In the Debatable Lands
British writer and traveller, Mary Edith Durham (1863-1944) stemmed from a large and prosperous middle-class family of North London. All of her eight brothers and sisters were successful in their careers: medicine, engineering, and the civil service. She attended Bedford College in London (1878-1882) and then trained to be an artist at the Royal Academy, illustrating a volume of the "Cambridge Natural History." As the last child living at home in the family, she was entrusted with the duty of caring for her ailing mother, a monotonous life which took her to the edge of a nervous breakdown. Her doctor recommended travel, and Edith, at the age of thirty-seven, set off in 1900 with a female companion on a cruise down the Adriatic coast, where, after some time in Montenegro, she became fascinated with the Balkans. On her return to London, she immersed herself in the study of the Serbian language and Balkan history. In 1902-1903, Durham traveled through Serbia collecting material for her first book "Through the Lands of the Serbs," London 1904. She also visited Shkodra and Kosova in Ottoman territory, a rare journey which at the time entailed a good deal of courage and stamina. At the end of 1903, she returned to Montenegro for a five-month stay in the Balkans on behalf of the Macedonian Relief Committee. The journey and appalling humanitarian situation in the region are described in her "The Burden of the Balkans," London 1905. It included her first lengthy expedition to Albania. For three summers, she then travelled widely in Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, collecting ethnographical material, which was later, much later, to be published in her "Some Tribal Origins, Laws and Customs of the Balkans," London 1928, which included illustrations by the author.
An in-depth knowledge of the Machiavellian politics of the Balkans caused her to turn away from the Slavic nationalism that she encountered on her travels through Serbia, and to focus her attention and her sympathies increasingly on Albania and the Albanians. In the summer of 1908, she travelled once more to Montenegro and from there to Shkodra and through the Albanian Highlands, a journey she described in her most delightful and widely read book, "High Albania," London 1909. "High Albania" is regarded by many people as the best English-language book ever written on Albania.
Edith Durham acquired quite a reputation among the northern Albanians for her interest in and support for their cause. She was soon known throughout the mountains as "Kraljica e Malesorëvet" (The Queen of the Highland Peoples), and rumour spread that she was the sister of the King of England.
Her next book, "The Struggle for Scutari: Turk, Slav and Albanian," London 1914, focussed on the Montenegrin siege of Shkodra in the wake of the declaration of Albanian independence. It is a harrowing description of war, starvation and humanitarian catastrophe. She also visited Vlora in southern Albania only to find that conditions were no better there. Durham was forced to leave Albania at the outbreak of World War I. She travelled by steamer to Biscay, worked initially in a hospital in the Pyrenees, and later for the YMCA in Port Said in Egypt. After the war, she published "Twenty Years of Balkan Tangle," London 1920, which was subsequently translated into German, Italian and Albanian. She is also the author of countless articles on Albanian folklore.
Edith Durham's last visit to Albania was in 1921. After that, she was not able to travel for health reasons. She did, however, continue to campaign on Albania's behalf over the next two decades. She was a founding member of the Anglo-Albanian Association and wrote many press articles and countless "letters to the editor" to counter ignorant views and to focus public attention on Albania and its plight. It was also in this period that her controversial book "The Sarajevo Crime," London 1925, appeared, which dealt with the background of the Sarajevo assassination and the causes for the outbreak of World War I.
In later years, her home in London became a rallying point for friends of Albania and for Albanians in exile. She died in November 1944, two weeks before the communist takeover of the country. Edith Durham is well remembered in Albania and Kosova, where many towns have a Miss Durham Street.
"In the Debatable Lands" is an account of Durham's first secret visit to Kosova, still under Ottoman rule.
In the Debatable Lands
A universal besa had been sworn till St. Dimitri (Nov. 6). I leapt at the chance of being the first foreigner to enter the 'closed' districts under the new state of affairs, and applied properly, through the Consulate, for a teskereh to travel to Prizren. Djakova was my object. The Young Turk authorities, pleased to find a British female willing to test the new régime in her own person, gave permission at once. Personally, I put all my faith on the inviolability of the besa.
We were going to a Moslem land, so Marko arranged that we should travel with two Moslem kirijees bound for Prizren with a caravan. Leaving Scutari at 3 P. M. with one kirijee, Ren, a Djakova man, we crossed the plain by a fair road to the Drin, followed its right bank as far as Vaudys, and ferried over in the trappa. Vaudys is the frontier of Mirdita and the legendary capital of Paul Dukaghin, who, it is said, ruled from Vaudys to Djakova. But these tales are vague.
We rode up the valley of the Drin, fertile, rich in maize and grass, wood and water, caught up the caravan of ten packhorses heavily laden with bales of stinking goats' hides, and halted at dusk at Gomshiche, on a tributary of the Drin, Ljumi Gomshichet. The caravan camped in a field; Marko and I were put up at the church-house. Pack-saddling next morning was not done till 7 A.M.
We were on the old Prizren-Scutari trade-route - a right-of-way when nobody sees fit to close it - so were without local escort. It was therefore thought fit that, for safety, I should ride last of all the caravans. It was a hot day, and such air as there was bore the concentrated reek of all the ten packs of goat-hide straight to me. I objected. "It is very healthy," said Marko. "It stinks," said I. "With respect," said Marko, "it is not a stink. It is the smell caused by the way they are prepared."
I infinitely preferred to take the risk - which was nil - of being shot at by Mirdites, but my guardian angels insisted on at least two horses being ahead of me. We followed up the right bank of the Gomshiche River to the church of Dushaj, near which a tributary enters the main stream, and rode up the right bank of this tributary high on the hillside above the water, making many detours to head the streams that flowed to join it.
The wretched packbeasts were overladen. One hundred okas (over two hundred pounds) is a packload, without counting the heavy wooden saddle. They staggered downhill, had to be shoved and pulled up the worst places, and if they stumbled could with difficulty recover. Descending a stony track, one fell and would have turned a complete somersault downhill had not the pack jammed between the rocks of the narrow track. Tightly fixed, with its head twisted under it between its forelegs, it was in danger of strangulation, and was extricated with great difficulty. The men were stupid at the job nor did they see, till I pointed it out, that the luckless brute could not possibly rise till a rock that jammed one hindleg was moved. It was badly cut on head and knee, but was reloaded, and we started again.
The track was rough. I walked, and was well ahead at the bottom of one of the narrow valleys, when a second packhorse, forced by the size of its pack to go on the very edge, crashed over, rolling over and over with its legs tucked tightly under it, and fell some thirty feet into the stream below, the heavy pack and saddle saving it from many blows. There it lay helpless and terrified, wedged in a pool among rocks. It was a three-quarters of an hour job to raise and reload it. The dry hides absorbed a lot of water, and were so heavy that loads had to be redistributed.
We crawled slowly on - a wearisome drag. Every pack shifted, and had to be readjusted after every descent. About 4.30 we arrived at a han not far from Puka, men and beasts all tired out, and camped for the night in a field. There was plenty of water. The horses, freed from their packs, were turned out to graze at twopence a head.
Two time-expired soldiers had joined our caravan, one a Moslem Serb from Plevlje, and the other an Albanian from Mitrovitza, both homeward bound. The Serb, a civil fellow, spoke little Albanian and kept quite apart from the others. He was deathly tired, groaned at the thought of the week's tramp yet before him, and rolled over fast asleep upon the ground as soon as we halted.
The hanjee provided hay for my bed and a stewed fowl for my supper. The hides were piled high, the horses picketed in line. We sat round a fire on the ground - the two beaky-nosed, grey-eyed Djakova men and the two soldiers. The Serb - though a Turkish subject and a Moslem - appeared to be considered as much a foreigner as myself. There was a red glow of firelight and a crackling shower of sparks as dry brushwood was piled on. The picketed horses munched steadily at a feed of maize. Over all was the intense blue depth of the cloudless night sky, ablaze with a myriad of stars. I wondered why people ever lived in houses as I rolled up in my rug on the hay bed.
Two faithful dogs guarded us all night, and had they not chosen my hay as the most comfortable place to sleep in, and barked loudly close to my ear whenever an imaginary danger threatened, I should have slept very well. But to lie awake under the stars is not the misery of sleeplessness in a room - rather it is pure joy. I saw them fade slowly as the dawn crept up - the crescent moon hung low - there came a dash of brilliant yellow over the hills - another day had begun. We rose and shook ourselves, and those who wished went and dipped their hands and face in the stream.
The weary task of pack-saddling began again. I walked with Marko to the brow of one hill and saw over to the land of Berisha.
Puka is a very large tribe of seven bariaks - Puka, Komani, Dushaj, Cheriti, Chiri, Berisha and Merturi-Gurit, and Kabashi. It is partly Moslem and partly Christian. Puka is the gathering-place for all. Three days before, they had celebrated 'Constitution,' and enjoyed themselves immensely, said the hanjee. Now they would like to know what Constitution was.
By six the caravan started; we swallowed the usual dose of black coffee by way of breakfast, and rode up the hill to Puka proper - a mere bunch of hovels, the Kaimmakam's little better than the rest. A few Nizams hung about it, but let us pass unquestioned.
We entered into a desolate wilderness of sandhills - or rather hills of earth so friable that it disintegrates at every shower, and no blade nor leaf can find a hold upon it. Nor was there any living creature - nothing but round bare hills, fantastically water-hewn, and dead as the mountains in the moon. Part of the track had to be taken very carefully - a narrow, friable ledge high along the mountain-side.
We got down into Arshi - a fertile valley, an arm of Mirdite land, the bariak of Spachi, that runs into Puka - and pulled up at midday at Han Arshit.
Han Arshit provided nothing - not even coffee. Marko and I ate the remains of last night's fowl which we had saved. The wretched horse that had fallen over the cliff the day before was dead lame, and had to be left at the han.
Trade, said the hanjee, was not what it was in the old days. Then a hundred horses at a time were often put up at the han. The railway to Salonika had ruined Albania by diverting all the traffic that used to go to Scutari and Durazzo. They were all being starved out; nothing but the long-talked-of railway to the Adriatic could save the land - let the Constitution hurry up with it.
Arshi lies on a river - Ljumi Gojanit. We followed it up a stony valley, steeper and steeper, to its source at the top of the pass, Chafa Malit.
There is a joy that never palls - the first glimpse into the unknown land. On the other side of the pass, a magnificent valley lay below us, thickly wooded with beech, and beyond were the lands which two rival races each claim as their birthright - one of the least-known corners of Europe.
I hurried eagerly down the steep descent on foot, by a rough track to Flet. Flet is Moslem, save for six families, all large; one, consisting of fifty members, showed quite an imposing group of stone houses. A church, but three years old, served occasionally by the priest of Dartha, showed trim and white.
We pushed on to Han Zaa. The han was shut up. The hanjee, on being summoned, said he could supply nothing - nothing at all, and that there were neither fowls nor eggs in the neighbourhood. He gave us leave, however, to pick as many beans as we liked from his field for twopence. The two soldiers started bean-picking, and I shucked industriously. Marko sent a child foraging for a fowl, and went to borrow a caldron. An ancient hen was produced, and Marko, who is a perfect camp cook, had it simmering in a huge pot of beans within half-an-hour. The hanjee volunteered two wooden ladles and a large bowl, and in due time we fed the entire company off beans stewed with hen. As they would otherwise have had nothing but the remains of the day before yesterday's maize bread, this put all in high good humour. I declined a kind offer that I should sleep in the lee of the pile of odoriferous hides, lay down on a heap of hay about 10 P. M., and slept right through till half-past five next morning, when I was surprised to find I had rolled into a dry ditch, and had slept on top of Marko's thick walking stick and a large stone.
We were bound for Djakova, and the rest of the party for Prizren, so started at once with one kirijee. Free of the pack train, we pushed on quickly down the valley of the Goska, past Han Sakati, and by a steep descent to the Drin, which we successfully forded, led by a native who stripped and carried my saddlebags on his head. It was a ticklish job, and can only be crossed thus in very dry weather.
Following the Drin down a short way to its junction with the Kruma, we struck up the valley of the Kruma, and were in the land of the Hashi. A great wall-like cliff, rising on the stream's left bank, is known as the fortress of Lek Dukagjin.
Hashi is a large tribe, variously reckoned at 600 to 1000 houses, the large majority of which are Moslem. It is separated by the White Drin from the Moslem tribe of Ljuma on the one side, and on the other marches with the Moslem Krasnich. Hashi land includes the Pestriku Mountains, which the Mirdites state to be their own ancestral home. They migrated to their present home, and the land was subsequently occupied by Hashi, which is no relation to Mirdita.
