Mountainous regions of Kelmend
seasons, rocks, humor, long walks, survival
Mode of travelling
Long Walks, tracing environmentally damaging behaviors and locations
Bora Baboçi in collaboration with Stella Karafili
Tulla Cultural Center
Drita by Bora Baboçi, Some Call Us Balkans 2021. CC BY-SA 4.0
Cultural heritage and Cultural Practices
ecology, the dichotomy urban-rural, identity and belonging, intercultural co-existence, right to the city, minorities, inter-faith dialogue, spiritual practice
A dult lehtë () - an expression uttered upon meeting someone, who “comes out” of the peaks, as if they were to say “How are you?”, but it literally means “Did you come out lightly/easily?”
shefi (ʃɛfi): One kind of name for the border/property rocks
Myth 1: Our contemporary visualization of borders which is highly rooted in the territorial gen plan – economized land, taxation, and territorial control there are other mythologies of our lands that suggest a different way to inhabit and conceive borders.
Mapping, Walking, Observing, Marking the path, Using the Voice as a tool to orient in space and communicate
Bora Baboçi, Stella Karafili
Fonsi, the horse rider, played soccer with his friends in the location called Paja. Lleshi was looking for the horses that were lost. Laçja showed up in the peaks dressed in yellow. We couldn’t tell which trails she walked, but she showed up in front of us, while we had just left her behind. The short cuts, panoramics, easier trails and water sources were a layer of the landscape that we had no knowledge of. Our sense of orientation was momentarily suspended.
Her two phones had fallen in the boiling milk and she was now bored and cut off. She wandered in the peaks more than usual. She was collecting primula officinalis. She said it needs to be dried in the shadows. She said she couldn’t stand it anymore up there, it was too harsh and lonely. She had high blood pressure and headaches, but a great sense of humor. What words would be fair when we shared their stories?
We have focused our work in the mountainous region of Kelmend, in northern Albania, and how this kind of terrain affects the relationship to the land, toponyms, property – but also how it affects the body, the voice, communication and myth. Beyond borders, the nature of this terrain is very similar to its bordering countries and shares similar customs and traditions.
We have started our work by consulting literature mostly from the 19th century, that show accounts of how this terrain was inhabited before communication and movement changed radically with the arrival of new technologies. At the time, both communication and movement depended on the fatigue of the human body and use of grazed animals.. We did two research trips, one in the end of May and one in the end of June 2021, which makes a slight difference on how these lands are inhabited. We went there to look for traces of these older costumes and the drawings you see above are digitized versions of some of the sketches we made while charting the peaks.
A continuous thread during the process, our meetings over Skype emerged as a prime site for growth in a professional and personal sense and forging the research direction. These talks, at times resembling support group therapy sessions, enabled our emotional processing to happen and our experiences to materialise as a valid and integral part of the output.
The first photographs you see in the presentation were taken on the way to the mountains and they start illustrating the nature of the human traces in this area, as if they were illustrations, or gestures, they also enunciate the nature of this terrain. There are a lot of examples around the world, like Zomia – the country of altitude borders of the book “The art of not being governed” or the Songlines of Australian Aboriginals, where there is a strong contrast between local imaginations of the territory and the genplan, the agricultural land plot and in general the administrative toolbox of controlled and taxable land. These terrains, because of their nature, resist this top down controlling system hence giving way to an alternative system, codes and myths that create the imaginary of the land. Though we seldom see some efforts of terracing the land to create roads and agricultural land, the weather and the terrain do not allow for this practice to grow, giving way to animal grazing and an economy which understands land resources very differently, affecting also the imaginary and lived experience of it.
Long exhausting walks stop at the good places, sources of ice cold water and shade. These are places where mirages of fairladies called Zanas, Oret, Shtojzovallet appear dancing dressed in white. In an account of Franz Nopca who traveled in the region at the end of the 19th century we read about the lazy rocks. These are piles of rocks that travelers at the time threw when they passed by so as to not stop their journey, to not delay, they threw the lazy rock to relieve the fatigue. The presence of the lazy rocks marked all the other travelers that had passed there that had not stopped, so it was just as much a matter of pride for the traveler. Parallel to possible myth and not taking away anything from the local accounts on encountering there mythological beings in the landscape, we suspect these were also places of hallucination and mirages, of a different visual projection of the body in the conditions of physical exhaustion and ice-cold water after long journeys.
The rock is the most omnipotent presence in the highlands. People swear on the rock, they curse on the rock, and pray on the rock. When Marku had a bad dream he took a rock and smashed it to the ground three times and said “Te rafte ty o gur” – “May it fall on you oh rock, may it fall on you”. The images shown in the presentation represent what is called a “Shefi” or a “border rock”. The property is marked with points instead of lines. The border rock is put deep in the ground with 12 or 3,5 testimonies based on different accounts, and each through a single rock in the foundation and then covers it with earth. And the rock cannot be moved without all the testimonies present. This is how the land is marked. The image on the bottom right is a grave rock, in two of the ancient cemeteries we encountered – no one knows exactly when these were first put, there is speculation one of them was established with a plague. Here, we see the appearance of the cross along the sun and the moon.
When catholicism entered the region the cross was marked along the rock. The new rituals were adapted in the old ones, and were marked along the old symbols, but the gesture and nature of demarcation and belief was still interpreted along a much older tradition.
Included in the presentation are also accounts of a woman that has survived a lightning stroke. The domestic presence of these events in these areas, also tells how they enter myth, as after the rock, the lightning is another important presence that is used in swearing, cursing, and praying.
Lacja by Bora Baboçi, Some Call Us Balkans 2021. CC BY-SA 4.0
Another important tradition in the highlands is also Trance-humance, the practice of moving livestock from one grazing ground to another in a seasonal cycle, typically to lowlands in the winter and highlands in the summer. Here we see the living settings of the shepherds before the summer season has begun. As we can see the structures are marked by protective symbols, like the cross, however the way they are signed resembles a more pagan style of marking and tracing. The structures need to be brought to shape every season and they do not necessarily belong to the shepherds that inhabit them. The concept of seasonal property and also shared property is here very singular to be observed. There are also images of the shepherds’ homes during the summer season, after they have arrived with livestock and alternative economies, as much profitable as self-sustainable.
Another interesting account from this area is what we have decided to call “echo-corridors”. The practice of sending news to the nearest town through calls from specific peaks of the mountains was very typical before other modern forms of communication were available in these areas. Words have it from travelers accounts that news through human yell could travel from the area of Kelmend to the city of Shkodra within 24 hours. In the presentation are also included the calls that shepherds use to gather their livestock during grazing, we notice here sounds, rhythms and timbers that we do not have in between humans, a trans-species communication sounds.
Noshi by Bora Baboçi, Some Call Us Balkans 2021. CC BY-SA 4.0
Edith Durham, Per Fiset, Ligjet e Zakonet e Ballkanasve, 2019
Edith Durham, Shqiperia e Eperme, nje udhetim ne Shqiperine e Veriut 1908, 2013 Mark Tirta, Mitologjia nder Shqiptare, 2004
At Donat Kurti O.F.M, Zakone e Doke Shqiptare, 2010
Hyacinthe Hecquard, Historia dhe Pershkrimi i Shqiperise se Eperme ose i Gegerise (1814 - 1866), 2016
Camaj Martin, Karpa, Onufri 1987
The Art of not Being Governed - James C. Scott, Yale University Press, 2009
Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines, Franklin Press, 1987