BREAD, SALT AND HEART
A project about hospitality, bloodfeuds and North Albanian’s different ways of life.
After nearly 50 years of a dictatorial regime and isolation from the rest of the world, and after more than 15 years of hard times during the so-called transition to democracy (with a chaotic result in 1997), Albania is now trying to visualise an image of itself, for its people, for the international community and of course, for the big hope, the EU.
The country has been always positioned between the Orient and the Occident, between Christianity and Islam, between Origins and influences from abroad. Albania with its fascinating mixture of religions, cultures and mental attitudes is now searching for an obvious answer to its true identity.
Northern Albania is the region with the highest mountains and most remote valleys in Albania. The people living in these mountainous areas were, due to the geographical situation, extremely isolated. This isolation made it possible for their customary law (the Kanun) – dating back probably to pre-mediaeval times - to survive right up to the present. The lack of state control due to difficult accessibility to these areas allowed the Kanun to be preserved as a form of life-regulation.
The Kanun developed without any religious influences. In the Northern mountains the Kanun customary law has been passed on orally from generation to generation, codified in common proverbs and sayings.
The hospitality is an important principle in the Kanun. “Bread, salt and an open heart” of the host are the traditional minimum with which the guest must be received.
In this tradition women had duties rather than rights. According to the Kanun, women are involved merely in domestic chores and some outdoor work, but with no participation in social life. Women on the one hand have a special position: representing an exception in the case of blood feud, on the other hand are they banished from any kind of social life: they are excluded from the right of inheritance and they are not allowed to take any decision about themselves or about their children. Also violence against women is part of this deeply entrenched patriarchal tradition.
This project accompanies the women in their everyday life at home and tells also the stories of imprisoned women who saw murder, as the only solution against the everyday domestic violence from their abusive husbands.
The project aims to give an actual picture of the way of life regulated by the customary law, in the Northern Albania’s villages but also in the new slums on the peripheries of Tirana.
Northern mountaineers migrating in recent years to the urban centres, due to the difficult economical situation, often have no other choice than to subsist within the informal sector. They maintain their way of thinking according to the Kanun, which leads many times to open conflicts both with state laws and the urban lifestyle. Two different worlds collide with each other.
I hope, this project will allow me to explore and to express how the Kanun affects Albanians’ present day life and to what extent it influences the answer about their identity.
It may help many people to scrutinize their personal concerns of identity, or think more about their values of the past or those of the present.