We left the Kruma, and rode on to a high undulating plateau of loose, friable soil, covered with stunted oak-scrub, parched and sun-scorched. There was neither shade nor spring. A Moslem friend of the kirijee's hailed him, and invited us all to take our midday rest at his place. The nearest spring on the track, he said, was two hours' distant, but he had plenty of water. We accepted gratefully, and followed him uphill. He had two houses side by side - ramshackle shanties made entirely of wood, save for the large chimney and fireplace of clay built up at the side.
He did not ask us in, but spread mats under a tree. His women - not veiled - stared at us from the doorstep of the farther house, and fetched a large jar of fresh water, but sent it to us by a boy. Several men joined us, and were very civil.
Our hosts had never seen a foreign woman dressed alla franga before in their land, and thought my coming rather a joke; for a Giaour to be riding openly through Hashi to Djakova unarmed was unusual, to say the least of it - only the besa made it possible. They had heard of 'Constitution,' but did not know what it was, only that there was a besa about it.
They were all of the same type as the Gusinje men - very tall, thin, and narrow-built, with large beaky nose and almost no chin, an odd bird-like pattern that seems to be wholely Moslem. They told us the land had once been all Christian, and that under the ruins of a church not far off was a vast treasure, but that it was impossible to find it - it was amanet.
They owned plenty of land, but it lay high, and lacked water. This year was a drought, and the pasture was all burnt up. The place they said was called Puka Zarisha. It is not marked in the Austrian staff map, which for all this neighbourhood is very faulty.
Returning to our track, we rode for over an hour through dull, dusty oak-scrub, then into a wood, where we watered the horses at the two-hour spring, and pushed on, as it was absolutely necessary to arrive before nightfall - passed a few wooden houses at Helshani, and met scarce a soul upon the road. It was a deserted wilderness. A long ascent brought us to the top of the pass, Chafa Prushit, and there lay Djakova on the plain below, with a long descent of rolling hill between us and it - red roofs glowing among the green trees, slim white minarets twinkling delicate like lilies. Djakova - as are all Turkish towns - is beautiful from a distance. And when it is civilised and black factory-chimneys arise in place of white minarets, it will be lovely neither within nor without. You cannot have everything.
I beheld it as a dream city - thought of the aching days of toil I had gone through vainly five years before, only to be turned back. The pleasing sensation of attainment wiped out temporarily the fatigue of a long, hot day in the saddle, and two scrappy nights' rest, and I hurried down the stony track - too steep for riding - on foot, a painful job enough, as I had started in new opanke, and had foolishly neglected to soak them in oil. The heat of the sun had shrunk the raw hide tight on to my feet and made it hard as iron. But it is only when you fail to reach the goal you set out for that raws really count.
Finally, we came down to the banks of the Erenik and a great seven-arched stone bridge, the usual parapetless, steep, narrow Turkish bridge, whose bold elegance of design makes one pardon the fact that it can be used only by foot passengers, and is very inconvenient even for them. The majestic height of the middle arch raises it high above the wild floods of winter.
On the farther bank lay Djakova, golden in the evening glow. We rode up to the priest's house, where Marko, an old friend, was greeted heartily. Marko's cousin, the schoolmaster, turned up at once.
After twelve hours' almost continuous travel and very little food, I accepted gladly the orthodox cognac and black coffee, and contemplated a rest till supper-time. But there is no coping with Albanian hospitality; the schoolmaster had flown home as soon as he had greeted us, and I was told he was ready to receive us at once. I was plastered with dust and sweat - had not washed for three days, let alone had my clothes or even my footgear off - and begged to be excused. Marko insisted that I was perfectly clean and looked beautiful. The priest humanely gave me a bowl of water and a towel, and they allowed me five minutes.
I crawled wearily over the kaldrmi to the schoolhouse. Kaldrmi is large irregular stones jammed together to make a roadway. You cannot call it pavement. There is no word in any other European language to express it. It is kaldrmi. When a stone is missing - I do not know how it gets out, but it does - a hole is left deep enough to break the leg of man or beast that trips into it. Kaldrmi is a cheap way of making a road, it never wears out, for no one ever thinks of driving or walking on it if there is any way of dodging it, but when it wanders beyond a town it is apt to be removed by folk, who build houses with it.
Luckily the schoolhouse was near. A large company was assembled, very smartly dressed, all most kindly eager to welcome me. A daughter of the house, married in Prizren, was making her first visit home since marriage, and was in full Prizren bridal dress - quite wonderful.
Her hair was parted across the back of her head, and plaited into two plaits, one upward and one downward. The lower hung down as a pigtail and was ornamented with a few coins. The upper was made into a solid block on the top of her head, standing in a point over the forehead (This is probably the origin of the pointed headdress of the Scutarene Catholic women.) On this foundation was a mass of sham gold coins - three bands of them and a big central gold medal. The side hair was cut short in two different lengths, and greased into two solid slabs, that hung on either side of the face. Over all were seven rows of pearl beads and coins that hung in loops to the shoulders.
A zouave, a solid mass of gold embroidery, an embroidered fine white silk shirt, yards and yards of a thick silk sash, striped green and orange, wound round her till she was a huge unwieldy lump, and big white bloomers with gold ankle-pieces, made up her costume. The other ladies, in Scutari dress, laughed at her. And the schoolmaster's wife - who was alla franga and looked quite out of place in the picture - was held up to her as a shining example. But the Prizren bride outshone them all. Bizarre and glittering, her many dingle-dangles forced her to sit stiff and still like a Byzantine ikon, and her pallid face and dead black hair gave decorative effect to the blaze of gold and colour.
It was not till I saw her next day that I realised her costume. Then I was too tired. The hospitable sofra was spread with the usual chopped hard eggs, sliced melon, cheese, grapes, sweetmeats, all their best, with true Albanian liberality. And the usual spirit-drinking and snack-nibbling began, a process most painful when one is tired and wants real food. I struggled to speak Italian with the bride and the schoolmaster, and to air my weak Albanian on every one, with aching limbs and a splitting head and an empty stomach, into which politeness demanded that I should pour rakia. The room was suffocating. Meze (tidbits) and rakia were Marko's great delight. Many Albanians indeed prefer this part of an entertainment to the meal that it precedes. And all were happy. We returned at last to the priest's house, supped, and slept.
Djakova, like most Turkish towns that are not in a stone district, is built of mud. Two or three of the lowest courses of a wall only are of stone, then follows a beam, then eight or ten courses of sun-dried bricks (chepchi) and another beam - all quite haphazard. If the beam be crooked, mud is bunged into the hole and the bricks are humped over all irregularities, regardless of the fact that the wall bulges. If it be too crooked to stand alone, extra supports are shoved against it. All houses are surrounded by walls, the tops of which are tiled to prevent the rain from melting them, and the eaves of all the houses project widely for a similar reason. The streets, kaldrmi in the middle, and a sea of mud or a bed of dust on either side, according to weather, are incomparably filthy and stinking. All the muck from the privies, and every sort of refuse, are thrown out on to any open spot - street corners and cross roads, and the river bank - and left to fester. The carcase of a dead horse rotted in the sun, while the hooded crows - the only scavengers - tore at its gaunt ribs. No windows look upon the streets, which are flanked with blank mud walls, the doors in whose gateways are often plated with iron and dinted with bullets.
Djakova was founded about four hundred years ago by two stocks from Bitush Merturi - Vula and Merturi. Of these two the Vula stock still flourishes; our kirijee belonged to it. Merturi is reputed one of the oldest Albanian tribes, known in Roman times as Merituri. It is fair in type, and fair men seemed not uncommon in Djakova.
Djakova was all Christian at first, but the Vula stock perverted early. The Merturi remained Christian, but have now no representatives left in the town. Many of the neighbouring villages perverted in a block one Easter, when an Italian priest foolishly celebrated mass so early that when the villagers arrived at the town it was over. As he could not comply with their angry demand to repeat it for them, they went over to the nearest mosque.
In the town the number of Catholics has been steadily diminishing. Twenty years ago there were still a hundred Catholic families in Djakova. Little more than twenty now remain, and of these many are not of old town stock, but recent refugees from neighbouring villages. Sixty villages still remain Catholic in the district, but have few churches and no priests. Three priests and one Franciscan, resident in Djakova, ride - often at very great personal risk - from one village to another, doing their best to aid their scattered flock. These villages are offshoots of various Christian tribes that came at different dates - from Berisha, Shala, Mirdita, etc. As the Serbs weakened in power, the Albanians surged back again over the plains from which tradition tells that they had originally come.
As I was the first traveller that had come to Djakova with Government permission for a long while, I decided to report myself and Marko, in person, at the Konak at once.
There was no Kaimmakam. The late one had belonged to the Young Turk party, but the cheery Moslems of Djakova - hearing that other towns were deposing their governors - promptly chivied him, Constitution having, in their minds, done away with the necessity of any Turkish representative. The Kaimmakam was temporarily replaced by a Bimbashi (Colonel).
The small Catholic population keeps mainly to its own quarters, and my wish to go through the town to the Konak caused much nervousness. The day after the Constitution had proclaimed a general amnesty, and it was announced that Christians were henceforth to be justly treated, a Christian had been shot dead in the bazar by a Moslem zaptieh (policeman) for no offence. His relatives had not obtained redress, and the zaptieh was unpunished. It was dreaded that Constitution was a trick for allaying the fears of the Christians and then massacring them.
A Catholic consented to guide Marko and me to the Konak, but he put on a loaded revolver before he ventured out. A crown of Moslem boys gathered at once, and followed shouting and howling at us. Nor was it surprising, if it be true that (as I was afterwards told) I was the first quite unveiled woman that had walked through the town within any one's recollection, if ever. Marko and our guide were both horribly nervous. The latter kept his hand on the butt of his revolver all the time - to my annoyance, for under such circumstances fear should never be shown, whatever happens. I explained that lots of little London boys would jeer just as much at an Albanian woman in full dress. But this they would not believe, and hurried me along through narrow back streets, avoiding the bazar.
The Konak, a ramshackle, wood and mud building, stood in a big yard, through one of the walls of which an extra gateway had been made by simply smashing a hole. We passed through a ragged crowd of zaptiehs, suvarris, and their horses, and a general rag-tag and bobtail, and were shown up into a dingy room, where the Bimbashi, in uniform, sat alla franga on a chair, and the rest of the company, in native dress, squatted cross-legged on a wide seat that went all round the room. The most important - the head of the Moslem faith in Djakova - an old man in a white turban, with a long, white beard and immense white penthouse eyebrows, sat at the Bimbashi's right hand, and eyed me with marked displeasure.
The Bimbashi was very civil, but spoke no language I know. My remarks had, therefore, to be translated by Marko for the benefit of the whole company. They were all ears at once.
I showed my teskereh, and answered the usual questions. The Bimbashi who, as is the wont of Turkish officials, continued signing documents and giving instructions aside to various persons all the time he was conversing - (I have often wondered whether this is why Turkish affairs are always in a muddle) - expressed himself as delighted to see an English visitor. Of Djakova and neighbourhood he knew little. He reckoned that there were between two and three thousand houses in the town, but the number of inhabitants was quite unknown - a census must be taken under the new law. He was anxious to know how the conversion of England to Islam was proceeding, and regretted that press of business prevented his entertaining me at his house to discuss this question, but the laying of blood feuds, under the new besa, occupied him from dawn to dark. He hoped, however, to establish peace shortly.
Meaning to be polite, I wished all success to this beneficent work, and that the Constitution might spread peace and prosperity through the land.
At this the old white-beard, his eyes glaring stonily from their deep caverns, shouted something in a hoarse, deep voice. There was a general murmur. Marko looked uneasy and interpreted: "Tell that Giaour woman it is no affair of hers. She is not to interfere in the Sultan's business. It is the Sultan's business alone. We want no Giaours."
Marko replied we had no wish to interfere; we had but agreed with what the Bimbashi said. Some one coming in on business, I rose and said good-bye to the Bimbashi, who very politely called up a zaptieh and told him to escort me back.
We passed through a crowd at the gate, who growled angrily, "We have only had this Constitution a month, and the Giaours have already begun to come."
The zaptieh hurried us back, this time through the bazar. I noticed that the numerous gunshops were heaped with Mauser cartridges. My escort was too nervous to allow me to stay - unnecessarily, I believe, for I doubt if any one would have really molested me - and we arrived back safely. The native Catholic took off his revolver with a sigh of relief, and swore that not for five pounds would he again cross the town with me.
