Albanian folk poetry

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Albanian rhapsode (lahutar) Isë Elezi-Lekëgjekaj[1] from Rugova, singing to the accompaniment of the lahutë. He is considered one of the most important and acclaimed living practitioners of this oral epic tradition.[2]

Albanian epic poetry is a form of epic poetry created by the Albanian people. It consists of a longstanding oral tradition still very much alive.[3][4][5] A good number of Albanian rhapsodes (Albanian: lahutarë) can be found today in Kosovo and northern Albania, and some also in Montenegro.[4] Northern Albanian epic poetry is performed singing to the accompaniment of the lahutë or çifteli.[5]




When in Italy the interest in folklore prevailed, the Arbëreshë writers were among the first to take the opportunity to make known their culture and folklore. In 1947, Vincenzo Dorsa published in Naples Su gli Albanesi, ricerche e pensieri, which contains three Albanian poems translated into Italian. The songs were from the villages of Calabria.[6] An important Arbëresh publisher of Albanian folklore was the linguist Demetrio Camarda, who included in his 1866 Appendice al Saggio di grammatologia comparata (Appendix to the Essay on the Comparative Grammar) a great number of Albanian songs from Sicily and Calabria, some folk poems from Albania proper and a few from Albanian settlements in Greece. In this collection there are some Arbëresh epic songs.[7][8] Arbëresh writer Girolamo De Rada, who was already imbued with a passion for his Albanian lineage in the first half of the 19th century, began collecting folklore material at an early age.[8] De Rada published in 1866 the collection Rapsodie di un poema albanese (Rhapsodies of an Albanian Poem), which consists of 72 epic poems from the colonies of Napolitano, with also the Italian translation. The rhapsodies are divided into three parts: "Gli Albanesi allo stato libero" with 20 songs; "Gli Albanesi in guerra col Turco" with 20 songs; "Gli Albanesi vinti ed in esilio" with 32 songs. However, there is some doubt about the complete originality of this collection, since he himself admitted to have made a few changes in it.[7] An important collection of Albanian epic poems was published by Michele Marchianò in Canti popolari albanesi delle colonie d'Italia in 1908. The poems of this collections maintain exactly the original form as they were found in a 1737 manuscript. In 1911 and 1912 he also published Canti popolari albanesi della Capitanata e del Molise in Rivista d'Apulia.[9] In 1923 Giuseppe Schirò published the remarkable collection Canti tradizionali ed altri saggi delle colonie albanesi di Sicilia.[7]


There are not much material of Albanian songs recorded in Greece. The first collector was the German physician Karl H. Reinhold who recorded Albanian folk poems from the Greco-Albanian sailors from the islands of Poros and Hydra while he was serving as a doctor in the Greek navy. He published his collection in Noctes Pelasgicae (Pelasgic Nights, with the term "Pelasgic" meaning Albanian) in 1855.[6][10][8] K. D. Sotiriou published in 1909 the collection "Short Songs and Tales of the Albanians" written in the Arvanitika dialect of the village of Markopulo in Attica and the island of Spetses.[6]


During the 19th century many foreign scholars took interest in Albanian folklore. The first writer to mention Albanian heroic songs was Lord Byron in his Child Harold at the beginning of the 19th century.[6] Stimulated by the collections of the Arbëreshë writers and foreigners, the interest of native Albanians in collecting Albanian oral creations grow with the Albanian National Awakening (Rilindja) in the second half of the 19th century.[6][11] The first Albanian collector of oral epic songs from Albania proper was Zef Jubani. From 1848 he served as interpreter to French consul in Shkodra, Louis Hyacinthe Hécquard, who was very interested in folklore and decided to prepare a book on northern Albanian oral tradition. They travelled through the northern Albanian mountains and recorded folklore material which were published in French translation in the 1858 Hécquard's pioneering Histoire et description de la Haute Albanie ou Guégarie (History and Description of High Albania or Gegaria”). This collection contains twelve songs in French, without the original Albanian, which were lost later in the flood that devastated the city of Shkodra on 13 January 1866. Jubani published in 1871 the original Albanian songs with Italian translation in the collection Raccolta di canti popolari e rapsodie di poemi albanesi (Collection of Albanian Folk Songs and Rhapsodies), which constitutes the first collection of Geg folk songs and the first folkloristik work to be published by an Albanian who lived in Albania.[11] This collection contains also a number of poems sung in Shkodra.[12]

