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ETHNONYMS: Albanois, Arbëresh, Arnauts, Arvanits, Illyrians, Shiptare


Identification. The name "Albanian" derives from the ancient town of Albanopolis, mentioned by Ptolemy in the Second century b.c. and located within present-day Albania. Etymologically this derives from the Latin albus, "white," a possible reference to the whiteness of the nearby mountains. "Arbëresh" comes from Albanian arbër, a term for Albanians in Italy. "Arbanit," "Arvanit"designating Greek Albanianschanged to "Arbërit" and "Arbëreshët," which were initially names for Catholic Albanians only. "Arnaut" derives from the Ottoman designation andlike "Albanoi," the original French nameis to be found in older sources. "Illyrian" is the name for the autochthonous population that lived partly on modern Albanian territory, from the time of the Iron Age, and it is sometimes used in Albanian nationalist literature as a designation for "ancestral Albanians." "Shiptare," "sons of the eagle," originally the self-designation of the people of the northern highlands only, is in modern Albanian the correct ethnonym for all Albanian people.

Location. Present-day Albania covers an area of 28,748 square kilometers located between 39°38 and 42°39 N and 19°16 and 21°4 E and is bordered by the Adriatic and Ionian seas to the west, Montenegro, Serbia, and Macedonia to the north and east, and Greece to the south. Seventy-six percent of Albania is hill and mountain, 23.4 percent plains. The climate is Mediterranean in the coastal plains and foothills. In the mountain area of inner Albania, the climate becomes more continental, with less dry summers and cooler, often snowy winters.

Demography. In 1990 there were about 3.25 million Albanians in Albania, 35 percent of them urban. The population growth rate is up to 2 percent per year with an extremely high birthrate of 24 per 1,000 inhabitants (1985-1990 average) . The population has the youngest average age in Europe, with 33.9 percent under 14, 51.8 percent between 15 and 49, and only 14.3 percent above 50 in 1985. Life expectancy is 69 for men and 74 for women. More than a third of all Albanians live outside Albania's political borders, which were fixed in 1913 after the Balkan Wars. More than 2 million Albanians live in Kosovo in the Republic of Serbia, Yugoslavia, with Others Montenegro and Macedonia. There is also a large Albanian community in Greece, mainly in the Tshamaria (Greek Epirus), in the Peloponnesos, in Thrace, in Greek Macedonia, and on the islands of Angistri, Euboea, Hydra, Poros, Spetsai, etc. There are another 100,000 in south Italy and Sicily, descendants of religious refugees from the Ottoman advance in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Thousands of Albanians have come very recently (1990-1991) as Political refugees to Greece, Italy, and other western European states. There are also Albanian enclaves in Turkey, Egypt, Russia, and the United States.

linguistic Affiliation. Albanian is the sole member of one branch of Indo-European languages. There are two main dialects whose names are also the names of the two main Regional groups in Albania, which are also differentiated by their traditional social organization: Tosk, influenced by Turkish, roughly to the south of the Shkumbin River; and Gheg, with many Romance, Greek, and Slavonic influences, to the north. The modern official Albanian language dates from the period 1908 to 1912, when, as a result of the nation-building process, the language was standardized on the Tosk variant and the Latin alphabet was introduced.

History and Cultural Relations

Archaeological and prehistoric evidence for Illyrian settlements on Albanian territory date from the second Millennium b.c. At first influenced by ancient Greek civilization, Illyria belonged to the Roman Empire after 168 b.c. From the fourth to the sixth centuries the Illyrians suffered Hun and Gothic invasions, and from the sixth century Slavs began to settle on Illyrian territory. In Kosovo the plains settlers withdrew into the mountains, thus laying the historical foundations for modern territorial disputes between Serbs and Albanians in Yugoslavia. From 750 the area was under Byzantine rule, and from 851 to 1014 it belonged to the Bulgarian Empire. Later came the Normans (1081-1185) and Neapolitans (the "Regnum Albaniae" of Charles of Anjou in coastal Albania, 1271), and the country became part of the Great Serbian Empire from 1334 to 1347 under Stefan Dušan. The Venetians then claimed the area until 1393, when the Ottoman Empire absorbed it; the area finally declared its Independence in 1912.