For the past ten months things had been going from bad to worse, and the worst was now feared to be imminent.
In the previous October (1907) an Albanian Franciscan, Frate Luigi, resident in Djakova, started to ride from Djakova to Ipek, with a Moslem kirijee. He was captured when not far from Djakova by a large party of armed Moslems, taken to Smolitza, a Moslem village, and there imprisoned in the room of a house. No ransom was asked, but he was held as hostage for the release of a brother of one of his captors, who had been imprisoned by the Turkish Government.
The Turkish Government was at once informed, but took no step whatever. The Catholic Church in Albania is under the protection of Austria, and the Austrian Consulate in Prizren was applied to also, without result. The Frate was several times threatened with death if he would not turn Turk, to which he replied, they might kill him as soon as they liked. He was not otherwise molested, and was given enough to eat. The Catholics in the neighbourhood, exasperated, called on the Catholic mountain tribes to come to their help. A dead pig was then found in the mosque in Smolitza (this is the usual Christian way of declaring war on the Moslems), and Fra Luigi was suddenly released, after ten weeks' detention, though the man for whom he was hostage was not. No explanation of the affair has ever been forthcoming.
There was more in the affair than meets the eye, but by whom engineered we shall never know. The report, widely current in the Sanjak and Slavonic borderlands, that so soon as Austria was ready to move she would cause to be got up a massacre of Christians of sufficient magnitude to compel her to go to the rescue, and make Europe give her another mandate to 'civilize' Balkan lands, occurred to my mind; more especially as in 1906 many Austrians in Bosnia had boasted to me that they meant to be in Saloniki, under the Austrian flag, by November 1909.
The pig in the mosque aroused at once an attack on the Christians. The village of Ramotzi was accused of the deed; but to this day the doer of it is not known. Nevertheless, Ramotzi was attacked and thirty-one houses burned, with all their goods. One house was forced to surrender after forty-eight hours' siege. The defenders were promised safe-conduct, but were fired on when coming out - four killed, five wounded. In all, fourteen villages were attacked, and eighty-six houses burnt and plundered. Each contained from twenty to fifty inhabitants. When I was there, all were destitute and houseless. This went on through the spring of 1908. The Catholics were given till Ramazan (September) to turn Turk or be killed.
In Prizren also it was reported that a pig had been found in a mosque. This is believed to have been false. Even Hilmi Pasha said he did not believe it. The two men who said they had found it, declared they had at once thrown it in the river. On account of this alleged pig, a severe boycott was then started against all Catholics, who were almost reduced to starvation, and very many had to leave the town.
The worst case of persecution was that of the Bibez family of Bretkotzi. They had a group of very large houses, and great store of food and cattle. The head, though he had no quarrel with the Moslems, was told it was not seemly for a Christian to have such a large house, and that he must pull down a storey or it should be burnt. He asked the Kaimmakam for protection, and was given a hundred soldiers and some zaptiehs. He also appealed to the Austrian Consulate in Prizren.
After an anxious month, he received an ultimatum from the Moslems. He must turn Turk, or they would burn him out.
He hurried to Djakova, where the Kadi (the Kaimmakam being absent) swore to him that the soldiers should not be withdrawn, and that his goods were safe. He therefore did not remove any of them. A few days later the soldiers were suddenly all withdrawn by order of Shemsi Pasha (afterwards shot dead at Monastir), and a crowd of armed Moslems at once attacked. No lives were taken, but the entire group of houses, with the possessions of the whole family, were utterly destroyed. I made a vain attempt to draw the attention of a charitable in England to the piteous plight of these Catholic villages. The papers that had always space for the sufferings of the Orthodox in Macedonia had no corner to spare.
The people themselves thought their plight due to the European intervention in Macedonia, which had incensed the Moslems against Christians in other parts.
The aforesaid intervention did no good at all in Macedonia, and seems to have made matters worse elsewhere. It is possible that the Powers most interested intended that it should. At any rate, the English officers were carefully shoved into a corner where they could do least harm to other people's plans.
Djakova is in Kosovo vilayet. Kosovo vilayet was a most important part of the great Servian Empire of the Middle Ages. The Serb of to-day looks at it as part of his birthright, and of its recapture the young men see visions and the old men dream dreams.
Djakova, having been founded by Albanians after the fall of the Servian Empire, is naturally an Albanian town. Of its two thousand and odd houses, but one hundred are Serb Orthodox. These are segregated on the opposite side of the town from the Catholics, and have little or no communication with them. A Catholic actually told me he had never been in the Serb quarter. The two Churches distrust one another more than they do the Moslems.
There are no Serb villages near Djakova. But I heard that the feast of the Assumption would be celebrated by a great concourse of people at the Serb monastery of Devich, some twelve hours away, and arranged to go on pilgrimage with a Serb family of Djakova, and travel as they did, without escort, in a native cart - a strema. At 3.30 A. M. it clattered into the yard. I was asleep. It was pitch-dark. They could not wait, I was told. "Be quick, be quick!" I scrambled into my clothes, gulped a cup of black coffee, threw myself unwashen and uncombed into the cart, and we were off.
It was pouring rain. The dawn had not yet broken as we plunged through Djakova in the dark. I braced my feet hard against one side of the cart, and my back against the other. Save a little hay, it was uncushioned, and rocked, reeled, and rebounded over boulders of kaldrmi, into yawning holes, almost falling over on one side, only to recover and stagger on to one wheel or the other.
Marko and I bumped together like dried peas in a pod. We drew rein at the door of the Servian school. Two stremas, full of men, women, and children awaited us, well wedged and padded in with cushions, dusheks, and yorgans, and heaps of coloured bundles - their best clothes and provisions.
The chill, grey dawn broke as we drove through the iron-plated, bullet-marked gate of the town, past stinking heaps of refuse, unutterable filth - horses' bones - black mud - a forlorn graveyard - the dismal barracks, with the great wall of a dismantled building alongside melting into mud - where half-clad Nizams wandered drenched and miserable, like damnèd souls forlorn in a circle of the Inferno.
The rain cleared as we came out on to the plain - the road, as usual in these lands, bad, but considered good - boulders, mudholes, gullies, which were taken at a canter and 'switchbacked.' Our driver was a Serb of the heavily-built, fair, very broad-headed type, that one finds in Bosnia but never in the mountains of High Albania. He, as indeed did my travelling companions, spoke a mixture of Serb and Albanian, even to each other, and when I questioned him in Serb replied sometimes wholly in Albanian. I noticed that they never inflected their adjectives, but said, "Dobro, po dobro, mnogo dobro," i.e. good, more good, much good, for 'good,' 'better,' 'best,' as do the Slavs of Macedonia.
At first the plain was mostly covered with oak-scrub. Farther on were a few houses and maize-fields. It is very sparsely inhabited. It was impossible to follow our route in the Austrian staff map, it being very faulty, which is not surprising if it be true, as I was assured, that no European had been before by this track. Roughly speaking, we followed up the right bank of the White Drin to its junction with the Dechanski Bistritza, which we crossed, crossing also the Drin rather higher up. We then followed up the Drin's left bank on a narrow road some ten feet above the river. Here we pulled up to ask the way of some men, and one of the stremas at once fell over the bank. The driver left it at the very edge; the horses backed, and the whole thing capsized and rolled clean over, the horses and the front wheels remaining on the road above. The women screamed loudly, but as the tilt was very strong and they were well wedged in with cushions they were luckily not thrown out. Half-an-hour's repairing put all right. We left the river and struck uphill.
On the plateau on the top we found typical Servian zadrugas, family groups of houses enclosed in huge palisades (palanka). Thick stakes, some nine or ten feet high, cut into spikes at the top, are driven into the ground about eighteen inches apart. These are wattled together, not with simple withies but with twisted ropes of branches, very thick and solid. Outside, this dense wall is buttressed at short intervals with small tree trunks. The top is roofed with thick masses of blackthorn, which project so widely as to make it quite impossible for any one to climb the fence from without. Above the blackthorn project the spiked stakes. The whole mighty wooden wall is one of the most primitive types of fortification. So, in all probability, did the ancient inhabitants of Britain defend their hill encampments - as do the Serbs now - against both men and wolves.
We saw but one church and no mosque, but were told there were many Moslem families. The ruins of one old church were pointed out. Money enough had been collected to rebuild it, but the Sultan had refused permission. The families in this part mostly owned and worked the land they lived on. Further on were, for the most part, Moslem chiftliks. The track in many places was really good, and a proper road could easily be made.
After six hours' travel, we halted for an hour and a half at Han Zaimit, a wretched clay-built shanty which I did not enter. A scattered village not far off was called Zaimit Pes. A crowd of gypsies made their lair near the han. The real wild Balkan gypsies rarely bother about a tent, but crouch in the lee of any bush or bank that is near a water or fuel supply. Swarthy, scarlet-lipped, with black brilliant eyes, long heavy elf-locks of dead black hair, and unspeakably filthy, they are scorned alike by Serb and Albanian. The scorn they return tenfold, for they hold that they are the chosen of all races, and that none other knows how to enjoy the gift of life. One came up and boasted that he was the father of thirty-two children. The Serbs, not to be outdone, told of a Serb near Ipek who is father to twenty-four sons all by one mother, and that all are grown up and pod oruzhja (bearing arms). To cap this we were told of a Moslem with forty-two children, but by how many wives was unknown. After these cheerful proofs that the country was not depopulating, we proceeded, and lost the way several times and were much delayed. Passing through a village, Kopilich, we crossed a stream, Reka Devichit, and got up into a plateau, all scrub-oak, and topped one hummock after another without ever seeming to get any farther. On slopes below were many palisaded zadrugas, some with very large houses within them. Many were said to be Moslem. Others had crosses on them.
The descent was awful; the driver lashed up his horses, and, once off, we had either to smash or come to the bottom whole, plunging at a break-neck pace down a narrow gully over loose boulders. The terrified horses kept their legs somehow, and landed trembling and drenched with sweat at the bottom. As for me, I was pitched violently across and across the strema. Giddy with concussion I alighted, joined the streams of pilgrims, and ascended on foot to the monastery in the oak forest above - a mass of irregular white buildings that scrambled at different heights haphazard round three yards.
We passed through the lower yard with a seething mass of pilgrims, and went straight into the church on one side of it. It was about 5 P. M. The tiny church was dark, and crammed with people. My appearance created the greatest excitement. As I passed the side where all flocked to light tapers, the glare fell on me, and I was at once surrounded, seized upon, and fingered all over by an eager crowd. My hat, my kodak, my bag all were examined. How much money was in it? From what vilayet was I? Who was I? My name? - all regardless of the service which was in full swing. A man in European dress - a monastery secretary - hurried to the centre of hubbub, learnt that I was English, and dashed off to inform the officiating priests.
The heat was suffocating, and the fingering and pulling about more than I wanted after the twelve hours' jolting drive.
I left the church. Opposite it stood the house of the Archimandrite, or Hagi as they called him here. A steep flight of wooden steps led to a perfect rabbit-warren of pilgrims' rooms which were reached through a narrow door about four feet high. Beyond, a huge, white-washed, three-storeyed hospitium - with the usual big wooden balcony to each floor - surrounded two sides of a large yard. Below, on one side, was a smaller yard surrounded by stables. The whole was an indescribable confusion - a seething mass of pilgrims, babies, bundles, sacks, and rugs filled the entire space of the two yards, and each balcony and staircase, some seeking rooms, others camping where they were, all in search of some one or something - a deafening babel of voices. The third yard was a struggling tangle of packhorses, carts, draught-oxen, and buffaloes, and their owners. And no matter what any one was doing, they left off to come and examine me. The monastery servants, who preserved their wits wonderfully in the confusion, allotted a tiny room to our party, and I crowded into it with my Serb fellow-travellers, who proceeded to furnish it with their cushions and coverlets.
The Hagi himself visited me, so soon as he had concluded service in the church.
He was a tall, fair, handsome man, very friendly, and much relieved to find I understood Serb. Marko, who knows but little, asked him if he understood Albanian.
He laughed heartily and replied, "I am Albanian." Born of Albanian parents, he explained he had spoken Albanian only as a child. But having joined the Orthodox Church, he was now a Servian, and Servian was more familiar to him than his mother tongue.
So is it in the Debatable Lands. The Serbs have a converted Albanian as head of their monastery, and conversely, one of the most patriotic Albanian priests in Djakova was a Serb by birth - had spoken Serb only as a child, and now had almost forgotten it.
