burnesha

After seeing something in the latest Geographical about the burnesha, I was reading more online and found this story from 2013. There are quite a number of resources about the history of burnesha online, but the pictures used here are from a photographer (http://www.jillpetersphotography.com/) who takes beautiful portraits of people IMO, so I chose to link this one!

The phenomena of “Sworn Virgins” (Burnesha), women forced to live their lives as men in confinement to their traditional society’s rules dates back to the 15th century Kanun – a set of laws and conduct practices codified by Leke Dukagjini, Albanian prince who fought the Ottoman Empire.

According to the Kanun, women are treated like family property, stripped of the majority of their human rights: they can’t vote in the local elections, can’t buy land and there is a number of jobs for which they’re not allowed to apply for as well as certain village premises where they’re banned from entering. Likewise, under the Kanun, women are not allowed to smoke, drink, drive or wear a watch.

If a woman wishes to be granted all the rights and privileges of the male population, she must effectively become a man, cropping her hair, wearing male clothes and adopting masculine gestures.

The practice of sworn virginhood was first reported by missionaries and anthropologists who travelled to Albanian mountains in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although very few Burnesha remain, the custom is still practiced in certain remote parts of Albania and Montenegro.

The Burnesha. A dying breed that has been cultivated over time. For once the impending extinction of a group is perhaps a good thing. For all these years, under traditional tribal rule in the Balkans the women of clans following the Kanun were considered the property of their men.

The only way out was to assimilate. Perhaps they subscribe to the philosophy of ‘if you can’t beat them, then join them’. Perhaps not. Perhaps it is an attempt to infiltrate the ruling ranks from within and instigate a revolution from above?

Who knows why, but one thing is for sure - It is incredible to see the extents to which some ladies will go to attain the freedom to vote, drive, conduct business, earn money, drink, smoke, swear, own a gun or wear pants; traditionally the exclusive province of men.