Today Albania is relatively homogeneous ethnically. The 1976 Albanian constitution recognizes national minorities and guarantees minority rights concerning language, folklore, and tradition, but not religion. The Greeks (5.2 percent) live mainly in the Albanian Epirus. Thousands of Albanian Greeks have gone to Greece since the end of 1990 over a border that had been virtually closed for decades. The Balkan Romanians (0.5 percent), also known as Aromuns or Vlachs, are regarded as an assimilated minority. Their earlier nomadic pastoralism came to an end through restrictions on their mobility after World War II, when political borders were closed, and through the socialist government's collectivization of agriculture. In the thirteenth century, Vlach pastoralists, artisans, and traders founded their capital, Voskopoja, in southern Albania, which in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries became a center for international trade and cultural relations (with Venice, Vienna, and Budapest) with an Educated class. More than 100,000 Vlachs were still recorded in Albania around the turn of the century. There are also groups of Macedonians (0.4 percent) and Montenegrins (0.2 percent). The Gypsies (less than 0.2 percent), both Sinti and Roma (Albanian evgjitë, a reference to a formerly assumed Egyptian origin, or kurbetë ), were compelled by state programs to settle down permanently. In the cities they live in apartment blocks or single dispersed apartments, though separate residential quarters for Gypsies can still be found. Traditionally basket makers, smiths, and tinkers, today they are employed as street cleaners or in road construction, being Socially marginalized. A very few Blacks (Albanian arigi ), the descendants of Ottoman slaves, also live in Albania. Many Jews were taken from Albania to Israel in January 1991 by Operation Flying Carpet.


Today 35.5 percent of the Albanian population is urban, 64.5 percent rural. The relatively low urbanization rate is probably a result of state restrictions on mobility. Virilocal marriage leads many Albanian women to live in urban areas. About 80 percent of the population today lives in apartment blocks built in the Socialist period. Besides the capital, Tirana, the main regional centers are Durrës (the main port), Shkodër, Elbasan, Vlorë, and Korcë. In presocialist days villages were composed of groups of houses surrounded by farmland and pastures. Stone and wood were the main materials used in house building. The Ottoman influence can clearly be seen in the widespread enclosure of houses by stone walls for Religious reasons and the use of stone, originally for defensive purposes, in the first floor, timber in the second. Also typical of Albania is the kula, a fortified dwelling of stone with slits for windows in the lower floor and closable windows above, adapted to the threat of brigandage, foreign (especially Ottoman) invasions, and, above all, feuds. The one-room house of stone and timber with a central fireplace is the basic unit, sometimes extended with additional buildings into larger farms. Because of the sloping terrain, many houses are built perpendicularly on several levels against the slope, thus utilizing all possible space. In areas with a more Mediterranean climate, a veranda added to the basic unit serves in summer as a place for cooking, sleeping, and living. In the south one also finds the manor houses of the former feudal rulers (patrons) in both rural and urban areas, some of which were built for defense. In the plains both these and ordinary houses often show the influence of Italian architecture.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The extended household was basically self-sufficient, with property and labor held in common. Surplus produce was sold in sometimes distant markets to provide weapons, household utensils, bride-wealth, etc. During the Socialist period farming and stock raising were carried out by cooperatives and collective farms, and many villagers commuted to jobs in industry and state services. Privatization started in the early 1980s, after expropriations had led to the slaughter of stock by protesting farmers and consequent meat shortages. As a result, the government introduced a brigade economy (a brigade being a cooperative workers' unit representing approximately the population of a former village), and workers sold the surplus products at state shops at prices guaranteed by the state. No research has been carried out on the secondary economy in Albania, but people evidently provided themselves with raki (a spirit), vegetables, herbs, and fruits on the black Market. Since 1990, a transformation toward a free-market Economy has been going on. Industrial production declined by about 50 percent in 1991. Strikes, especially in the mines, the worthlessness of the Albanian currency, and a 60 percent unemployment rate currently are the main features of a very unstable economic situation.