The Hagi at once said I was to be his guest. The Metropolitan of Prizren was there with some Servian schoolmistresses from Prishtina, and we should all be a party together. No foreigner, so far as he knew, had ever been to Devich with the exception of one Russian Consul - the good man was almost as excited over me as were the pilgrims. I came forth from the very temporary rest in the little room, and was introduced. To my amazement I found I was celebrated. Some one recognized me as having been in Dechani five years ago. "Ah, it is the Balkan Englishwoman, the friend of the Montenegrins!" The Metropolitan knew all about me - a schoolmistress lately from Saloniki, retailed my Macedonian career. We had supper on the terrace under a pergola. Fast day - but an excellent meal of river-trout, tomato salad, balls of rice and herbs rolled in vine leaves (japrak), and green paprikas stuffed with rice and frightfully hot. Plenty of kaimak (clotted cream), sheep-cheese, and fruit. It was the merriest party. You reached out and helped yourself to whatever was handy, and made the same plate do. And above, around, and beneath us was one vast picnic.
Rations were served out all hot from the kitchen, the air was heavy with the fumes of roast and baked, all food was gratis, and each had as much as he liked. People ran hither and thither with steaming bowls and trays. Save ourselves at the high table, every one fed off vessels of solid copper, tinned, of which the monastery had enough for two thousand and more pilgrims.
It is characteristic of the Balkan man, be he Slav or Albanian, that he can enjoy himself thoroughly and whole-heartedly, without ever becoming rowdy or losing his self-respect. There was no one to keep order among this vast concourse of happy people, nor was any one required. It is to be hoped that what is called civilisation may never reduce them to the barbarous level of 'Arry and 'Arriet on Bank holiday. I was towed off to sleep with the schoolmistresses, and we retired at 10.30, for which - having been on a pretty constant strain since 3 A. M., and having finished up with talking Servian all the evening, having had no practice for over a year - I was not sorry.
It was a small room, the floor entirely covered with mattresses. There were a great many of us. They kindly gave me the only bedstead. Unfortunately, however, one of the ladies was married, and her son and husband shared our room. So though I had a bedstead, it was impossible to go to bed in it properly. Fortunately, the only window was just above me, and I opened it surreptitiously.
The schoolmarms, declaring sleep was impossible, began to dance the kolo, but I was asleep from sheer exhaustion before they had done.
It was but a short sleep, for, suddenly, in plunged the djakon, telling us to get up and come to church. I wearily looked at my watch. It was 1 A. M. Only three ladies went. I slept again. In came the djakon again, this time to get medicine out of a drawer near my head. The floor being covered with sleepers, this made no end of commotion. At five, again the djakon, this time to do his hair! And then the Hagi for something or other. Further sleep was impossible.
My stable companions used a common comb. I was the proud possessor of a private one. I went out dirty, sticky, and staggering with sleep, and asked if it were possible to wash. When the Metropolitan was up, I could have his basin. Not before.
The great man having emerged, I was conducted to his washstand, and a serving-man poured two tablespoonfuls of water over my hands, which I rubbed on my face in the approved style - and my toilet was complete.
Outside, coffee was being served at the kitchen door (no food, of course). It waked me at once. I turned to the marvellous scene.
And it was truly marvellous - such costumes as I had never seen before and may never see again - many of them indeed museum pieces, all the best of every district.
The finest of all were from Ipek Caza. Ipek itself is almost entirely Moslem Albanian, the Serbs and Catholics form but a small minority; the villages around, however, are very largely Serb, and form a Serb island in an otherwise Albanian land.
The women's shirts are a mass of the very finest cross-stitch embroidery in dull red, blue and green, the colours all native dyes. Cross-stitch (very common in Russia) is Slavonic and does not occur on Albanian costume. It makes, of necessity, angular patterns. Albanian patterns are all of flowing lines adapted for braiding and gold thread. The flowing line is similarly found on old Albanian carved chests and ceilings.
Over the richly-embroidered shirt is a very short petticoat - a mere waist-frill some 12 inches deep - of striped material, the stripes being almost always all hand-work in the finest stitches. A very broad binder is bound round the lower part of the body like an abdominal support. Over this is a heavy, leathern belt, with brass plaques on it studded with red and green 'jewels' of glass, the workmanship poor. On the shoulders is a zouave of various colours, usually dark, with scarlet or yellow braid. The breast is quite covered with a mass of large silver coins - like Maria Theresas - and numbers of glass bead and coral necklaces and crosses, and hearts of glass like those popular in Bosnia. Some wore triangular leather amulet-cases on a string slung over one shoulder.
The married women wear a peaked head-dress, simliar to that of mediaeval ladies, but smaller. It is of white linen, with a finely embroidered edge in various colours, the ends hang down to the shoulders; over the top of the head, and hanging either side to the ear, is a broad band of turquoise-blue beads ending in a triangular dingle-dangle.
The hair is parted in the middle, and again lower down. The top section is twisted round a solid foundation to make a huge curl, a great sausage of hair stiff with grease, which curves forward on each side of the face, framing it completely. The end of the curl is sewn with coins - it is a head-dress that is made to last - sometimes as many as five Maria Theresas on each, and to make all firm both curls are sewn down to the leather band which goes under the chin, and is thickly covered with blue beads. Such of the hair as is not used for the curl is plaited and used as a support behind the curl to which it is fastened. The whole makes a solid block of hair - grotesque and extraordinary; at least so I thought till I came back to England and found every one's head swollen to double its size with stuffings, frizettes, and 'transformations.'
I had just started drawing, and was getting on well, when one of the schoolmarms espied me. With the best of intentions in the world she summoned everybody to see what I was doing, and all my chances were over. I was the centre of a mob all striving to see me do it again, and attention being turned on me, I was hunted all day. Every peasant wanted to speak to me, and most of them did; I was questioned till I was on the point of exhaustion, and all the time I had a ridiculous feeling that it was a case of the biter bit. For months I had been incessantly questioning about manners and customs, now I was myself the victim. I was asked about all that I did, and then "why?" The thing that bothered everybody was my straw hat; they had never seen one before; "Why do you wear wheat on your head?" Every one broke a little bit off the brim to make sure it really was "wheat."
"Do you wear it in the house?" "Do you sleep in it?" "Do you wear it to show you are married?" "To show you are not married?" "Did you make it?" "Are all the women in your vilayet (province) obliged to wear wheat on their heads?" "Is there a law about it?" "Or do you wear it per chef (for pleasure)?"
"I wear it because of the sun," said I desperately. "Why because of the sun?" "It is hot," said I. "No, it isn't," said they. They did not wear wheat because of the sun. Would I tell them the real reason? It occurred to me that if there was a Devich Anthropological Society it might report that it had found traces of sun-worship in the English, and mysterious rites connected with it that no questioning could elicit. I fell back on the answer that has so often tried me in others: "I wear it because I do. It is nash obichaj (our custom)."
This satisfied them wholly, for there is a proverb which says: "It is better that a village should fall than a custom." The brim of my hat looked as though it had been gnawed by rats all round, and I felt justified in pulling every one about mercilessly in return, and examining all their ornaments; but it was very fatiguing - on an empty stomach.
Two gypsy bands played incessantly, both at once. One instrument was a cylinder of earthenware with a piece of hide strained on the top, and slapped with the hand; another was a big drum. The sun was nearly at full strength, the air was thick with the dust of many dancing feet; the perpetual pom-pom-pom, rhythmical, insistent, throbbed like a fever pulse in the sizzling heat. Only for one half-hour, when a service was held in the yard outside the church (it was far too small to hold the congregation), did the band stop, and then there was singing.
Midday brought the much-needed dinner in the Metropolitan's room. I sat next to him, and was excellently well fed. But even the meal was a long and stiff viva voce examination in Servian. His Grace was pleased to express his admiration for the physical strength of the English. He himself, for example, though he had not had such a long and exhausting journey as I had, and accustomed to the country, was quite tired out!
After dinner all went to rest. I had two hours' heavy sleep in the crowded room of the night before. Then we were all poked up. Tumblers of water were passed round; Serbs are always water-thirsty. I amused every one highly by pouring mine over my head and neck.
Thus roused I went out again, and, as the first excitement about me had somewhat subsided, managed to get some photographs and drawings made.
Then a long strip of mats and carpets was laid right across the yard. The Hagi, his secretary, and some monks sat on cushions at one end, and I was invited to join them. A number of heads of families then sat in a long row, cross-legged, on either side the carpet. Rakia and the usual snacks were served all round. Each man in turn came up, kissed the Hagi's hand, and made an offering to the church - from a few piastres to a pound Turk, and the secretary inscribed each in a book. They were nearly all townsfolk from Prizren, Prishtina, Ipek, and Mitrovitza. The peasants had already left or were leaving. It was a very long job; about a hundred and fifty napoleons were collected.
Then came gifts in kind, brought for the most part by women - shirts, drawers, towels, and sheets, and handkerchiefs, many finely embroidered in colours and gold.
Almost all these town women were dressed alla Turka, had their hair dyed black, and their eyebrows joined by paint in the middle. One in particular wore a magnificent white satin overcoat (koret) brocaded with silver and stiff with raised silver embroidery - another, an equally fine one, of crimson velvet and gold. The apron, usually worn over the large bloomers, was of wonderfully fine silk tissue, embroidered in colour and gold. Native eye for colour, when let alone, rarely goes wrong, but alas, 'civilisation' is working sad havoc, and hideous parrots and bunches of flowers in Berlin wool-work (as taught in the schools) were among the most admired of the offerings to the Church. The curse of 'made in Germany' is already withering the land. The bad beginning, may be, of a bad end.
Supper was late. I was dog-tired, nor was there any corner where I could sit at peace. By this time two women from Andrijevitza, in Montenegro, two from Berani, a man from Ipek, and a young monk from the monastery of Miloshevo, in the sanjak of Novi-bazar, had all recognised and claimed acquaintance with me, and I sent greetings to all friends in each place.
It was strange, in the heart of the wilderness, to find so many that knew me.
The djakon took me to see the monastery library of old Slavonic church-books, both in print, from early presses, and in manuscript. They had been shockingly neglected, and, unluckily, no perfect copies remained of books that, even in their battered state, are of considerable value. It is possible that among the litter missing pages might be found. I begged that all that remained should be carefully preserved.
When it got dark, I sat on a stone by the wall, and got a rest for a few minutes. Then I was poked up to drink cognac with the Metropolitan. I would, by that time, gladly have drunk a quart. It kept me up till supper. Then we turned out again to see the kolo danced round bonfires, and sing national songs. We turned in at 11.30, I with orders to be ready to start at 3.30 A. M.
I seemed scarcely to have fallen asleep when the head of the Serb party I had come with knocked at the door. The carts were ready.
I collected my coat, belt, and boots, and crawled out over the sleeping schoolmarms into the chilly night air, reeling with sleep.
We swallowed our ration of coffee, and were soon off. The Serbs kindly lent us two sacks, which we stuffed full of hay, so that we were not so badly shaken on the return journey. The women of the Serb party reproached me with not having come to sit with them in their room in the monastery. I was sorry, for I felt that I had not been polite to them, and they meant most kindly. But all spare time - and it was not much - I had used in getting the opinion of as many different people as possible on the Constitution.
We arrived safely in Djakova about 6 A. M., said good-bye to our Serb friends at the entrance, and drove through the town, followed by a hooting, howling mob of Moslem boys, who hung on to the cart and poked up the cover with sticks - Marko and the driver very vexed and nervous, but bad words break no bones.
We found the priests as tired as we were. They had been out in the villages all the time we had been away. Typhoid had broken out in them. Water, on account of the drought, was scarce and bad, and all provisions short as a result of the recent persecutions. I could only prescribe complete rest, cleanliness, and a slop diet, and vainly strove to prevent the administering of the filthy local remedy - dogs' dung that has been dropped on a stone in the sun, powdered and given in water. Marko and one of the priests had absolute faith in it. They each knew cases which had survived it, and were reckoned as cures.
And I learnt that the only emetic known to the Albanian pharmacopoeia is human excrement and water - given in all cases of supposed poisoning; and that the remedy for dipsomania is the same, mixed with rakia.
So ended a weary day.
The Moslems of Djakova did not seem pleased with the Constitution, did not desire Turkish interference, and certainly objected to the visit of a Giaour. Subsequently I heard that there had been much talk about me, and that the Catholics were told that it was a good thing they had not harboured me a day longer.