One of the best collections of Albanian oral tradition is Alvaniki melissa – Belietta Sskiypetare (The Albanian Bee) published in Alexandria by Thimi Mitko in the year 1878. Mitko compiled and classified the material according to genres.[13] The most important part of this collection are the lyric poems. It contains 123 heroic songs, 97 in the Tosk dialect and 26 in the Gheg dialect of Albanian. They celebrate the battles of the Albanians in the different parts of the Ottoman Empire, including the heroic deeds of beys and those of the Souliotes.[12]

Franciscan priests and scholars active in the northern Albanian mountains recorded Northern Albanian epic songs in the early decades of the 20th century by. Among the most important Albanian folklorists were Shtjefën Gjeçovi, Bernardin Palaj and Donat Kurti, who collected folk songs on their travels through the mountains and wrote articles on Gheg Albanian folklore and tribal customs. Palaj and Kurti published in 1937—on the 25th anniversary of Albanian independence—the most important collection of Albanian epic verse, Kângë kreshnikësh dhe legenda (The Songs of the Frontier Warriors and Legends), in the series called Visaret e Kombit (The Treasures of the Nation).[14][15]

Kosovo and Sandžak

In 1830 Vuk Karadžić recorded from Dovica Obadović from Đurakovac near Peć 12 Albanian songs and one riddle for Jernej Kopitar.[16] This collection constitutes one of the earliest written records of Albanian oral verse from Kosovo. The complete collection was first published by Norbert Jokl.[16] The extracts of songs of this collection seems to be based on historical or legendary events.[17] The collection contains heroic and lyric songs, including also laments.[16]

Accompanying instruments

The Northern Albanian epic poetry is performed singing to the accompaniment of the lahutë or çifteli.[18][19][5]

Lahuta is a one-stringed musical instrument with a long neck and oval shaped body. It consists of a sound box made of carved wood (usually maple as it is considered as the best material) covered with an animal skin, and a long neck which is decorated at the top, usually with the head of a goat, a ram or a horse.[18] The string of the Lahuta is made of horsehair. The instrument is held vertically between the knees, with the left hand fingers on the neck. It is played with a bow pulled over the string which is never pressed to the neck, creating a dramatic and sharp sound, expressive and difficult to master. In singing, the voice follows the harmonic and unique sound produced by the instrument.[20]

Çiftelia is a plucked two-stringed musical instrument with a long neck and oval shaped body. It is most often tuned to B3 and E3 (comparable to the top two strings of a guitar, which is classically tuned as "E2 A2 D3 G3 B3 E4"). One string carries the melody, the other is usually played as a drone.[19]

National epic poem

The Albanian national epic poem The Highland Lute (Albanian: Lahuta e Malcís) was written by Albanian Catholic friar Gjergj Fishta and published in 1937. It consists of 30 songs and over 17,000 verses. The poem has been inspired by northern Albanian oral epic poetry.[21][14]

See also

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  1. ^ Elsie & Mathie-Heck 2004, p. xv.
  2. ^ Neziri & Scaldaferri 2016.
  3. ^ Elsie 2014, p. 1.
  4. ^ a b Dushi 2017, pp. 37–38.
  5. ^ a b c Samson 2013, pp. 185–188.
  6. ^ a b c d e Skendi 1954, p. 9.
  7. ^ a b c Skendi 1954, p. 10.
  8. ^ a b c Elsie 1994, p. i.
  9. ^ Skendi 1954, p. 11.
  10. ^ Elsie 2007, p. 1.
  11. ^ a b Elsie 2007, pp. 1–2.
  12. ^ a b Skendi 1954, p. 13.
  13. ^ Elsie 2007, p. 2.
  14. ^ a b Elsie & Mathie-Heck 2004, p. xi.
  15. ^ Elsie 2010, p. 255.
  16. ^ a b c Skendi 1954, pp. 17–18.
  17. ^ Elsie, "The Albanian Song Collection of Vuk Karadžić".
  18. ^ a b Elsie 2007, p. 260.
  19. ^ a b Broughton, Ellingham & Trillo 1999, p. 2.
  20. ^ Ling 1997, p. 87.
  21. ^ Elsie 2005, p. 236.


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