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Pjetër Mazrreku:

Report on a Visit to Northern Albania

A description of northern Albania and its martial inhabitants in a report that Pjetër Mazrreku (Ital. Pietro Maserecco), the Catholic Archbishop of Antivari (Bar) and Primate of Serbia, sent to the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda Fide. In this text, the archbishop adds a list of Albanian words to show their affinity to Italian. Short discourse on the Albanian nation and, in particular, on the inhabitants of the Dukagjin Mountains [Northern Albanian Alps], by Pietro Maserecco, Archbishop of Antivari, for the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda Fide. The dioceses of Antivari, Scutari [Shkodra], Sapatense [Sapa], Alessiense [Lezha] and Serbia are crossed by the Dukagjin Mountains and since the present archbishop who has his seat in Servia is forced to traverse the said mountain range to visit the Metropolitan, it is appropriate to say a few words about these mountains and their inhabitants. In this way, when the Sacred Congregation learns of the needs and problems of these people who have not been subjugated to Turkish rule in two hundred years, it will no doubt take measures to ensure that they do not lose their values and religion over time, as has been happening in the rest of Albania that is subjected to the Turks. Although these mountains are harsh and rugged, mother nature has not left them without fertile valleys through which flow fine rivers that produce a sort of fish known as trout. In Albanian it is called troft, with an ‘f’. There are also excellent vineyards that produce tasty wines. The air is very good for the health such that no one can remember there ever having been a case of the plague among them, because of the healthy climate and because they rarely travel to distant, infected countries. When you leave the settlements of Bar, Shkodra, Sapa and Lezha behind at the coast, you encounter these mountains that stretch from north to south without interruption for two days. From the borders of the above-mentioned dioceses to Serbia it is about forty miles. In addition to the narrow and difficult trails one has to take, nature has girded the region with a formidable river called the Black Drin, which takes its water from Lake Ocrida [Ohrid] in Macedonia and flows through the zone of Lower Dibra. It swells with tributaries as it continues its course through the said mountains, until it flows down to Sadrima [Zadrima] in the diocese of the bishop of Sapa. Sometimes the river destroys crops, in particular in the spring when the snow melts. But it makes the land fertile, even though the soil is sandy. When millet was sown this year in the sandy soil, it had to be replanted in many regions. The river passes by the village of Lezha and flows into the sea in two branches near the port of San Giovanni di Medoa [Shëngjin], five miles from Lezha. When the mountains and this river have been crossed, one enters a region called Sculaa [Shullan] or Has bordering on Serbia. This region is inhabited by a great number of Albanians who are subjects of the Sultan. Since the men of Dukagjin did not like to be called vassals of the Sultan because of the word vassal and because they would have to pay tribute, they were treated very harshly. Many of them, indeed almost all of them (as we have noted elsewhere) turned Turk, but they changed only their names and did not renounce their faith. Hodjas, i.e. Muslim priests, have begun mixing in with them accompanied by circumcisers to circumcise them. This territory is girded by another river that can be forded in many places. It is called the White Drin, to distinguish it from the Black Drin. This river takes its origin in a mountain region now called the Pechia [Peja] Mountains that stretch from north to south, until it joins the Black Drin at the ford of Cucchi [Kukës]. This settlement is named after a family of the same name that lives there where the two above- mentioned rivers converge and in other places near Priseren [Prizren]. From what I heard from my late father, they stem originally from Italy. They have been Muslims for about a century, and were and are charged by the Sublime Porte with important duties. They serve in particular as sanjak beys to keep down the inhabitants of Dukagjin. But this Cucchi [Kuka] family and other such Muslim families have made little progress in this endeavour. In October 1610, Ahmet Beg Cucca [Ahmet bey Kuka] assembled one thousand five hundred men to carry out a surprise attack on the villages of Jabala [Iballja], but since the latter found out about the attack in advance, they gathered five hundred of their men and forced the enemy into a difficult narrow gorge where they could neither flee nor fight. They were stuck there surrounded by men who either wanted to kill them or to take them prisoner to show off their victory. These courageous