The Christians, both Orthodox and Catholic, had not the smallest hope or faith in the Constitution.
Devich Monastery was founded after the great defeat of the Serb nation at Kosovo, and dates from the time of George of Smederevo (ob. 1457), who ruled a restricted Servia under Turkish suzerainty.
At that time the great emigration of Serbs to Hungary had not taken place, and the population must have been mainly Serb. The gathering at the monastery was unusually large, owing to the temporary peace. The very large majority were from Ipek caza, more than half of the whole gathering. And there, I was assured, was the largest Serb population. Near Djakova there was none. Those I questioned were much disappointed that the Government was to remain Turkish - had hoped for foreign intervention. They did not want a Turkish Government, because then the land would never be theirs. They wanted to own the land themselves, and not work on chiftliks. All Turkish Governments had been bad, and this would be also.
The Moslems of Ipek had not accepted the Constitution, and vowed they would accept no law that would interfere with their rights. The Serbs round Berana (part of the Vasojevich tribe) were very much disappointed about the Constitution. They did not want to be any more under any Turkish Government.
The report that in future they were all to be called Ottomans enraged Serb and Albanian alike. It was all another trick to keep them under the Turks. The Christian Powers ought not to permit it. At present all agreed it "was like a dream," but they expected a rude awakening, and the Serbs, regardless of the fact that in most places they are much in the minority, still have visions of the expulsion of all Moslems, and the reconstruction of the great Servian Empire.
I passed the rest of my time in the Catholic quarter. Djakova has always been renowned for its silver-workers. It is an interesting fact that throughout North Albania almost all silver-work is by Christians, and the trade is hereditary in families. The designs are therefore in all probability genuine Albanian, deriving from pre-Turkish times. In Djakova, Prizren, Prishtina and Mitrovitza, I found all silver-workers Christians.
As might be expected, Djakova revels in the supernatural, and miraculous happenings are frequent. In a mountain-side hard by, on the left of the road to Prizren, is a magic cavern. For miles does it go underground; none knows how far, some say even beneath the Drin. In it is a large and ancient city where no man now lives; but the bazar, to this very day, is stocked with all that is finest and best - fruit, flesh, fish, jewels, and fair raiments. But should any man venture to touch one single thing, his torch at once goes out, serpents spring up and devour him in the darkness. And these are no serpents; they are oras (spirits) that guard the cavern. No man has ventured in for many years.
I said I would, and asked to be guided to the spot, but none dared take me. Nor is this the sole spot that is miraculously guarded.
Not far from Djakova, on a hill, are the ruins of a chapel. A Moslem tried to dig there for treasure, but was at once struck dead by lightning out of a cloudless sky. Not sufficiently warned, some men went to remove stones for building purposes, but a crowd of serpents at once leapt from the ground, and the intruders only just escaped. For oras can take what form they please - birds, beasts, women, or serpents.
Quite recently a man was driving past with an ox-cart, when both of the oxen fell on their knees before the ruins; and the holiness of the spot being now proved beyond all doubt, none dare meddle with it in future. ...
The first strema we had engaged to take us to Prizren was requisitioned by a Moslem Bey at the last moment. We got off, finally, one morning at 8.30 A. M.
The road, quite a decent one, followed up the left bank of the Erenik as far as Ura Terzijit (the Tailors' Bridge) - a grand stone bridge of eleven arches - said to have been built three hundred years ago by the tailors of Djakova and Prizren.
Fording the river, we drove up the right bank, and struck across the White Drin. The Erenik joins the Drin through a narrow gully, where a hill arises from the plain, and is spanned by a lofty bridge of one large arch, Ura Fshait. Our driver suddenly loaded his Martini, and rushed off to shoot at two wild-geese on the river. It proved a wild-goose chase.
We drove along the plain, on the Drin's right bank, passing on our left a Moslem village, Djurtha, and on our right another, Ragova, both with mosques. Fording the Drin, we halted at midday at Han Krusha, a newly-built inn of mud bricks, whose Moslem owners were most civil. Then on over land that was fairly cultivated and looked fertile - maize, corn, and tobacco - and through Pirona, a large Moslem village, up over rising ground, and there lay Prizren in the valley below, with the ruins of an old castle and the white walls of modern barracks on the height beyond.
Fortune was favouring me beyond my deserts. Prizren was another of my dream cities, and I beheld it with my waking eyes.
Prince Nicholas' song - the song that enshrines in a few verses the Great Servian Idea - the song that every Serb school-child knows, "Onward, onward, let me see Prizren," rang in my memory. I had seen the tribesmen of Montenegro sing it with tears in their eyes. I had heard it secretly sung in Bosnia, where it is forbidden by the Austrian Government.
After the Russian-Turkish war, when the beaten Turk had to yield to Europe's demands, the dearest hope of the Serb people was that Prizren, the heart of the old Servian Empire, the capital of Tsar Dushan, would shortly again be theirs.
Pondering all these things, we clattered into the town.
Prizren is a large town, and highly picturesque. It lies both sides of the Prizrenski Bistritza (a tributary of the Drin), and spawls up the mountain-side, from which spirt and gush numberless streams of clear, cold water. The water supply is quite amazing, and the river would be a considerable size were it not diverted into three channels at different levels, which supply the town and work mills.
The streets are very fairly clean, and the town full of life and activity.
But even the best friend of the Serbs must admit that it is a Moslem Albanian town. The Servian Metropolitan had already lamented to me that the Serbs were in a considerable minority, but I had not expected to find them such a mere drop in the ocean.
The census just made under the Constitution gives:
Moslem houses ............................................... 3500
Servian houses (with 4320 inhabitants) ......... 950
Catholic Albanian houses .............................. 180
Vlah houses ................................................... 180
In the case of the Christians, I believe these figures to be fairly correct. The Prizren Moslems, already alarmed at the rumour that Constitution meant loss of privilege to them, and determined not to be compelled to give military service, were said to have understated the number of their houses and to have refused to give the number of inhabitants. It could be reckoned, I was told, at ten to a house.
Of the Moslems, some are genuine Ottoman Turks, settled since early days, but the bulk are Albanian.
Each nation that designs to pick up the pieces, when Turkey in Europe bursts up, keeps a Consul on the spot. A Russian represents Slav interests, to claim the land as Old Servia. An acute Austrian is posted there to forward his country's plan of 'Advance, Austria,' and Italy has had to plant a man to see what he is doing. The Moslem Albanian objects to the presence of all of them, and the Turkish Government impartially gives them all armed escort. There is something truly pathetic about the way Turkey, everywhere, carefully protects the gentlemen whose only raison d'être is to hasten the dismemberment of the land.
Servia sent a Consul some years ago; but he was almost immediately forced to withdraw by the populace.
Of one thing the populace is determined: that is, that never again shall the land be Serb.
The Moslem Albanian's game, here as elsewhere, had been to support the Turkish Government in order to keep out others, and he was already growling sullenly at the Constitution, as offering equality to Christian Slavs, and therefore threatening Albanian power.
The leading Serbs of the town kindly invited me to stay at a private house, but, as I did not wish to be attached to any political party, and meant to see life in general, I stayed at an inn, where folk of all sorts came to drink.
September 1st saw all the streets gay with flags, tissue-paper chains and fans, for the Sultan's accession day. I called, at the correct hour, at the Seralio. Over the entrance gate is a great wooden star, the rays of varying length, with tiny crescent moons on their tips (is it really the sun and moon?). The yard was full of Nizams, gendarmes, and officials in their best. Upstairs, the Vali-Pasha, gorgeous with medals and decorations, was receiving in state.
The Consuls were present in uniform. The police officer, who showed dirty ragged me in, said that the Vali-Pasha spoke Serb. He turned out to be a Herzegovinian from Trebinje. We got on beautifully. He had expected me before. Scutari had warned him of my approach. Had heard of me from Djakova, and sent suvarris to meet me, but I had disappeared. I explained I had been to Devich in a cart, without escort. I relied on the besa, and wanted no escorts. He hastened to say that peace and prosperity were established for evermore. I congratulated the Sultan, and was given a glass of pink syrup.
The Vali-Pasha was amazed at the route I had chosen. I could have come in comfort, he said, by steamer from Scutari to Saloniki, thence by rail, quite alla franga, to Ferizovich, and driven in a carriage to Prizren. For himself, he never went up country unless obliged - I never found a Turkish governor that did. The wild-cat methods of the English were beyond him. I might go where I pleased, but "sooner you than I" was his attitude.
Having thus advertised to authority the confidence which the British Empire put in the new order of things, I did not expound my private opinion, which was then, that the Turkish Empire was playing possibly the first scene of the last act of its tragic existence, but withdrew. And unluckily just missed a farcical interlude, for the chief accountant, accused of embezzling public funds, was attacked and chivied from the town with a petroleum can on his head.
It was a general holiday, bands pom-pommed all night. The heat was intense, and sleep impossible. I did not get to the bazar till 7.30 A. M. next morning, a scandalously late hour in these lands.
It was a grand bazar. Worth all the journey, for as yet it is but little spoiled with alla franga. The gold embroidery is not to be surpassed anywhere; the tailors' shops are a blaze of gorgeous colour and design. Had it not been for the difficulties of transport, I should have ruined myself. As for the carved walnut-wood frames inlaid with silver, they are the finest work of the kind I have seen anywhere. It was in Prizren in the olden days that the finest artists in gold and silver inlay flourished, and turned out yataghans and gunbarrels fit for fairy princes, and from thence they spread into Bosnia. The so-called Bosnian inlay is mainly of Albanian origin, and much of it actually Albanian handicraft.
The demand for very fine work is now slight - alla franga will maybe soon kill it - but there are still in Prizren workmen who can execute it.
The main trade is in rough and cheap ornaments for the peasants. The silver-workers are all Christians.
I wandered up and down and in and out the long wooden tunnels of the bazar streets, dark with hot, rich shadows, glowing with goods.
Gentian root and iris root are heaped at the herbalists', black nut for the black hair-dye of the Christians and logwood for the red of the Moslems, henna for the palms and finger-nails. Three-cornered amulets sewn up in velvet, strings of dried bamias for stewing, jeleks and djemadans richly embroidered with thick orange silk cord, horse-trappings with scarlet tassels, and gay saddle-bags.
Out in the big open spaces, in the glory of golden light, were piled tons of grapes, peaches, melons, pumpkins, gourds, glowing heaps of scarlet and orange tomatoes, shiny paprikas, yellow, green, and red, black purple patajans (aubergines), long green bamias, cabbage, lettuces, beans, in Arabian Nights profusion. Then I heard the East a-calling, and cried in my heart, as I thought of the Powers that crouched like beasts of prey upon the frontier ready to spring and shatter this world:
"Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks."
I remembered the words of an old Albanian, spoken long before Constitution days: "The Turkish Empire is an old house, decayed and crumbling. It is propped within and without, and will stand for who knows how long. But if any one tries to repair it, and moves but one prop - but one brick even - it will fall about his ears. It is too late to repair it." And the peace that reigned in the bazar seemed the hush before the storm.
"Constitution justice" was much discussed. On one of the festival days to celebrate the Constitution, a Moslem zaptieh had made an attempt on a Christian maiden for which he had been condemned to be flogged so severely that he died the next day. Encouraged by this, a Serb zaptieh had then arrested a Moslem for theft, and had been expelled from the town and the service. Serb zaptiehs were only to arrest Christians. A Moslem who had shot a man in Mitrovitza had been hanged at once without trial. This afforded satisfaction to the Christians, until it transpired that the shooting was really a pure accident, then the Moslems were enraged. The Young Turks were suffering from trop de zèle.
Next day I was to dine at the Servian Bogoslovia (Theological School) at noon. At 10.30 in rushed Marko, "You will not be able to dine with the Serbs. There is a revolution!" I rushed out to see. The alarm had already been given. In ten minutes every shop was shut and barred, and all the Moslems fully armed were rushing down the street to the Seralio, led by Sherrif Effendi, a very popular Hodja, acclaimed as their head by the Moslems of Prizren and Ljuma.
The armed crowd swung down the street in a pack, like wolves on the trail - a far finer show than the few ragged Nizams that followed. The air was full of rumours. Sherrif was said to be responsible for the expulsion of the Serb zaptieh. He and his were prepared to defend the Sheriat (Turkish law) at any price, and would tolerate no privileges for the Christians. They returned shortly, satisfied that no immediate attempt would be made on it.
