To verify this one has only to appreciate the national
characteristics of the Albanians, who, whatever evil habits
they may have contracted, or the defects arising from long
subjugation, have chivalry and courage. Cases can be quoted
without number of the manner in which the Bessa - "the
good faith" - is pledged to absolute strangers. All who come
under protection of the Bessa, whether given by an individual
or a clan, are free from molestation.
This primitive institution
serves to render travel in Albania safe, despite the absence
of a highly developed system of policing, such as we enjoy
in the west.
The Bessa of the Albanians, the three days of immunity
extended even to enemies in Arabia, and other brotherhood
pledges, all have something in common, and are a manifestation
of the highest human instinct.
The country is an ideal one for guerrilla fighting. Having
seen it, traversed its mountain passes and gazed down its
precipitous cliffs to smiling valleys far below, it is easy to
understand how these sturdy mountaineers have been able
to resist Turk and Slav, and hold their own through centuries
of hard fighting.
With such a turbulent history it is not surprising that
Albania is still a land of strange customs and primitive habits,
where to an extent unknown in the rest of Europe the law of
blood-vengeance is still upheld.
It is the old idea of
purification by blood and all else is subservient to it. Any
insult or injury should be wiped out by gun or knife, and the
feuds are governed by a strict code of rules.
For instance, we were assured that no man may be shot or
knifed when in company with a woman, nor during the period
of a truce-often arranged between two antagonists for
business purposes. Then again, a couple of men may hunt one
another for months, but before they actually meet face to
face it is time to gather in the harvest. On this depends the
food of both families until the following year. So a truce is
arranged, and visiting Albania during the summer months
one may find men working amicably in the same village, who,
a few days later, will be stalking one another.
When you leave a homestead in Albania the host is
responsible for your safety until nightfall finds you beneath
the next roof ; if anything untoward occurs he is bound to
take drastic action, no matter what your own views may be
upon the subject. If you drink with one man and are molested
before sampling the flowing bowl with another, the first must
wipe out the insult in blood.
When on vengeance intent the Albanian takes every
opportunity of accomplishing the object, provided the above
rules are observed. The parties to a feud, therefore, never
know how they may come by their end. Men have been
known not to move out of their house and garden for months
at a stretch.
Some of the blood feuds thus easily begun last for generations.
When traversing northern Albania, one of the most unsettled
parts of the country, we heard of a vendetta which had existed
for four generations. The original cause seemed to have long
been forgotten; all that the man, who carried it on, knew was
that a male member of the family marked down must be
killed. When this occurred, the rival family would, in their
turn, concentrate on the task of retaliation, and so the inter-
family warfare would continue. When it would eventually
end no man knew.
It is not surprising that amidst such conditions many
go armed. Yet it cannot be said that the Albanian is a
desperate character; he is far from that, and when feuds do
not disturb the village life they lead a cheery and care-free
existence, and none is more hospitable. Like other remote
and primitive people among whom we have lived in Asia
and under the Southern Cross, they receive the stranger with
a cordiality that strikes a genuine note.
"Through Europe and the Balkans" 1928