Industrial Arts. In the past there were urban centers and certain streets in the cities where male artisans and specialists sold various products of pottery, metal, and wood: for example, agricultural and household tools, instruments, religious icons in Eastern Orthodox areas, ironwork, silver and gold filigree, embroidery, and other needlework. Ottoman style Influenced carvings in wood for interior decoration all over Albania. Shepherds carved their crooks. Farmers produced and carved wooden spoons, pipes, distaffs, spindles, and Musical instruments such as flutes, the cifteli (a two-stringed mandolin), and the lahuta (a one-stringed instrument); some regions were famous for their ornamented carved wooden chairs, cradles, and bridal chests. Women worked for family needs and in many urban and rural regions for the market, specializing in textiles.

Trade. Until the fall of Constantinople in 1453, an Important trade route between Rome and Byzantium, the Via Egnatia, passed through Durrës. In the nineteenth century, Orthodox Greek and Vlach citizens in the southern parts of Albania traded with the Ottoman Empire, economic centers in the north being Shkodër and Prizren (the latter now in Kosovo). Economic relations with Yugoslavia ended two years after the proclamation of the Albanian Socialist People's Republic in 1946. From 1949 Albania was a member of the Soviet-East European Council of Mutual Economic Assistance, and the Soviet Union was the most important trading partner until 1961, when relations were broken off. Economic assistance was provided by China from 1961 until 1978, when it ended and Chinese experts withdrew. In 1968 Albania left the Warsaw Pact. Until May 1990 the constitution did not permit the raising of foreign loans, and this restricted foreign investment. In recent years Albania has exported different types of ore and metals (primarily iron ore and chromite), electricity, gas, agricultural products, some finished goods (textiles, handicrafts, etc.), building materials, chemical products, plastics, and cigarettes and tobacco. Grain, luxury goods, machinery, vehicles, chemical and electromechanical products were imported. The principle of "no import without export," broadly realized until 1987, was intended to guarantee economic autarchy. The increasing deterioration of Eastern European economiesAlbania's major trading partnerstogether with the problems of drought and an inflexible system of central planning, have led to severe shortages. Since September 1991 the Albanian Population has been supported largely through European Community programs designed to avoid further movements of refugees.

Division of Labor. In general, the men of the clan society were concerned with agriculture and stock raising. Transhumant pastoralism, lumbering, and hunting were men's seasonal tasks. In addition to housekeeping, women were responsible for small-scale production such as weaving and sewing for the household or for one's dowry, plus dairy farming and child care. Often, when a family was involved in a feud, the men went into hiding and the women took over their work too. The household head was allowed a horse in order to represent the family to the outside world, and he also decided the organization of labor among the agnates. He appointed his female counterpart, the "mistress of the house" (zonjë, not necessarily his wife), who was similarly responsible for the female labor of the household. In modern times, the socialist constitution declared women equal to men. In reality this principle often creates an added burden for women, Because in public life they are employed equally with men in agricultural and industrial production and in civilian and military service, whereas their emancipation in private life, though official policy, is often more theory than fact.

Land Tenure. In the clan society land was owned jointly by the clan and owned locally by the agnates of an extended household. In the plains latifundia (çiftlics ) developed when the formerly independent villages were integrated into the patronage system in Ottoman times. With the weakening of the Ottoman Empire, regional feudal rulers (beys), Albanian converts to Islam with lucrative positions in the Ottoman administration, extended their power and kept the mostly Eastern Orthodox peasants under their control as tenants. Endogamous family aristocracies arose, the best-known from 1778 being the Bushatli family, with large properties around Shkodër in northern Albania, and the family of Ali Pasha of Tepelena (1785-1822), with extensive landholdings in Present-day Greek and Albanian Epirus. In the area around the city of Tirana up to the neighboring mountainous district of Mati, the two systems met and a mixed system of land tenure developed. Family heads were already known as beys, and some estates belonged to wealthier families, but in general land still was communally held by the different clans. The Albanian beys were expropriated after the war, when socialist land reforms in 1946 divided the land among farmers formerly dependent on feudal landlords. Later, the land was nationalized and collectivized in state farms, though this action was delayed somewhat in mountain areas because of a combination of underdeveloped infrastructure and popular resistance. People were organized in cooperatives, first on the level of single villages and later in groups of villages. Since the collapse of socialism, a process of privatization of land has been set in motion, accompanied and hampered by numerous conflicts.


