Transmitted orally for generations, the laws of the “Kanun” – or code – of Leke Dukagjini served for more than five centuries as the foundation of social behaviour and self government for the clans of Northern Albania, even while the region was nominally under Ottoman rule. However, these laws, customs and values had evolved over a period of many centuries, both before and after the lifetime (1410–1481) of the historical personage to whom they are ascribed. Some laws, particularly those regarding the concept of honour governing blood feuds, may have originated among the Illyrians, the Albanians’ ancestors. The “Kanun” was first codified and written down in a comprehensible and practicle form in the 1920ies by a Franciscan priest, Shtjefën Gjecov.
Despite the harsh and extensive programmes to abolish its authority over the people during Hoxha’s fifty year long communist dictatorship, the “Kanun’s” precepts continue to exercise a very significant influence, especially among the Northern Catholic highlanders. This influence becomes particularly evident during political and/or social crises. When the northern highlanders are faced with a meltdown or absence of centralized power and authority they naturally turn to the “Kanun” for guidance.
Today, most of the highlanders have moved to Albania’s towns and cities or have emigrated. Coming from a social structure based arond the extended family or clan they feel little allegiance to any other authority other than that of the family hierarchy. Unfortunately, some clans have distorted the original values of the “Kanun” and use the concepts of ‘honour’ and ‘family allegiance’ in international illegal activities (everything from contract killing, armed robbery and prostitution to people, arms and drug smuggling) much as the Sicilian “Cosa Nostra”.
This is the story of a people bound by their past and confused by the contradictions this creates with the realities they are facing at the turn of a new century. This is the story of a living museum; the land of the living past.
The photographs presented here were taken during numerous visits to Albania between 1992 and 2000.