The fact that the whole population can turn out under arms within ten minutes gives an idea of the possibilities of the town. Like a couchant tiger, brilliant, bizarre, and beautiful, it is ever ready to spring. Unlike the tiger, it is industrious. Having decided not to revolute further, for the time being, the whole crowd was at work again at the various primitive manufactures of the place, shops reopened, and eating-houses in full swing in another hour's time.
I went off to the Servian Bogoslovia. The Director, his wife, and three children were recently arrived from Belgrade. They received me with the greatest hospitality; were afraid the revolution would prevent my coming. The poor lady, terrified of the Albanians, was amazed to hear that I had been out to see it.
The school, a fine building, recently enlarged and repaired, holds a hundred students. Many come from Montenegro even. I went over it sadly. It seemed sheer folly to make a large and costly Serb theological school in a Moslem Albanian town, and to import masters and students, when funds are so urgently needed to develop free Serb lands.
The white castle of Tsar Lazar was but a dream in the night of the past. Around us in the daylight was the Albanian population, waiting, under arms, to defend the land that had been theirs in the beginning of time.
An old Bariaktar, eighty years of age, in the mountains, had, but a few weeks before, told me how Prince Nikola, flushed with victory, at the close of the war in 1877, had said to him: "You and I will live to see my flag float over Prizren!" "And neither he nor I will ever live to see it," said the old man.
We sat down to a regular Serb dinner, the first I had eaten for more than a year - kiselo chorba (sour soup), fried chicken paprika, kiselo mleko (sour milk), all excellent of its kind. The Director knew all about me, and regarded me as the champion of the Serbs in England. I accepted his hospitality unhappily, for I felt that, so far as Prizren and its neighbourhood were concerned, the cause was lost, dead and gone - as lost as is Calais to England, and the English claim to Normandy. And the mere terror of his wife showed how completely she felt herself a stranger in an unknown land. Yet I could not but admire the imaginative nature of the Serb, who will lead a forlorn hope and face death for an idea.
And - for I do not know the how manyeth time - I cursed the Berlin Treaty, which did not award to this people the truly Serb lands of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where they could have gathered their scattered forces and developed, but gave them to be crushed under Austria.
I left the poor little Serb quarter - the houses clustered on the hillside around the two churches (for there is an old and a new one), and the school - and found Marko waiting me without. He is the worthiest and kindliest of souls, but race instinct, that strongest of all human passions, prevails - he does not like the Shkia (Slav).
The real policy of Serb and Albanian should be to unite, and keep the foreign intruders from the Balkan Peninsula. But this will never be.
Poor Marko would never admit to me that there were any Serbs in Prizren. "What is that man?" I would ask.
"What do you mean by a native?"
"He was born here."
"Yes, but is he a Serb or Albanian?"
"Lady, there are no Serbs here. This is an Albanian town."
Further pressed, he would admit: "Perhaps he belongs to that schismatic Church. I know nothing about his religion." And this, though Serb costume and speech were unmistakable.
Of early Servian days, naught now remains but the ruins said to be those of Tsar Dushan's white tower. I went in search of them up the valley of the Prizrenski Bistritza (called also Kara Potok), along the foot of the hill on which the fortress stands, and through a suburb (Kirch Bonar). We left the town behind us, and followed the lonely valley. Below us, men were collecting stones for building - poking them out of the half-dried bed of the stream with crowbars, and loading them on packhorses, which filed off to the town. The stones, I was told, were thus obtained "ready made," and all trouble of blasting and hewing saved. But the time spent in levering up one stone, and the impossibility of loading up more than about a dozen large ones on a pack-saddle, made the labour and loss of time quite appalling.
About half-an-hour up the valley, it turns suddenly, and the rocky crag on which stand the remains of Dushan's castle comes into view, rising isolated in a ring of mountains, the great Shar Planina rising up behind. Lonely and ruined, only a wall or two and some fragments remain of the white tower of the ballads - as wrecked as his Empire. Here he sat, and drank red wine with his Voyvodas. Hence he rode with a great army to sway the fortunes of the Balkans.
I turned from the desolate 'sic transit' spot, and, returning down the valley, found the women of Prizren on the river bank, bleaching hand-woven linen in the sun, and sprinkling it with fresh spring water, as they have done doubtless since the days of Dushan.
I decided that the best way of seeing Kosovo plain would be to drive over it with a Serb driver, the man that drove us to Devich. Leaving most of my scanty possessions with the hanjee till I returned, we left Prizren at 4.20 A. M., in a cold dawn - a lemon-yellow gash above the horizon marking where the sleepy sun would arise, as we drove through a large Moslem graveyard that lay desolate on either hand.
The first village of any size was Korisha, all Christian, consisting partly of Serbs and partly of Roman Catholic Albanians from Fandi. Above it, up a valley on the right, is a large Serb church, Sveti Marko.
On, past scattered groups of houses within stockades, land cultivated with maize and tobacco, across the little river Sofina, and over a low range of hills, we went, and descended to Suha Reka (lit. dry river), a large village which, in spite of its Serb name, is now, according to the Serb driver, all Moslem Albanian. A black and white mass of magpies was feasting on the stinking carcase of a horse at the entrance, and rose screaming as we passed. We crossed the stream (by no means a dry river) on a wooden bridge. Then we ascended again, and drove over a great plateau of scrub-oak. On the left, we passed Pechanj, a Moslem village, and Dulje, consisting of stockaded groups on either side of the road. The road was actually being re-made; men were working on it in three places, and new stone bridges were being built. What was done was really very good; of the rest, the less said the better. We passed over Chafa Duljash, and descended into the beautiful wooded valley of the Crnoleva, and halted for midday at Han Crnoleva, an Albanian house. The place-names, it will be noted, are all Serb. The driver, himself a Serb, said regretfully that everywhere the majority of the population is Albanian.
We descended the valley, rich with beech forests on either side, to Stimlje, a very large village, whence the main road leads to Ferizovich and the railway. There spread out, burnt, and parched before us for miles and miles, was Kosovo Polje, the fatal field on which the Turks gained the victory that established them, even to this day, in Europe - the Armageddon of the Servian people.
"Kosovo Polje," said the Serb briefly. It summed up all the fate of his race. In the spring every year, he added, all the unploughed land is covered with blood-red flowers that grow in memory of the fight; they are sent by God.
We struck across the great plain, uncultivated, desolate, and undulating; the parched turf was split into yawning cracks by the drought, the scrub hawthorn burnt brown, the track dusty, and we reached the Sitnitza, crawling shrivelled between banks of cracked mud - the river that once ran red with the blood of heroes.
"Thy Milosh, O lady, fell by the cold waters of the Sitnitza, where many Turks perished. He left a name to the Servian people that will be sung so long as there are men and Kosovo field," runs the ballad. Over this dreary plain spread the Turkish army, "steed by steed, warrior by warrior; the spears were like unto a black forest; the banners like the clouds, their tents like the snows, had rain fallen from the heavens it would have dropped, not upon the earth, but upon goodly steeds and warriors."
After Sitnitza we passed several stockaded villages - all Moslem - and the earth looked black and fat, but the plain as a whole lacks water. We plodded ceaselessly on through heat and dust, seeming to get no farther. Suddenly there was the iron track of the railway - an impossible anachronism - stretching as far as the eye could see on either hand across our path. "The railway!" I cried. "There is no railway here, lady," said the dozing Marko solemnly. Our strema bumped over the rails; he gazed at them: "Dear God!" he cried, and could scarce believe his eyes. We reached Lipanj, the station, which was crowded with buffalo-carts loaded with sacks of maize, waiting for the next train to Saloniki. Three trains run up and three run down every week, and none on Sundays. Marko mourned the days when all goods came down on packbeast to Scutari. This rail had killed Scutari, and indeed all the transport trade of North Albania. We left it and all sign of the twentieth century, and reached the borders of the plain - up over low, parched, dusty hills, and at last saw the cupolas of the Monastery of Grachanitza rising from the valley below. We arrived there at 5 P. M.
The imposing red and white church towered above us as we drove through a ramshackle wooden gateway into the monastery grounds, round which stood two old buildings, and one new and unfinished.
The old Stareshina, a jeromonah, and a young djakon, surprised and hospitable, came out to greet me, and we were soon sitting in the monastery balcony opposite the church, whose mellow tones glowed in the afternoon light. My companions had had one foreign visitor before. They thought he was French, but "he could not talk." I could, and their joy was great. They asked of the great world beyond the Turkish frontier; if it were true that there was a railway that went underground, and another that was on the roofs of houses - of electricity and motor cars. And we talked of Great Servia and Kosovo Polje. For from the Monastery of Grachanitza came forth the monks who gave the Communion to all the army of Tsar Lazar before the fatal fight, and the great church is a monument of pre-Turkish days.
It was founded by King Milutin (1275-1321), who planted his victorious standard even on Mount Athos - father of Stefan Dechanski, and grandfather of the great Stefan Dushan, said the Stareshina. Built of large stone blocks, with two courses of narrow red-tile bricks between each horizontal course and one between each upright, the red and white effect is original and beautiful; the wide mouldings are all of brick in patterns; the narrow, round-headed windows have herring-boned brickwork above them; there is a high central dome, and a small one at each of the four corners.
The original building was nearly square, with an apse, but a large narthex was added two hundred years later, which somewhat spoils the appearance of the building, as it is inferior in style.
The interior is frescoed with saints, gaunt and Byzantine, on a ground which is now nearly black. The central dome is borne on four large square piers, on the right hand one of which is King Milutin, and on the left his Queen, sister of a Byzantine Emperor, stiff and gorgeous in their royal robes - the Queen with a huge jewelled gold crown and large round pendants (or ear-rings), recalling those of the Herzegovinian peasant women - the King long-faced, with a pointed beard. One of the piers is hollow, and a steep and narrow staircase inside it leads up to a small chapel in the roof, with a window giving into the church - said to have been made for the royal family to hear Mass from, though how they managed to climb on a stool and squeeze through that door and up the staircase in those royal robes I do not know.
The lower parts of all the frescoes are much damaged, as the Turks used the church as a stable, and until a hundred years ago it was several feet deep with mud and manure. The upper ones are fairly preserved and are said, probably with truth, to be contemporary with the building of the church - at any rate they are pre-Kosovo (1389), and have not suffered restoration.
The tall slits of windows admit little light. The interior is dim, with faded colour and embrowned gold - old-world, barbaric, decorative. Art to be decorative must be barbaric. When it becomes 'civilised' it becomes anaemic, and crawls feebly in pallid mauves and greens, with long spindle stalks that lack vitality to throw out more than one or two atrophied leaves. It has lost red blood and the joy of life.
In the more recent narthex are frescoes of St. Sava and his father St. Simeon, the first of the Nemanja line of Kings that led Servia to glory; it ended with Tsar Dushan. Servia rose with the Nemanjas - and fell with them.
St. Simeon is pictured not as king, but in a grey cloak as monk of Mount Athos, whither he retired. He is hooded, and wears a moustache and a beard in two points. St. Sava, first Bishop of Servia, is in his bishop's robes. Unlike the present Bishops of the Orthodox Church, his head is tonsured, the whole crown shaven, but the locks below left long and curling to the shoulders. He, too, wears moustache and beard. Both have long faces, and the long aquiline nose with the drooping tip so characteristic of the fair Albanian. This is a curious fact, as the paintings are undoubtedly very old, and though not contemporary portraits (St. Sava died in 1237), yet Byzantine art is so extraordinarily conservative that it is possible they are tradition likenesses. For the Nemanja stem sprang from the Zeta (Montenegro, the district where the mingling of Serb and Albanian blood seems most marked). Is it too fanciful to suggest that it was to a dash of Albanian blood that the victorious Nemanjas owed their success and the Montenegrins their independence? The now dwindled and poverty-stricken monastery formerly possessed a printing-press, and printed many church books, a few of which it still preserves.
The three ecclesiasts mourned the past and were hopeless of the future. They, and the young schoolmaster who had joined us, took me out to see the village that adjoins the monastery. It consists of about seventy stockaded 'houses', fifteen of which have recently been taken by Moslem Albanians, the rest all Orthodox Serbs. Many of these 'houses' are zadrugas (communal groups). I asked to see one. The Stareshina first shouted to an old woman feeding pigs from a petroleum can to call off the dogs. We entered and were heartily welcomed. The main house, recently built, was fairly smart, with a new tiled roof which projected far in front, and formed a verandah under which we sat. It, like most of the houses where stone is scarce, was a frame-house of mud and wattle. I take this to be one of the earliest types; that of chepchis (mud brick) seems a later development.
