Villages, Fields: the Sky
pigeons, travelling, mobility, pigeon keepers
Mode of travelling
Flying: Going where we are not accustomed to go
Shpat Shkodra, Ard Myrseli
Pigeon Keeping a way to ease the mind by Shpat Shkodra
Cultural heritage and Cultural Practices
ecology, environment, identity and belonging, intercultural co-existence, citizenship, civic engagement, intercultural co-existence
pllumaxhi (pɫumadʒi) - the Albanian language term for a person who fancies pigeons. Example: Don’t listen to that Pllumaxhi!
kuta (kuta) - a type of pigeon that is known for having a furball in his throat.
Myth 1: They themselves, especially politicians who are at the forefront of such a careless trend, like to say that we live in an abundance of pure and beautiful natural resources. This is a myth that shatters and re-examines this research, along with the myth that we are an environmentally conscious nation.
Performativity of life, Life Observation, Interviews
Shpat Shkodra, Ard Myrseli
The general area of focus of this work is wherever we found pigeons in Kosovo. The places where the pigeon racings are held are usually fields away from the city mostly owned by Pllumaxhi’s, therefore our places for field researching have mainly been villages. One exception was when visiting one of my subjects in his house but also the place where he keeps his pigeons located near the centre of Vushtrri, whom we met after attending a race in the suburbs of Vushtrri. Other places include “Kufca e serbve” and “Livocc i siperm” both situated in the suburbs of Gjilan and “Bardh’ i madh” – a place nearby the small town of “Fushw Kosovo”.
Pllumaxhinjt investigates the relations between pigeons and humans in contemporary Kosovo. Taking on pigeon keeping as a cultural practice, and heritage, that is known and practiced for a long time in the region is specified as the target of research. While the overall objective of the paper is to deepen the knowledge about an area we are living in and are generally concerned with, another is facilitating our research collective just recently founded as part of the social center “Termokiss”. The outline of it stands in communicating with each other and breaking our ethnic borders, in a region suffocated by nationalism, and stereotypes. The inspiration for observing the pigeons, and pigeon keepers, arose from the bureaucratic difficulties that we Kosovar engage in when wanting to travel elsewhere – with the visa regime still ongoing. While partaking in speculative biography – an artistic approach used for a hypothetical scenario – that of being a pigeon. As an artistic approach, pinching on the subject of mobility in contemporary Kosovo as it is a known fact that pigeons can fly, and nobody can stop them, while on the other hand Kosovar cannot fly without being bothered by these borders.
Pigeons are a sport and an obsession for many – and this aspect of the relationship between people and pigeons is where this study is mostly focused on. This affection, curiosity, and activity that they share stands as the basis of their created communities, which get together now to organize pigeon races, and then watch their loved ones rotate in the skies. It is these communities’ observations that this study focuses on. It takes on pigeon keeping in an explanatory approach, as a practice of interspecies interaction, and ways in which this interaction is manifested through daily items, objects and material exchanges. A part of their belonging to Pllumaxhi identity is a lot of the stereotypes that were found to exist about pigeons in general, and people who keep them as thieves, criminals, etc. And it is these stereotypes that will draw a parallel between them and Kosovars, which are also stereotyped as being thieves, or criminals, and are not allowed for visas. Nevertheless, These communities and their people are a rare case of coexistence among the different are a heavy reflection of the once visa-free travelling society as a good point for reconciliation – something needed in our region – for breaking apart nationalism and other regressive politics. This study could also be a good example when partaking the human and other species interaction, and the tools and means not to prejudice this relationship, but the opposite of that – take it as an aspect of humans living together with other species and “becoming with” in what Harraway would call “Terrapolis”.
Terrapolis is n-dimensional niche space for multispecies becoming with Terrapolis is at once a story, a speculative fabulation, and a string figure for multispecies worlding, that makes space for unexpected companions“.
Most of the references include the literature we found relevant to what’s being expressed, that on pigeons, on pigeon keeping, interspecies relationships. Some other cross-cutting themes include belongingness, identity, intercultural coexistence, environment and ecology.
The general area of focus of this paper is wherever we found pigeon keepers in Kosovo during the conducting of field research.
