The internet is a wonderful thing. Wikipedia had a reference to the Kunan of Lek. It is a set of laws that governed all parts of Albanian life, and probably started around the 9th century. In the early 1400's a minister under Skenderbeg, the Albanian hero who fought the Turks, brought all the laws together under one legal umbrella, and the Kunan of Lek Kukagjini was born. The laws governed all parts of Albanian life, and were passed down orally generation after generation until the Albanian alphabet was developed in 1912, when it finally was written. What is so interesting to me is that much of Albanian life and their customs reflect the Kunan, and it explains so much.
The Kanun is based on four pillars:
- Honour (Albanian: Nderi)
- Hospitality (Albanian: Mikpritja)
- Right Conduct (Albanian: Sjellja)
- Kin Loyalty (Albanian: Fis
The gender roles were strictly defined. Only men could carry weapons, and women essentially belonged to their husbands families. Marriage was arranged - this predated Islam and held true for Catholics as well. When a woman married, it was custom that the bride's family give the groom a bullet, so that if she cheated on him he could shoot her with her family's blessing. Countries were defined by common language and heritage - one of the reasons that it is difficult for Albanians to identify themselves as anything but Albanians - never Macedonian or Montenegran.
Hospitality is huge here - if you are accepted into an Albanian's home you are treated like a king or queen. It is one of the reasons that Albania was the only Nazi occupied country in WWII that ended up with a larger Jewish population after the war than before the war - not only did they protect their few Jewish citizens but with their commandment to help the weak and helpless they accepted a number of Jews seeking asylum into their country.
It is fascinating to me to see how an oral tradition handed down over the centuries still has such a strong hold, probably largely unconscious, on the culture of Albania. But then it makes me wonder - how many unconscious ancient customs do we act out - things handed down generations ago from England, Germany, and other ancestral homes?