Kin Groups and Descent. Gheg clan society lasted until the 1950s in northern Albania. Those who claimed descent from a common, sometimes mythical or fictitious male ancestor were organized in an ideally exogamous patrician or fis found in many villages with lineages at the village or mehala level. Understood as a "brotherhood" or vellezeri, these included a variable number of communal extended households, called shpi or shtëpi (literally, "house"), each consisting of the nuclear families of a number of brothers, with up to ninety Individuals in some cases. Genealogies, understood as a tree, were carefully remembered and handed down through the generations through epic songs and tales as origin myths.

Kinship Terminology. Kin ties were defined by blood given to the children only through the patriline. A wife's or mother's kin were her parental family; her father and brothers were responsible for her until she married. Accordingly, mother's brother and mother's son had special terms, but apparently there was no specific kin terminology for their Children. AU matrilateral cousins, cross as well as parallel, were potential marriage partners but not any patrilateral cousins, relations with whom constituted incest. In the traditional extended household, patrilateral cousins of any degree were called brothers and sisters, patrilateral uncles of any degree fathers or uncles. When the actual father and mother became very old, the eldest brother and sister were given the terms for father and mother. Thus the terminology was at least partly classificatory, with bifurcate-merging features.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Residence in Albanian clan society was strictly virilocal. Marriage arrangements were always exogamous and made by the head of the household. Children were betrothed sometimes even before birth, often in respect of an existing alliance or in order to establish friendship or peace with another clan. Religious differences between the families were no obstacle. A part of the bride-price was paid after the girl was born, the balance when she was old enough to be handed over to the bridegroom's relatives, who picked her up in a marriage procession. Girls were married between the ages of 13 and 16, boys between 15 and 18. Regionally, dowry also was given to the girl by her family, and if she was widowed and sent home, she could take with her whatever remained. Levirate was also practiced. Sometimes young widows were resold, the profit being shared between her former husband's family and her own. A wife was regarded as her husband's property, as were her children; unmarried women belonged to their fathers. If a wife failed to give birth to a son, her husband was allowed to divorce her by cutting off a piece of her dress and sending her home to her family. Such a woman was considered worthless and she had almost no chance of being married again. Church influence ended the practice of taking a woman Without marrying her until she proved her fertility. A woman's only possibility of escaping an unwanted marriage without causing bloodshed between the families involved was to promise perpetual virginity as a verdzin, which entailed the difficult task of finding a number (which varied according to region) of co-jurors from her own clan who would agree to feud if she failed to maintain her oath. A verdzin was allowed to take over male responsibilities and duties, and in some areas she dressed like a man. In the mountains there was often a shortage of women, causing a regional explosion in the amount of bride-price, which in turn led to marriage by capture in some cases. Socialism prohibited traditional customs concerning marriage and promised the free choice of partner to both sexes.

Domestic Unit. In the anthropological literature the extended household organized by fraternal principle is known by the original Serb word zadruga (see "Kin Groups and Descent").

Inheritance. Leadership positions traditionally were not inherited but achieved. One exception was the public post of a bayraktar or standard-bearer (see "Political Organization"), though even here, merit was the basis of a holder's choice of his successor from among his sons. Another exception was the position of captain (kapedan), or head of the clan, which was transmitted hereditarily through the Gjomarkaj family of the large clan of Mirditë, who were the keepers of all knowledge about the "Kanun" or traditional law (see "Social Control"). The Kanun also regulated inheritance for the household and specified that land and other property never be divided up but always remain communal within the agnatic group, with the household head having control over its use. Land could not be bequeathed to the church by anyone without permission of the clan assembly. In the event of the deaths of their husbands or fathers, women were left to the charge of their respective agnates. In the case of the Minority of a sole male heir or of the total lack of male heirs, an elder sister could choose to become a verdzin as a classificatory male household head to care for the property and keep it together for subsequent generations.

