The Highland Lute

Gjergj Fishta (1871—1940) is the writer of the Albanian national epic Lahuta e malësisë (The Highland Lute). In 17.000 verses a panaroma of northern Albanian history in between 1862 en 1913 depicts the battles of the Northern highlanders aganst the Turks and Montenegrins. It was in 1902 when Gjergj Fishta had been sent to a northern Albanian mountain village to replace the local parish priest for a while. There he met and became friends with the aged peasant Marash Uci, who told the young priest of the heroic battles between the Albanian Highlanders and the Montenegrins.

ImageBeing the only intact heroic society in Europe, High Albania in the north of the country differed radically from the rest of Europe but even the more advanced and ‘civilized’ regions of the Tosk south of Albania. This patriarchal structure of society in the Highlands, a social system based on customs handed down for centuries by tribal law, in particular by the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini is an interesting thing. All the aspects of life, such as birth, marriage and funerary customs, beliefs, the generous hospitality of the tribes, their endemic blood feuding, an acute perception of male honour and the ‘besa’, absolute fidelity to one’s word, are part of the The Highland Lute. This heroic aspect of life in the mountains is one of the many characteristics which the northern Albanian tribes have in common with their southern Slavic, and in particular Montenegrin, neighbours. The two peoples, divided as they are by language and by the bitter course of history, nonetheless share a largely common culture.

The epic is strongly inspired by northern Albanian oral verse. Fishta knew well this oral verse sung by the Gheg mountain tribes on their one-stringed ‘lahuta’ (therefore the title) and relished its language and rhythm. The narrative of the epic is therefore replete with the rich, archaic vocabulary and colourful figures of speech used by the warring Highland tribes of the north and does not make for easy reading nowadays, even for the northern Albanians themselves. In a rhythmic language, the predominantly heroic character in the battle scenes of the narrative is fortunately counterbalanced with lyric and idyllic descriptions of the natural beauty of the northern Albanian mountains which give text a lightness and poetic character it might otherwise lack.

Mythological figures from oral literature also take great importance in the work, who, like the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece, observe and, where necessary, intervene in events. Among them are the ‘zanas’, dauntless mountain spirits who dwell near springs and torrents and who bestow their protection on Albanian warriors; the ‘oras’, female spirits whose very name is often taboo; the vampire-like ‘lugats’, the witch-like ‘shtrigas’, and the ‘drangues’, semi-human figures born with wings under their arms and with supernatural powers, whose prime objective in life is to combat and slay the seven-headed fire-spewing ‘kulshedras’.

The fusion of the heroic and the mythological is equally evident in a number of characters to whom Fishta attributes major roles in The Highland Lute: Oso Kuka, the main person, a fierce and valiant warrior who prefers death over surrender to his Slavic enemy; the old shepherd Marash Uci who admonishes the young fighters to preserve their freedom and not to forget the ancient ways and customs; and the valiant maiden Tringa, who takes care of her brother and who is resolved to defend her land.

With this work, Gjergj Fishta remains the greatest epical poet of Albanians. Despite his universal recognition as the national poet of Albania, he came to be in the shadows after the Second World War when Communism arose in 1944. This and all other works by Gjergj Fishta were banned by the Communists. The epic was, however, republished in Rome 1958 and Ljubljana 1990, and exists in German and Italian translations. Apart from that, 45 years after the Communists had taken over power in 1944, The Higland Lute was again publicly recited, and many people in the audience still knew parts by heart…



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1 thought on “The Highland Lute

  1. Pingback: Lahuta e Malcis | brunomayer40

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