The Albanian in His Own Habitat. A Dated Portrait
Viorel Stănilă
 

?It is so. When we speak of Salce, we call him our Salce, since he is like a brother to us,? father Sgala, the one addressed, retorted.

?You know what bessa-bess is. (?) I have grown old and I haven?t yet lied once?even as a child. When I did not like something, I kept silent, and I have never once spoken but what was on my mind.? ?

As a matter of fact, Neniţescu (1895, p. 482) insists on the honesty and honor that are ranking first in the Albanian ethical code: ?Lie is punished with children, this is why every Albanian should be a man of honor. He must know how to respect humanness and hospitality, and not to break the word of confidence: bessa-bess. Betrayal and cowardice are considered by the Albanian as the most pitiful of all dangers. (?) The young man coming of age solemnly swears to keep his word under death penalty, to never draw back and always fight for his kin?s sake, also to revenge any insult brought upon his family or his village.?

Function of time and space, this code of honor has been altered. However, the code institutes crime by the provisions relating to the vendetta. The Albanian places as much stock on his own life as he did on the lives of others. A heroic death could repay in his eyes a life of misery for which, in the absence of more concrete values, one?s own honor became the supreme value. The unremitting ensnaring of death, in the shadow of which he lived, built for him a professional?s mentality with respect to criminal activities, whether he practiced or combatted them. ?Look at us, how pale and emaciated we are? we expect nothing more out of life? we are destined to die, as the encounter with Fezu-Feta could be any minute now.? (Burileanu, 1906, p.58)

It is not material profit that mattered to the Albanian brigand, but the confrontation as such, the feel of the game. At least this is the image endorsed by Neniţescu. On various occasions, both Neniţescu (1895, pp. 58, 89, 199, 312, 478) and Burileanu (1906, pp. 4, 46, 58) admit to the loyalty and sense of duty displayed by the Albanian guides or escorts who accompany them.

Yet the Aromanians have a saying. ?Arbineslu-i besă pri dzinucl?iu.? (The Albanian's faith does not rise above his knees.) (Tache Papahagi, 1922, pp.5-7), with the variant: ?Arbineslu are pistea pri dzinucl?iu.? (The Albanian's honor does not rise above his knees.) The same expression is used for easy women: ?are pistea pri dzinucl?iu.?

The general image that the Aromanians have formed with regard to the Albanians is diminished by this deficit of trust. As a consequence, the mission of treasuring honor, honesty, and loyalty impinges on the Vallachians, as does the associated ethical concept: besa (Saramandu, 1982, p.97), a notion that is generally ascertained as essential to the Albanian ethos.

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