men of Iballja killed so many confused and defeated soldiers, wounding them initially from a distance with their arrows and then attacking them in hand-to-hand combat that even the sanjak bey was slain. Few of the soldiers survived. It will be forever remembered that on that occasion, a Turkish horse was sold to the victors for two baiocchi [papal coins] and a sabre was sold for one baiocco. The men of Dukagjin had numerous other such victories, enough to fill a book with their glorious adventures. On the number of inhabitants in the above-mentioned mountains, on their needs and those of all of Albania. The inhabitants are primarily those of the villages of Iballja and Puuka [Puka] who have the custom of going to Serbia to maraud and plunder both Turks and Serbs. Iballja and Puka consist together of about eight hundred men in arms. Continuing to the right towards the south are the regions called Fante la maggiore [Greater Fan] and Fante la minore [Lesser Fan] that have at least one thousand men in arms. Continuing further southwards are Mireditta [Mirdita], Vlascagni [Vlashanj], Kthella and Selita with many other villages that make up some three thousand warlike men of inestimable strength. […] Finally, it is said that the Catholic Albanians – there are also many people of Greek rite on the border with Greece – in particular those of the above-mentioned mountains, of Emathia [Mat], of Myssia [?] and of Diberi [Dibrri] with the above-mentioned dioceses, make up some twelve thousand men in arms, not to mention family members who remain behind to do the farming. Such a number of men is sufficient to frighten any great power – the Serbs, the Greeks, the Bulgarians, the Bosnians or the Hungarians, as these latter forces that do not keep their weapons with them at home. The Albanians, on the other hand, go around armed both at home and when outside, something that surprises other people. Other nations do not dare to keep their arms, whereas the Albanians, especially their leaders called Chieffali [qefali], even go around armed when they talk to the Turkish sanjak beys. The people of this nation (as the Ragusan nobleman and Benedictine monk Tuberone Cerva [Ludovicus Cerva Tuberon] noted in a little book on the origins of the Turks, written in Latin) are descendant of the ancient Macedonians because nowhere in Greek or Latin history was it ever written that they came from Asia, as some modern authors assert. Expelled and pushed out by the Serbs, Bulgarians and other foreign peoples, they withdrew into the mountains. They were called Albanese after a town in Albania called Alba. Their language is different from the other languages and has many Italian and Greek words in it. Here are some of the Italian words: bread buche or buccella [bukë] horse caale [kalë] man maschule [mashkullë] woman femene [femën, femër] chicken pulle [pulë] song canghe [këngë] sky chiel [qiell] people gind [gjind] nation popule [popull] lake lechee [liqen] leg cambe [këmbë] sea pelagh paper carthe [kartë] image scembeleture [shëmbëlltyrë] miracle mrecule [mrekulli] flesh pulpe [pulpë] sword scpatta [shpatë] shield schiyt [shqyt] bow ark [ark, hark] arrow sceghiette [shigjetë] grain grune [grunë, grurë] millet mel [mel] hare, rabbit lepure [lepur] deer capruel [kaproll] face faghie [faqje] sign scegn [shenj] knot nye [nye] ash tree frascene [frashën, frashër] oak tree chiar [qarr] flock grigh [grigjë] fish pesck [peshk] trout trofte [troftë] and many others. To what extent these people are devoted to the Apostolic See, I cannot tell. From my own experience, I know them to be very faithful and so devoted to the bonds of friendship that they regard them as inviolable to death. They place great store in honour. With regard to women, they are extremely jealous and consider any irregularity in this field as a grave insult. They are by nature capricious and choleric, but then they calm down and talk to one another. […] For as long as they are Christians, they are of great potential value for warfare, but should they turn Turk, it would be to the great detriment of Christianity, not to say of Italy since there is nothing but a bit of sea between Albania and Italy. [Extract from the report of Pjetër Mazrreku [Pietro Maserecco], Breve discorso sopra la natione Albanese et imparticolar delli habitatori dei Monti di Ducagini dato da me Pietro Maserecco, Arcivescovo d’Antivari alla S. Cong. de P.F. Archives of the Propaganda Fide, SOCG (Scritture Originali referite nelle Congregazioni Generali), vol. 263, pp. 271-274, Relazione I/37. Reprinted in: Peter Bartl (ed.), Albania Sacra, 3 (Wiesbaden 2014), p. 114-118; and in Injac Zamputti (ed.), Dokumente për historinë e Shqipërisë  (1623-1653) (Sankt Gallen & Prishtina 2015), p. 67-72. Translated from the Italian by Robert Elsie.]
Robert Elsie Texts and Documents of Albanian History
Ndoc Deda and Kin Matia in Zadrima costumes (photo: Pietro Marubbi, ca. 1899-1903).