On the left a house just begun showed the method of construction. The house is merely a large frame of unshaped beams, resting on a base of three courses of unhewn stones. The uprights are roughly mortised into the horizontals. The cross-beams between the main uprights are quite childishly placed, with no science of how to support and strengthen the building. On to this frame are fastened the wattle walls, and the whole is thickly smeared with mud, and smoothly finished. In quite small sheds the uprights are driven straight into the ground, and the wattle wound round them. ...
The old lady wore her black hair in a very thick plait on either side of the face, doubled back so as to make a solid block, which, with a flat drapery on the top of the head, gave an odd, square, Egyptian effect. Her shirt-sleeves were most beautifully embroidered; she wore a little black kilted frill round her waist and a scarlet apron. The daughters-in-law appeared and her one unmarried daughter, who, we were proudly told, was betrothed. They all kissed me heartily, and insisted on making me coffee. Their interest in me was extreme. Never before had they seen a foreigner, and they had not the faintest idea whence I came, for the name of England and the British Empire were unknown to them. But the fact that it would take more than three weeks to ride to my vilayet on a horse was enough for them.
My unmarried condition bothered them horribly. They discussed it eagerly, to the great interests of the churchmen, who were equally curious but too polite to ask. We had arrived at questions which - even in Servian - were most embarrassingly personal and physiological, when luckily one of the pigs got its head jammed in the petroleum can, rushed thus bonneted shrieking through the yard, and diverted the conversation. A number of children came out of the three huts, all unusually clean and neat, well-grown and healthy. They were very markedly broad-headed at the temples, and some were almost blue-eyed. All were learning to read, write, and reckon, and were given very good characters by the schoolmaster.
The land was all worked on the chiftlik system, the workers getting three-quarters of the profits, the owner supplying the implements. This seemed to me liberal pay, and I astonished them by saying so. Even the priests were under the impression that it was only under the Turks that the people did not own the land they worked. Their amazement was great when I explained roughly how the agricultural labourer lived with us. The idea of paying rent amazed and shocked them. They regarded working for another as, under any circumstances, 'veliki zalum' (great tyranny). I asked what was the objection supposing one was well paid. They replied, the master told them to go here and fetch straw, and to go there and sell hay when they did not want to do it - when to-morrow would do as well. Perhaps for a Christian master it might be all right, but it was always very hard to work for another. Their master forced them to work on Sunday.
About the Constitution they were hopeful. Since it had been started they had lived without fear. Previously they had always feared robbery and assault. If the beasts were not shut inside the stockade at night they would certainly be stolen. Only they feared lest Constitution meant that the land would always belong to the Turks. Many people had left the neighbourhood because of the great tyranny and had gone to America. Many others had been shot. There were much fewer Serbs here than formerly.
I very heartily wished good luck to this kindly hard-working family, and left their tidy homestead, when great herds of buffaloes, sheep, and goats were plodding into the village in a blinding cloud of dust which the setting sun turned to a golden glory. I was glad to turn in early that night, for it had been a long day crammed with new experiences. The jeromonah and the serving-man woke me at five next morning by hammering respectively on the slung wooden and iron bar, that served as bells, a rude rhythm.
The coachman had bargained to take us on to Prishtina, provided we left early. So about eight we said adieu. I wrote my name in Servian in the monastery book, and we drove off. It was bitterly cold. Up till yesterday the summer heat had been nearly intolerable. Even driving in the strema I had sweated through all my scanty attire. Now autumn had come at a blow, and a most bitter wind swept hill and plain. After barely an hour's drive over two low hills, we saw Prishtina below us, gay with red roofs, green trees, and white minarets. Within, it is frowsy, dirty, tumble-down - a shade better than Djakova, and that is all that can be said.
I marvelled that the Metropolitan should choose to reside here rather than at Prizren.
The population is mixed, and the statistics impossible to obtain, as every one gave different figures. There are about 2500 houses, of which about a quarter are Orthodox. Of these many are Vlahs, not Serbs. There are also a considerable number of Spanish Jews - some said as many as two hundred houses, and there are no Roman Catholics at all. The bulk of the population is Moslem, mostly Albanian; probably also some Moslem Serbs.
The bazar, partly roofed, but the roof all to pieces, was full of foreign rubbish of the cheapest description - one of the benefits brought by the railway. There was a sickening display of diseased meat in the butcher's quarter. The silver-workers here, as elsewhere, were all Christian. Of one - a Vlah from Monastir - I bought a charming little amulet, made of a mole's foot.
We lodged at an inn kept by a Vlah, who, as I was such a rare bird, most kindly invited me to visit his private house. And all his family in their best - the ladies dressed alla Turka - received me with great hospitality, and the very strongest rakia it has ever been my fate to sample. Marko was quite happy here. The Albanian and the Vlah meet as brothers. "Vlahs have sweet blood," said Marko; "not the Slavs." "Vlah are like us," said an Albanian to me once; "a man will marry his daughter to a Vlah; but a Slav is different - sour through and through."
The Vlah is believed by some to be the descendant of the Roman colonist and original inhabitant. It is possible that both Vlah and Albanian are unconsciously aware that "blood is thicker than water."
According to promise, I called on his Grace, the Servian Metropolitan. And the same night he sent two schoolmasters to invite and escort both Marko and myself to sup with him.
Off we went, and found a large party - the Metropolitan, his secretary the Archimandrite, and all the schoolmistresses who had been at Devich. The Metropolitan, in the highest spirits and most festive, received us with bottled beer, jam, and water. The whole party had only just recovered from the results of Devich. The schoolmistresses had all been violently sick, or had bad colds, and the Metropolitan completely knocked up. I was the only one who had got off scot-free. When the beer was done we adjourned to the supper-room. I was placed at the right of the Metropolitan. The Archimandrite, a most kindly man, took Marko under his wing. He spoke a little German, and, trying to be very friendly, said: "Ach, my dear Marko! You are an Albanian, and you have come to see our Old Servia. Ach, but that is very beautiful!"
Poor Marko was paralysed with horror. To the genuine Albanian the mere name Old Servia is as 'a red rag to a bull.'
We had a grand 'spread.' The Metropolitan insisted that, alla franga, it was correct to begin with a hors d'oeuvre. There ensued a great search in the dining-room cupboard, and the Metropolitan discussed which of many mysterious tins should be opened. His final selection turned out to be potted ham. We emptied the tin, and then started on a vast dinner of five courses, all good and extremely 'filling,' washed down with some good Servian white wine. And the Metropolitan enlivened the meal with humorous tales. It was late before I turned in at the han.
On the plain, just below Prishtina, on that fatal June day of 1389, fell Sultan Murad, slain by that best-beloved of Servian heroes, Milosh Obilich.
I drove down over the plain to Sultan Murad's tomb, passing, on the hill above, the turba of his standard-bearer, buried on the spot where he fell.
Murad's turba - or, rather, small mosque - stands in a walled-in ground, containing several graves, with a guardian's house at the entrance.
Rather to my surprise, I was at once admitted, and even invited to walk in with my boots on. Everything was changed now since 'Constitution'. If a female Giaour could come without escort to Kosovo Polje, God alone knew what would happen next. Nor did any one seem to mind.
As there were two Turks praying in the building, I refrained from desecrating it with Giaour boots ('Constitution' - if it is to mean anything - requiring, at any rate, respect for everybody's beliefs), and stood in the doorway.
In the centre, on a very fine Turkey carpet, stands the large coffin, covered with black cloth, and over it several coloured silk draperies - one, of crimson and silver, very handsome. At the head of the coffin is a great white turban of the old pattern, covered with a dark green and silver scarf. The decorations of the room are appalling. The walls are stencilled in crude colours to look like the cheapest wall-paper. Shiny alla franga wooden curtain-poles and red curtains of the lodging-house type adorn the windows; and over the coffin hangs a large glass chandelier.
The whole place had recently, said the guardian, been beautified. I stared at the hopeless incongruity of the adornment.
The nation that had done this had just dressed itself up in an imitation alla franga Constitution. Would it be any more suitable? I though of the Daw in borrowed plumes, the Wolf in sheep's clothing, and of the Old, old Man who "madly thrust a left-hand foot into a right-hand shoe."
It was bitterly cold; an icy wind swept the plain. I left the spot on which the Turk had established himself in Europe and wondered whether the fact that he proposed now to take a new lease of life and remain was one to rejoice over.
I myself was the first visible sign of 'Constitution' from the outer world, and, as such, of interest to the populace; so a Turkish officer travelling through Prishtina - an Ottoman Turk (not Moslem Slav or Albanian) - most kindly insisted on my visiting his family - temporarily established in a Moslem house - while Marko was entertained by officers below, in which company I too should have felt more at home. I was taken upstairs and shot into an apartment full of stout, pallid, collopy females, and a heap of children. There were nine women. I never discovered which belonged to whom. Door and windows were tightly shut; a mangal of hot charcoal burnt in the midst. The atmosphere was monkey-house.
Two of the women spoke Serb fluently, so I was thoroughly and effectively interviewed amid shrieks of laughter. The idea of an unmarried woman travelling with a man was new to them, and their conversation quite unprintable. They all sat on the floor smoking and eating oddments - roasted maize-cobs, bits of melon, sticky lumps of rahat-lakum, sugar-sticks. These people nibble all day. The floor was messy with seeds and bits. Heaps of soiled, crumpled garments were strewn around. Every one was touzled and dressed, half or wholly, alla franga, but wore their European clothes in Oriental manner - unbuttoned, crumpled, torn, and impossible. One, in European dishabille, had hitched up her white petticoats for greater convenience in squatting cross-legged. She was a handsome young woman, but her appearance with dangling pink stocking suspenders, of which she was very proud, and unbuttoned bodice, was unlovely.
The oldest lady had almost scarlet hair. Another, not so successful, had come out streaky, and, as the natural colour of her hair was black, the effect was comically tigerish. The eyebrows of all were painted black as broad as the finger, and joined in the middle, and their toe- as well as finger-nails were red with henna. All looked most unwholesome, and one had a row of burst glands oozing down the side of her neck. Only one was an effective colour arrangement. She was partly alla Turka, had scarlet hair with an orange handkerchief on it, and a striped white and yellow shirt. But she was as broad as she was long - and bulgy.
Being kept mainly for breeding purposes, their conversation was much like what that of a cow might be, could it talk. They were most friendly, plied me with coffee and pieces of all the eatables, and pressed me to stay the night - there was plenty of room for another - or come to-morrow. And I tore myself away with difficulty.
I give the above details because I invariably find that gentlemen of all nations are consumed with curiosity about the secrets of the harem. I thought of the bright, tidy Vlah women, of the civilised Serbs, of the poor Catholic women in Djakova, their clean rooms and intelligent questions; and I asked myself if they were not after all right when they said, "The Young Turk is the son of the Old Turk." Islam has, so far, done nothing but evil in Europe.
Having come so far, I decided to go on to Mitrovitza by rail to save time, and learnt the day, but not the hour, at which the one train ran - only that the station was a very long way off; that I must start early, and that if I went with some others who were going it would be all right. We got seats in a carriage with another man, a Moslem Slav. I was eating soup, not knowing when I should again see food, when the carriage arrived, and, urgently requested, left it, jumped into the carriage, and off we went over the hills at a hand-gallop in company with three other carriages - one filled with young men with tambourines and a fiddle, who played and sang loudly all the way; for a railway journey in these parts is a great event.
We arrived at 10.30 A. M. to learn that the train - which was generally late - was not even due till 12.30. "God be praised!" cried every one; "we are in time!" There were plenty of people already there - buffalo-carts - baggage - a regular hurly-burly, and a man had already lighted a fire on the platform and was cooking kebabs and vegetables for such as desired refreshment. Even Marko was surprised that I thought we were too early, and looked on a railway journey as "not by any to be enterprised nor taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly." The inspection, however, of teskerehs and the entering of the name (especially mine) and destination of each of us into the police book whiled away much time.
Moslem women, as fast as they arrived, were hastily driven into a separate waiting-room with opaque windows. I talked to our Moslem travelling companion, a native of Prishtina. There were very many more people than usual travelling, he said, because it was safe. Till now the railway had been of little use. It was three-quarters of an hour from the town, and the road was too dangerous - could never be ventured on unarmed; as for the plain, till now it had been most dangerous. "Look at me," he said, tapping his sash. "This is the first time in my life I have ever come out so far without a revolver. I have no weapon at all, and am not afraid."