On the quest of finding the pigeon communities, we came across an announcement on the Facebook page named “Federata e pwllumbave fluturues te Kosoves” about a “pigeon race” that was to be held – location: Gjilan (a city situated in the east of Kosovo) – and immediately set upon the task to attend it. Specificities concerning the race location were shown in the announcement as supposedly near the Hospital of Gjilan, but after several unanswered phone calls, countless times asking around – while at the same time trying not to look shady; while passing through shades to escape the burning sun – this address was found to be wrong. We had already missed the first of the three races announced that day, and were slowly losing hope when Emin – who was competing that day – answered the phone at the sight of his last dynak flying. It took a successful phone call with him to understand the exact location where the pigeon race was to be held: Kosovo, the suburbs of the city of Gjilan – a 20-minute taxi drive to a village they were referring to as “Kufca e Serbve”. After the taxi drive, some not clear trails. We finally found the race in “Kufca e Serbve”, where a group of up to 70 people – all men- was waiting for it to start. During the conducting of the study we found a few examples of women fancying pigeons, but not partaking in the pigeon races. Therefore found this activity to be applied exclusively by men. The exemption of women could shed some light on the existence of the commodifying value of material, and social status added to the activity – that excludes women. But as well about the whole activity being misunderstood as – not fit for women – whose place is “the house” rather than “society”!.For example, A woman we met while wandering in a village called “Livocc i siperm” in search of a pigeon race – told us her recently deceased father fancied pigeons, kept them, but didn’t race them. At some point, when her father was unable to take care of himself, she would take care of him and his pigeons, and every night she would sit him in front of them for a calming effect. For her, taking care of pigeons meant a sort of a “thank you” to her father. Soon after he died, she gave them away.
How does the pllumaxhi obtain his pigeons?. They – with their hawk-like eyes trained to suspect a vulnerable pigeon from afar are always on the lookout for new opportunities of pigeon appropriation. When the lost pigeon is in its radar he lures it with his already obtained pigeons, using the lost pigeons to socialize with his pigeons. Though the main idea stands that “…the master is more important than his tools…” we found pigeons have a pedigree attached to them that recognizes genetic evolution, strategized upon the abilities required to win the races. All pllumaxhis, when they breed their pigeons, they do it with the intent to acquire their utmost potential in what is needed to be a champion of the race. This then establishes this pedigree that pigeons have, that sets the prices for them. We were told that based on it, pigeon prices could go from 500 euros – up to 2000 euros for the champion pigeons. This continued with them telling us stories of Pllumaxhis not wanting to sell their pigeons, to guide us even deeper into acknowledging pigeons being more than the money they make – but rather their honor, their status.
There are a lot of types of races people carry out with their pigeons, but the one that was more frequent when this research was conducted and that we’ve set the focus on are the tumbler races. The way the “Gara e pllumbave fluturues‘ goes is. First, the kuta, a type of pigeon with a fur ball in its neck, that serves as bait for making the dynek fly, is released. Dynek is a type of domesticated pigeon used for races because of the characteristic tumblings it makes when landing. These tumblings make their score. Kuta starts to fly as Dynek chases it. In the meantime the pllumaxhi’s, conduct as much noise as they can to force the kuta and dynek to go as high up as possible. An act for which Avni, a pllumaxhi who was attending the race, told us that it will not necessarily scare, or make the pigeons fly higher, and couldn’t explain why they do it if not to make them go higher. Anyways we argue this act as the pllumaxhi’s way to manifest their excitement/elation as it happens in every kind of sport.
Scaring off the pigeons, by Shpat Shkodra and Ard Myrseli, Some Call Us Balkans 2021. CC BY-SA 4.0
When going down, while rotating, the dynek will either move successfully back to the rest of the pigeons or will lose control from turning and could end up hitting the ground hard and die. However, there is always someone – mostly young men – with a circular net that they call “sepeta” chasing them around while positioning themselves perpendicularly to the pigeons they are chasing, so as to save them from falling.
A beautiful catch by the Sepeta Guy, by Shpat Shkodra and Ard Myrseli, Some Call Us Balkans 2021. CC BY-SA 4.0
The race cannot start without the referee checking the ring in the feet, a sort of ID of the racing bird and determining if it is registered on the book. The referee’s job also consists of commissioning the races, which means organizing the data of each dynek’s score.