Socialization. On the third day after birth (poganik ) three fairies would predict a child's fortune, according to traditional belief. Although baptized after three to four weeks, the child was actually initiated into the community of the house through the ritual of the first haircut when the child was about one year old. A lack of sons or of children altogether was regarded as a misfortune. Ritual techniques and amulets protected children from the evil eye. Fathers often exchanged their young sons to raise them even more strictly, and Children were only allowed to speak when spoken to. A man had to carry weapons (a rifle or pistol) to be taken seriously. Girls were introduced to domestic work very early. The main Concerns of child care and education were developing toughness and respect for elders, especially men. Initially the socialist government faced high rates of illiteracy, which has now almost vanished. Today children normally attend a crèche from about 6 months old, before going to kindergarten and then, from the age of about 6, to school. Socialist state education stressed the symbolic "triangle of education, productive work, and physical and military training."

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The agnatic descent system has already been discussed under "Kin Groups and Descent." The institutions of godparenthood, arising out of the rites of a child's first haircut and baptism, and blood brotherhood extended social ties further for the whole family.

Political Organization. The lord of the house or zot i shpis represented his extended family in the assembly of village elders, no member of which had any wealth or other privileges. One or more of its most respected members (plak or dryepfok ) also represented the village in the assembly of clan elders (kuv'ènd ). Each clan also had one or more "standard-bearers" or bayraktars, military leaders with administrative and juridical functions in times of peace. The area in which the zot i shpis recruited his followers was known as a bayrak, which might or might not coincide with a clan (fis) territory. Some clans therefore had more than one standard-bearer, while in other cases one bayraktar would be responsible for more than one clan. He had the right to convene the clan assembly and preside over it for military purposes. The assembly had Executive and juridical functions concerning the community (questions of territory, religion, politics, and law), whereas cases concerning single persons or lineages were decided at village assembly level. In the plains these traditional forms of Political organization were replaced by the Ottoman administration, which introduced a feudal structure. Under socialism, the state and the Communist party organized politics on the local level. As part of the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, Albania is moving rapidly toward a democratic system. In 1991 Albania became a member of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and in March 1992 the Democratic party, which had been founded only in 1990, won the second free election in Albania with a majority of more than 70 percent.

Social Control. Gheg customary law was transmitted orally. The clan and village assemblies administrated and modified justice for 500 years by always referring to a territorial ruler, to Lek Dukagjin, or in certain areas to Skanderbeg, both of whom were said to have codified existing customary law. In 1913 the Franciscan scholar Shtjefen Gjecov collected the laws referring to Dukagjin in the Mirdita clan's area, where it was said to have been preserved best. In 1933, many years after Gjecov's mysterious death, this collection was published as Kanuni i Lek Dukagjinit, a code based on the concepts of honor and blood. A person had to guard the honor of his family and clan, which was conceptualized through the patriline as consisting of the same blood, and the honor of wives. There was also a collective liability lasting generations regarding the actions of any clan member, maintained through an internal hierarchy reflecting the closeness of kin. The doctrine of "blood for blood" found in the Kanun led to institutionalized feud, which clearly defined the responsibilities of the "debtor of the blood" and the "master of the blood" and their respective successors in vengeance.