I asked if it had been as dangerous for Moslems as Christians, and he replied that robbers did not mind what you were as long as you were worth robbing. He was so astonished at the present calm that he knew not what to make of it. It was "like a dream, and could not last." A female Giaour from abroad (myself) had crossed the plain without escort - after that, anything amazing might happen. He himself wanted peace and a good government.
The train was punctual. Its smooth motion after the jolting strema made Marko cry delightedly, "It is like swimming in oil!" I went third-class, and luckily travelled with a Spanish Jew and his wife, so sampled all the mixed races of Prishtina.
He, a splendid old man of seventy years with a patriarchal beard, was saying farewell for ever to Prishtina, for he meant to die in Jerusalem, whither he was now bound. His poor wife wept most bitterly at parting with her relations, who clung to the carriage door till the train started. He looked on stoically, moved only by the elemental passion - earth-hunger, the desire of a man for the land of his forebears. With all their worldly goods contained in a large basket and a sack, the aged couple were going to Sarajevo, where he would say good-bye to his old brother - and then to Jerusalem. I trust he has found peace in the Promised Land of his dreams.
The train ran through fertile land, cultivated fairly well, passing only one town, or rather village, of any size, Vuchitrn (wolf's thorn) - said to be largely Serb.
Mitrovitza, on rising ground at the very end of Kosovo plain, is small, but cleaner and less hopeless-looking than Prishtina. It is a new town made mainly since the railway; and, as it is on the junction of the Sitnitza and the Ibar, had a good and ample water supply, and fine vegetable gardens.
I strolled through the bazar, and was promptly hailed by a silversmith. "That foreign woman. Where does she come from?" "From London." "From London! Do you know my brother-in-law, X?" "I do." The world is very small. I had found a friend in a far country. We drank coffee, and I departed laden with messages for his people.
There are but ten Roman Catholic families in Mitrovitza, and one priest. The number of Orthodox I failed to learn; they are building a large new church. The large majority of the town are Moslems, who were not going to make census returns though ordered by 'Constitution' - the news having just come in that Ipek and Djakova had flatly refused; and that certain villages which had made a return had made a false one to dodge possible conscription.
We found quarters at the han of a friendly little Vlah, who said that he woke up every day surprised to still find peace. "We were living like snakes in holes, and now here we are out in the sun!" And we fed at a restaurant newly opened by some Italians from Fiume, who had hurried to be first on the spot when Baron Aehrenthal announced that the railway from Mitrovitza to Uvatz was about to be made - the railway which was to be the last link in the chain, and to convey Austrian troops to Saloniki. The plans for Austrian advance had for the time being been completely upset by that 'bolt from the blue,' Constitution. But Mitrovitza, though it looked so peaceful, is tinder waiting for a spark.
Here we come to the crucial race question.
Exact figures are unattainable, but of the general facts there can be no doubt. Kosovo plain is now, by a very large majority, Moslem Albanian. What proportion of Slav blood there may be (one should perhaps say, is) in these Albanians is of purely ethnographical interest and politically of no importance. Albanian predominance is proved by the fact that - so far as my experience goes, and I tried repeatedly - the Albanians are almost solely Albanophone, whereas the scattered Serbs usually speak both languages, and when addressed in Serb often replied at first in Albanian. Were it not for the support and instruction that has for long been supplied from without it is probable that the Serb element would have been almost, if not quite, absorbed or suppressed by this time. It has been an elemental struggle for existence and survival of the strongest, carried out in relentless obedience to Nature's law, which says, "There is not place for you both. You must kill - or be killed." Ineradicably fixed in the breast of the Albanian - of the primitive man of the mountain and of the plain - is the belief that the land has been his rightly for all time. The Serb conquered him, held him for a few passing centuries, was swept out and shall never return again. He has but done to the Serb as he was done by.
The celebrated Canon of Tsar Stefan Dushan throws light on the means employed to crush the conquered, when Great Servia was at its greatest. "Tsar Dushan, the Macedonian, Autocrat of Servia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Wallachia, and other countries... Laws established by the grace of God in the year 1349 at a meeting of the Patriarchs, etc.
Law 6. As to the Latin heresy, and those that draw true believers to its faith. The ecclesiastical authorities must strive to convert such to the true faith. If such a one will not be converted... he shall be punished by death. The Orthodox Tsar must eradicate all heresy from his state. The property of all such as refuse conversion shall be confiscated... Heretical priests of other communions who try to make proselytes will be sent to the mines or expelled from the country. Heretical churches will be consecrated and opened for priests of the Orthodox faith.
Law 8. If a Latin priest be found trying to convert a Christian to the Latin faith he shall be punished by death.
Law 10. If a heretic be found dwelling with Christians, he shall be marked on the face and expelled. Any sheltering him shall be treated the same way."
It appears also that certain pagan rites were still observed. Law 45 enacts that: "If there be heretics that burn the bodies of the dead, or dig them up for the purpose of burning them, the village where this takes place is to pay a fine, and the criminals be handed over to justice."
The fact that the whole 'village' is fined (just as the whole 'house' is excommunicated to-day, for the sin of concubinage with a sister-in-law), indicates that the whole village, if not wholly pagan, had pagan sympathies.
These laws imply no worse religious persecution than the whole of Europe has enjoyed at various times. On other subjects Dushan's laws are often good, and even in advance of their time.
But history shows that the Latins in the districts we are considering must have been mainly Albanians. Persecution was therefore not merely religious but racial. And that special legislation was needed against the Latins, and the express mention of what is to be done with their churches, tends to show that even in the strongest Servian days they were numerous enough to have to be reckoned with as a danger. The Serb strove to stamp out - or, shall we say, Slavise - the Albanian. The Albanian, circumstances being changed, has done as he was done by. He has employed mediaeval methods, for this is the land of the Living Past, and he has forced back the Serb tide. Kosovo Polje is Albanian.
Its borders, however, are still largely Serb. Roughly speaking, the territory between the railway and the Servian frontier is Serb. It at any rate has a large Servian majority, but there is a remarkable Catholic island in and around Janjitza, not far from the monastery of Grachanitza. In this district were silver mines worked, it is said, with much success, from the beginning of the thirteenth century. The present Catholic inhabitants are reported to be the descendants of the Italian colony settled there as miners. They now call themselves Albanian. I do not know enough of the district to offer an opinion on the subject. But it is an odd fact that, before hearing this tradition, I met a man whom I took, beyond doubt, to be an Italian, and he proved to be a Janjitza man.
From Mitrovitza to the Servian frontier is also mainly Servian, though the town and environs of Novi-bazar is largely Albanian. Beyond Novi-bazar the sanjak is practically solid Serb, Moslem, and Christian - no other race has any justifiable claim to it.
The Albanian has swept the centre of Kosovo vilayet. The Serbs are thick only along the Servian frontier and near the Montenegrin frontier, especially around Berana and Ipek. East of Prizren they begin to predominate. The land becomes more and more Slavonic. At which point Serbs turn into Bulgars is beyond the scope of this book. It is, I think, the fashion to draw the line too far westward.
Mitrovitza may be called a 'frontier' town. Albanians and Serbs alike claim it jealously. Austria (to gain her private ends) wins Albanian support by promising that never, never will she allow the sanjak to become Serb.
The town looked so peaceful that it was hard to believe that but six years ago it had been the scene of fierce fighting, in which Shtcherbina, the Russian Consul forced into the place in the teeth of Albanian opposition, was killed. Of his gallantry on behalf of the Slav interests that he was sent to protect there can be no question, nor of the indiscretion, alas! with which he set to work. Austria at once planted a consul to watch her own interests; and there the two most interested Powers watch to this day.
Just outside the town is a relic of the Serb empire - the fine ruins of the castle of Zvechana. Here, in 1336, was strangled King Stefan Dechanski, son of Milutin, the founder of Grachanitza. Stefan was Milutin's eldest son, but the young Byzantine Princess, his second wife, bore him another son and plotted to make him heir. In a fight that ensued Stefan was taken prisoner, and his stepmother prevailed upon his father to cast him into prison, where, to make matters sure, she ordered him to be blinded with red-hot irons. When freed after many years, behold he was not blind at all! The tale spread that he had been miraculously cured. He came to the throne with a great reputation for piety, and was the builder of many churches, notably the very beautiful white and pink marble church of Dechani - a thank-offering for the subjugation of the Bulgarians, whom he defeated in 1330.
His death is said by some to have been brought about by his son and heir, the great Stefan Dushan, but the patriotic Serb denies this. He was canonised as St. Stefan Dechanski, and his wonder-working shrine, pictured with his strangulation, draws many pious pilgrims still to the marble church of Dechani. Moslem and Catholic are in awe of it. Even the wild Catholic tribesmen of Nikaj tramp thither for the little round loaves of holy bread there distributed, and consider 'By the bread of Dechani' a binding oath.
Mitrovitza has little else to show. To leave it, I had to have my teskereh stamped. The official at the konak, in order to make a good job of it, licked the stamp three times and licked off all the gum. As it would not stick, he licked it four more times. As it still would not, he put it in his mouth and sucked it patiently. It then showed signs of melting altogether, so he called a colleague to advise. He suggested the gum-pot. They searched for it high and low, and called in a third official - luckily that day there was no press of business in that department. The gum was found and the stamp stuck. It took half-an-hour, but was thoroughly done in the end. And we left by rail for Ferizovich, where we arrived at 10.15 A. M. A Serb fellow-passenger pointed out, on the right of the line just before Prishtina, the hill to which Vuk Brankovich, Tsar Lazar's traitorous son-in-law, withdrew with his men and gave the victory to the Turk. "What askest thou of Vuk the accursed! Curséd be he, and curst be he that begat him. Curséd be his stem and his seed. He betrayed his Tsar at Kosovo. He deserted with twelve thousand men."
Ferizovich, till lately, had been of importance merely as a railway station. Now it is of historic interest as being the spot upon which the casting vote was thrown - the spot from which the voice came, "Let there be a Constitution." And there was a Constitution, and all Europe was shaken.
"Constantinople is the key of the Near East; Albania is the key of Constantinople," say the Albanians. European plans for tinkering and 'reforming' the Turkish empire have all ignored the Albanian, his rights, and his aspirations - and they have all failed. Outsiders might make this mistake. Those within the empire knew that, as far as Turkey in Europe is concerned, the side that could enlist the Albanians, solid, must "come out top."
The Young Turks' secret was well kept; but it would appear that certain Old Turks suspected something was brewing. One of these, Shemsi Pasha, sent mounted messengers through the Moslem tribes, summoning them at once to repel the attack of an expected enemy. One of the many men from whom I heard the tale persisted that the advance-guard of the Austrian army, forty battalions, ready on the frontier, had actually been seen, and that Austrian annexation had been imminent. The tribesmen flew to arms and hurried - some nine thousand strong - to the appointed spot, Ferizovich, where they were to receive orders. And there they fired on a train - reported to contain "enemies."
But Shemsi Pasha was "a day behind the fair." The Young Turks outwitted him. They shot him at Monastir; skilfully took advantage of the fact that the tribesmen were at Ferizovich; called on them to save the country, and explained that something called Constitution was the only way by which it could be done. The fierce, ignorant tribesmen, jealous only of their privileges and territorial rights, and absolutely unaware that this was not the job for which they had been originally summoned, loudly and unanimously demanded this unknown amulet, 'Constitution,' that was to keep their land intact, and save the Padishah.
The Sultan heard that the Moslem tribesmen - the men upon whom, above all others, he had always reckoned - were with the army. The game was up; he succumbed at once, and the Constitution was granted. That the main outline of this tale, which I found widely spread and believed, is correct, I believe is beyond all reasonable doubt. The tribes were tricked, and many folk had already found this out when I arrived in Djakova.
Such freedom as they had retained under the Old Turk, they did not mean to be swindled out of by the Young.
We arrived at Prizren to find it smiling sardonically. Four Frenchmen had come to report on 'the Constitution' - had come and gone.
"What did they see here?" I asked. "Nothing. They only dined, and left next morning for Djakova. One is in the Diplomatic Service, so of course they will not be allowed to see anything. The Young Turks have arranged it all. An escort of twenty-four suvarris, as a guard of honour, is with them, to prevent them talking to the wrong people, and a suvarri has been sent ahead to prepare a deputation of 'Christians rejoicing under the Constitution,' in case they wish to make inquiries. The escort will 'protect' them all the way. They will think they have done something very brave, and will report most favourably in the French newpapers." And they did.
[Edith Durham, High Albania (London: Edward Arnold 1909, reprint London: Phoenix Press, 2000), p. 232-300.]
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