Judge’s job is to stop any disrespect of rules; he measures the distance of the dyneks with a specific tool, and yells the meters shown on its screen.
Another thing is that to keep pigeons, one needs space. The places where the pigeon racings are held are usually fields away from the city. That is done for the following reasons:so as the pigeons not to get injured, and that they don’t get distracted while growing, or during races, These spaces usually contain lofts with two or more rooms, and they serve for the pllumaxhi to classify the pigeons as he finds it most suitable. Sebush for example had one loft containing the pigeons he caught from others, two lofts containing his pigeons, and a small kitchen closet where he kept the one injured pigeon. As he reasoned, the plague of the injured one might get an infection and infect the others. The places where the pigeons are held often serve as the spaces of the community as well, where they gather and reproduce their community belonging. Building upon the already set theoretic framework by Weber, who when defining communities emphasized the sense of “belongingness” , we set upon the task of answering the following questions: What is a Pllumaxhi? What are the different cases? Why do they do it? What about the communities they belong to?.How do they belong?
The primary thought is that pllumaxhis are simply people who fancy pigeons. That feeling is a desire, a passion or liking or obsession for them. Upon this identity, a commemoration of their shared passions – sprout the communities they belong to. These communities are reproduced and maintained by symbolic and material exchanges, But even pigeon fancying is manifested differently amongst different pllumaxhis that we’ve had a chance to encounter. Essentially speaking, all Pllumaxhis communities are bound in their shared passion for pigeons, specific spaces they dwell in, places in which they meet and interact with each other. But in the cases we’ve encountered, are there differences in how they feel about pigeons? And what do they do with them and why!?
Even though you can, they never eat them as they have feelings of affection for them. Besart, the son of a pllumaxhi (a pllumaxhi himself), at one point of the interaction we had with him, said about his father that “he knows his pigeons better than he knows me, his own kid. And he’ll kick him out for his pigeons…:”.
While some view the activity as a hobby for others is the only thing they do. Take Maksut, for example, who is someone who trains and breeds pigeons with the intent to race them, and for whom – we are judging – that pigeon keeping is slightly more of an obsession. In the little interaction, we could get with him at times; he wasn’t “on the zone” with his pigeons; he told us jokingly he sees them even when he sleeps..Others considered him to be a really passionate and talented pllumaxhi, that can “…sniff a pigeon…” when the person chasing it with sepeta couldn’t find it. Though we didn’t get the chance to see, we were told he has a tattoo on his chest of a winning pigeon number and the year of the championship that his pigeon won. Tattoos are something you do to remember it, that trace your body for your whole life. For him, pigeon keeping is also an issue of pride, disappointment, honor, and social status. It’s his way to obtain the resources Bourdieu wrote about that are available to a group or individual based on praise, prestige, or recognition and translate in value within a particular culture. As an example of the pride he takes into his passion, at one point when we explained why we were attending his race, he asked us to – when answering the same question to others – we reply “WE CAME TO SEE THE CHAMPION” – him and also his son held a lot of pride in being the record holder for the best fly of dynek in Kosovo – 320 meters – “wind also helped it”.
Maks greetings his friends, by Shpat Shkodra and Ard Myrseli, Some Call Us Balkans 2021. CC BY-SA 4.0
His older brother Imer on the other hand is something else when it comes to interacting with pigeons. The only pigeons he interacts with are the “gjylas’ ‘ – a type of pigeon distinguished by having a fur ball on its neck and mostly appraised for its aesthetics – rather than a rotating ability, as it’s the case with dyneks. There are races and games organized with them as well, which he never participates in. He enjoys going to the field where he keeps his pigeons, feeling the ease of nature, away from the urban setting and sets sight on his gjylas while they are feeding on the maize he poured for them. For him the sight of pigeons, their coo contributes to an ease of mind, a getaway from all the noises – or going on with his own words “…getting rid of the burden of days…”.. Imer could be called a pigeon fancier, but not a keeper or a racer. His reasoning for his decision of not interacting with dyneks or races – is laid indirectly in his grave mimicry when he explains cases where people “spent their life away” because of their obsession for pigeons—referring to pigeon keeping as “…a disease” and taking his brother Maks as an example.We also met others who started doing this when they retired as they hadn’t had the time before.