Conflict. Moral death was more threatening than any intervention by the church, as this Albanian saying makes clear: "You fast for the soul and you kill for honor." The idea of feud as ultimately producing family cohesion and at the same time preventing crime and disputes must be seen in the context of a system that took no action in relation to disputes or murders within a household. Since the latter concerned blood within a family, no feud would result. Quarrels arose through disputes about marriage arrangements, territory, theft, murder, and slander, whose respective values were also defined by the Kanun. For example, a guest's security had to be extremely well maintained according to strict regulations, which ensured mobility for all in an insecure environment. Misfortune for or the mistreatment of a guest could provoke blood vengeance or bring forth sanctions (such as burning the host's house) following a decision of the village community. Blood payments or an oath of allegiance, besa, were among the institutionalized ways of ending a feud, with regional variations regarding the degree to which this was consistent with one's honor.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. In 1967 Albania was proclaimed the first atheist state in the world, and it remained so until December 1990, when the process of democratization under the head of state and party leader, Ramiz Alia, allowed people to admit their faith freely. About 70 percent were registered in a presocialist census as being of Muslim origin, 20 percent Eastern Orthodox, especially in the south, and the rest Catholic. Today there seems to be a tendency to define oneself as Catholic, motivated by a desire to move closer to the West. The old Albanian sayings, "Where the sword is, is the faith," and "The belief of an Albanian is to be an Albanian"the latter being current right up to and including the socialist period, when it was used for political purposesthrow some light on conversions such as those from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries under Ottoman rule, when observance of the Islamic religion became the key to the possession of civic rights. Under Ottoman rule, "Crypto-Christianity" and religious syncretism became very common. After the schism of 1054 north Albania became Roman Catholic, the south Greek Orthodox. Under the Ottomans Catholicism survived only in remoter areas. Four autocephalous Orthodox dioceses were maintained in Tirana, Berat, Gjirokastër, and Korcë until 1967, when atheism was proclaimed. From the fifteenth century on, the Bektashis, a Shiite pantheistic order of dervishes who did not distinguish between Muslim and non-Muslim members, attained great popularity, their monasteries or tekkë being spread all over Albania, with their center at the holy tomb of Saint Sari Saltik in Krujë. Typical of the pre-Christian traditional beliefs is the dichotomy of light and dark, equivalents to male and female, sun and moon, good and evil, as can be seen in symbols and figures used in legends, myths, fairy tales (e.g., kulshedra, "monster," versus dragoni ), oaths, curses, tattoos, amulets, handicrafts, on gravestones, etc. There were also beliefs concerning vampires and witchcraft, the interpretation of omens, the observation of natural phenomena for predictions, etc. Taboos of an apotropaic character were also found; for example, the wolf's name was never pronounced out loud.

Religious Practitioners. Neither Catholic priests nor bishops, nor Muslim clergymen (hoxha and sheikh among the Sunnis), nor abbots (baba, sing.; baballar, pl.) among the Bektashis, could supply every village. Some were wanderers, all were respected as God's men, and there is evidence that the nearest available were consulted by people of any faith when necessary. Clerics were not allowed to keep house dogs because their houses had to be open all night to parishioners or passing strangers, though Eastern Orthodox and Muslim priests' houses were not considered sacred, and theft from them therefore was not considered sacrilegious. Besides their more or less important role in life-cycle rites and as Consultants, priests had an educational role, since the Ottoman administration allowed religious bodies (Franciscans, Jesuits) to run schools. Jesuits sometimes succeeded in ending feuds, Because of the belief that they were sent by the pope and had the power to take away God's blessing for one's family for generations to come. In the years after World War II many Religious leaders were sent to prison or executed.

Ceremonies. Life-cycle rites traditionally occurred at birth, the first haircut, sometimes the first nail cutting, Marriage, and death. Further rites included the swearing of an oath on a rock, a gravestone, an altar, the doorstep of a church, a meteor, a glowing coal, and on natural phenomena such as the sun, moon, fire, plains, mountains, etc., as well as the besa or renunciation of feud. Rites of the yearly cycle consisted of pre-Christian customs as well as church festivals and processions, which were often shared by people of every faith. Some days involved taboos on certain activities or certain food. Other occasions involved the lustration and blessing of water, farmland, the harvest, agricultural instruments, livestock, houses, children, plants, etc. Under socialist rule Religious ceremonies were prohibited and replaced by military and nationalist public celebrations such as First May Day processions, the birthday of the former party leader Enver Hoxha, the anniversary of his death, etc. New Year's Day became the most important festivity of the year.

