountain pastures,
Leaving his saviours, the zanas, behind him,
Closely he studied the high mountain pastures,
Like an eagle about to attack did he eye them.
And then when the hero did reach the Green Valleys,
He stopped for a moment to study the landscape,
There he discerned all the din of the battle,
The shkjas were attacking the lad in the cavern,
And though they’d not managed to get their hands on him,
The lad was now blocked in the cave with his courser.
Mujo then cried at the top of his voice and
Both at the same time their steeds began neighing,
Causing the leaves to fall down from the beech trees,
And sending a chill down the spines of the fighters.
The first of them fled, did not wait for the others,
“Flee, men, be off,” did they warn one another,
Leaving the cavern alone and abandoned,
Only one guard did they pose at the entrance,
All by itself there reposed the king’s body.
When Mujo himself then arrived at the cavern,
He jumped off his courser and ran to the entrance,
There lay the shkja, he of all was the greatest.
“Why do you bother to turn the king over?”
Asked young Halili in rage and in anger.
With a smile on his lips, to him Mujo responded:
“Can you not see what you’ve done, oh Halili?
You’ve slaughtered the man here who tried to destroy me,
You’ve slaughtered the king, you have killed Llabatani!”
“Why do you mock and make fun of me, Mujo?”
Said the lad, binding the wounds of his body.
“If, as you say, it is King Llabutani,
I would tie his remains to the tail of my courser,
Drag him like a dog through the rubble behind me,
That dog I would drag through the beds of the rivers,
Down through the river beds right to Jutbina!”
The words of the lad gave to Mujo no pleasure:
“What are you saying, Halili, God damn you?
I from the dead have myself just arisen.
Neither blood nor descent with the shkjas do unite us
And as such, we have nothing to do with their corpses.
Make war with the living, the dead cannot harm us,
For this is the custom our forefathers left us,
All of the words you have spoken, Halili,
Diminish the worth of the deeds you’ve accomplished.”
The two of them mounted the backs of their coursers,
And spinning, set off on the road to Jutbina,
There did they call to them all the krahina,
“Let them eat, let them drink, give to all those who want to,
For vengeance was had by young Aga, Halili,
In a cave in the mountains the king he did slaughter,
And cut off the head of that king, Llabutani,
And for himself captured the king’s royal daughter!”

shqip / Albanian


[Sung by Tomë Sokoli of Dushman (District of Shkodra). Published in: Visaret e Kombit, vol. II. ed. Bernardin Palaj and Donat Kurti (Tirana 1937), p. 175-185; 203-212. 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).]