There also exist institutional structures that administer this activity and walk the bridges to the state. The president of the “Federation of Tumblers of Kosovo” (which community stands as the main subjects of this study) Emin, whose job got to do with organizing pigeon races, and at the same time being a pllumaxhi himself, or Bashkim, for example, who was the judge/referee of the races.
Maksut, his brother Imer and other pllumaxhis we met in Vushtrri told us they belong to an association. What is a pigeon association? Why is it? What is the difference between belonging in an association or not? – it’s still hazy to us. They help each other out. Know each other’s birds, and when they catch them, they return them to their owner, rather than keeping them for themselves. They have a small coffee shop where they meet every night and discuss mainly pigeon-related topics.
Conducting the study we were also interested in the topics they discuss, but also the way they discuss them. We found that the language they use in pigeon-related issues often makes it look like they’re talking about cars. For example, we experienced the saying “… his oil is leaking…” – for when a bird is seen to be tired. Or using the word “tires” to refer to dyneks rotating etc. Continuing to speak of the discussions they had with each other, this research paper on pigeons and pllumaxhis could quickly shift one into a study of much broader structures like the state. Sometimes the word “corruption” is heard – “…The state doesn’t support this sport…”. “Earlier, the Pllumaxhi was vital to winning the race, now is all about money” – shifting into the nostalgia of the past, a compartmental imaginary so embedded in human culture interpretations. We were surprised not to experience much revolt because the winner of the competitions doesn’t get paid at all, even though all attendees pay a membership fee to the federation. It’s where we could go back to Bourdieu again, on the symbolic or material gains one could have – that could catalyze their social status.
The first thing we were concentrated on – that was set as a starting point of this research was the media coverage: music, tv, social network pages, comments, videos, or anything we could find on pigeon fanciers on the internet – but without actually typing the keywords for it. At the very first point of our study, we were equipped with the means and data of exposing the stereotypes about these communities, some of which will be communicated on the following. The word “pllumaxhi” was often found to be used in negative contexts, at times even by pllumaxhis for their own. In social media comments, in several rap songs, the word is found chiefly standing near in strings of words such as bandits, drug dealers, thieves, criminals. Take, for example, the artist 2po2, who at some point during his song “Ngrehja Kamen” uses the word pllumaxhi in a typical rap context – that of a neighborhood filled with “…hajni, Pllumagji, e belagji” (When translated: thievery, pigeon-fanciers, belligerents). We found “Pigeon races” a sport that is not generally approved. As Marger (2011) argued a trait of prejudice and how it infers an individual behavioral characteristics where individuals are judged considering their belonging to a group and not their personal attributes, we argue the same case in the context of our research.
… these stereotypes make them more exclusive, hostile to others! Because of them being stereotyped as a community, made them more exclusive, susceptible (towards us in this case), and some, it even made them secretive about their identity.. The little information that was posted online on the schedule and location of pigeon races contained but the name of the pigeon racer and the area that often was found to be wrong. Because of that and because this was a community we didn’t know before, nor them as people, nor their activities as pllumaxhis – most of our fieldwork had a lot to do with us going around villages and fields we’ve never been before and asking around (communicating on the same language was a plus)for pllumaxhis and “Garat e pllumave”, or “Ku pi lshojne pllumat“. On these searches we were presented with even more stereotypes, not only about the communities that fancy pigeons, but the activity of fancying pigeons itself. “The way to fancy pigeons is when you have two apartments that you rent for a thousand euros each, money flowing, family and kids all good” .The activity of bird keeping is seen with disdain and not fit to be conducted. We argue this is caused by the supposed lack of wealth that is seen as a product of bird fancying and goes against the consumerist values that this capitalist society dictates.
Often, when we told them about the reason for us being there – our subject of study, they told us that they felt relieved for us when they understood we are not actually Pigeon-keepers but just researchers who are studying them. A woman we met in “Livocc to sipwrm” when asked about “the Halitis” (a name that was announced doing a pigeon race) was not sure there was any pigeon fancier in that family because they are educated. Imer – a pigeon keeper (but not racer), told us he used to keep pigeons up until the point his kid started to get interested in them. And so as “to save” his kid from this disdained activity – he took them away. Nowadays, he is pigeon fancier but does not have any himself. He interacts with his brother pigeons. Avni, with whom we had an interaction in Gjilan right after we saw the fly of a pigeon and shared cigarettes with each other – said he “couldn’t count the times in life where he got beaten for smoking cigarettes and keeping pigeons.” When asked about these stereotypes? He recognized the stereotypes on pigeon fanciers “not to be believed” but could not answer the question of why do they exist? Redon, a chef whom we met at a local pizzeria, is not at all involved with pigeons, and says they are all bandits, criminals, and thieves! Don’t you know – they even steal pigeons from each other.. And this it’s what brought us to the other point of “At what extent are these stereotypes true?”
Going back to Sebush’s house in Vushtrri a few days after we met him in a pigeon race, we were welcomed in the best way possible. His invitation to eat qebapa “…the next time we see each other…” wasn’t just a goodbye promise as we thought. He took us to the qebabtore “Tiriqi” that took a five-minute walk away. Sebush walked with his head high and greeted lots of people on the street.
When we returned to his shop/pigeon lofts, he served us some homemade rose juice and couldn’t pass without mentioning that it was made from his own roses. It tasted so nice we asked for another and he joked that it costs 50 cents. We found him quite connected to nature as he talked about fishing and camping next to a lake as an activity he does every Sunday. His offer is given the adequate seriosity this time! At a scroll, he took in his phone pictures; the primary color was green. But even more, and other of the Sunday activities, his life revolves around nature and is interconnected with other species to a great extent. His enemies are the cat and the storks that are killing his pigeons. Same for Bahri, a Pllumaxhi that seemed to be grieving over his dynek that was eaten by a cat. Every once in a while, he expressed determination against living in urban cities and advised us that we should move to the village – as a “frame embedded in the compartmental imaginary as an interpretive frame, organizing people’s experience of the environment”. Sebush, other pllumaxhi’s interact with nature to a considerable extent. The interspecies relationship we argue fits the harmony of what Donna said about interspecies relationship “…who are enmeshed in partial and flawed translations across difference, redo ways of living and dying attuned to still possible finite flourishing, still possible ecologic recuperation” become-with each other or not at all”.
The activity of bird keeping is seen with disdain and is not fit to be conducted. We argue this is caused by the supposed lack of wealth that is seen as a product of bird fancying and goes against the consumerist values that this capitalist society dictates.
An interesting idea was put on hand by Jerolmack when speaking about the stereotypes revolving around pigeons, with what he calls Spatial Expectations: “What people classify as “pests” or “nuisance animals” are those species of “wildlife” that trespass on sidewalks and colonize human dwellings despite efforts to designate these spaces as human-only places be existentially unsettling because it is read as “matter out of place.” – clearly defines the spatial” and continuing with what Jarolmack experienced “ fanciers grumbled that neighbors blamed them when street pigeons nested on their air conditioners or defecated on their cars. Complaints were more likely to come from newer neighbors, who sometimes failed to perceive the differences between the men’s “stock birds” and feral pigeons. Long-term neighbors, who often had closer ties with fanciers, were more likely to recognize that the pigeons that annoyed them were almost always feral ones. They knew that fanciers vaccinated their birds and only let them out for short periods.”
In conclusion there are similarities between Kosovar’s and pigeons when it comes to the stereotypes annotated to both. Both of these agencies are limited and marginalized for no particular reason. Going by what Harraway wrote, we argue that the case of “pllumaxhis” presented, and their activities, are one of “…the stories in which multispecies players, who are enmeshed in partial and flawed translations across difference, redo ways of living and dying attuned to still possible finite flourishing, still possible recuperation.”
Allen, B. (2009). In Pigeon (pp. 10–11). Reaktion Books.
Bourdieu, Pierre. “Les rites d’institution.” Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 43 (1982)
Jerolmack,Colin. “The Global Pigeon: Fieldwork Encounters and Discoveries” Illustrated ed.. University of Chicago Press (2013)
Weber, M., & Whimster, S. (2008). Economy and society. London: Routledge.Haraway, Donna J. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene: Experimental Futures. Illustrated ed.. Duke University Press Books. (2016).
Allen, Barbara. “Pigeon” Reaktion Books LTD (2009).. Pg; 10 - 11.