Arts. Albanian epic songs were the original vehicle for tradition and local history in a culture without writing. Typical heroic epics (e.g., the epic cycle "The Brothers Muji and Halili," songs of Skanderbeg) were monophonic and sung by professional wandering artists on social occasions, or by private musicians in the family or with friends, who accompanied themselves with the one-stringed lahuta. The telling of fairy tales for adults as well as for children was popular and assured the survival of both cosmological conceptions and old legends. Norms and values were also transmitted through anecdotes, sayings, and riddles. These traditional features are still cultivated and are performed every five years at a major festival of folklore in Gjirokastër, an old city in the south. Also still performed are, for example, the women's "vessel song," polyphonic and monophonic songs with specific Regional features, and likewise a variety of men's and women's dances. The best-known modern Albanian writer is Ismail Kadare, born in 1939, who in his novels brings to life traditional conditions in Albania and the individual's experiences under the Ottomans.

Medicine. Medicine was traditionally practiced either by local specialized folk doctors (hekim ), by dervishes, or by "wise old women" with herbal knowledge and knowledge of necessary ritual incantations said to have been inherited from their ancestors. Doctors were highly regarded and were often also considered soothsayers. Christian and Muslim saints were appealed to for help through pilgrimages to holy places such as monasteries, saintly tombs, holy waters and springs, etc. Diseases were attributed to evil forces and malevolent ghosts (vila ). The latter had a deadly touch, could cast the evil eye, and often symbolized the illness itself. Under socialism the replacement of these traditions through the continuous development of a network of hospitals, medical research institutions, care centers, and maternity stations was regarded as one of the government's most challenging tasks. Modern medicine emphasizes information and prevention. The state bears the expenses for medical treatment and Medicine. There were about 714 inhabitants per doctor in 1983, a figure that approximates the European standard.

Death and Afterlife. Wailing, scratching one's face, cutting or tearing out one's hair, wearing clothes inside out, etc. are all recognized modes of mourning. Usually this is done by female dependents and neighbors, rarely also by men, and sometimes female mourners are hired. In the south some mourning takes the form of a repeated antiphonal two-verse song sung by a leading mourner followed by a female chorus. Burial follows on the same day or, if a person dies in the afternoon, on the next morning, after a procession to church. Females bid farewell with a last kiss in front of the door, men inside the church. In some areas the bodies of important males are dressed in their most typical costume, with their rifle and other things associated with them (like a cigarette in the corner of the mouth), and then seated in their own yard on a chair to say their last goodbye to those who gather there. Mourning is continued for forty days in the house of the deceased and repeated at certain intervals at the graveside. In Eastern Orthodox areas traditionally the remains were exhumed after three years and the bones placed in a bone house. The good are believed to have an easy death, the bad a hard one. Life is thought to leave a person through the mouth. As well as having a decorated wooden cross, the grave is surrounded by stones either as a protection from the corpse becoming a vampire (the stones hold the corpse down) or as stepping-stones leading the dead on their way to the other world. To make their voyage easier the dead also have coins placed in their mouths (in some areas also apples or other travel supplies). In the mountains, the sites associated with particular murders, especially those resulting from feuds, are indicated with mounds of stones, called murana.


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ETHNONYMS: Albanoi, Arbër, Arbëresh, Arnauts, Arvanites, Shqiptars


Identification and Location. Albania is nearly two-thirds mountainous, covering 10,710 square miles (28,748 square kilometers) of southeastern Europe. It is bordered by Montenegro, Kosovo, the Republic of Macedonia, Greece, and Italy, which lies 70 miles (112 kilometers) across the Adriatic Sea at the Strait of Otranto. The national borders were first recognized in 1921 but had been wider and more ethnically inclusive after the 1913 Balkan Wars and during the period of fascist occupation (1941-1944). In the early 2000s, nearly as many Albanians (more than three million) lived in adjacent neighboring states as lived in their homeland and even more were part of a worldwide diaspora.

Greeks call historically assimilated Christian Albanians Arvanites orArbër and refer to recent Albanian immigrant workers as Arvanoi (Albanoi). Ptolemy described the Albanoi, which produced the modern ethnonym Albanians, in the second century b.c.e. as an Illyrian tribe whose town was Albanopolis. In early Byzantine times Arvanites or Arvanoi were mentioned by Michael Attaliates and Anna Komnene; a principality of Arbanon developed in today's central Albania in the period 1190-1230, and in 1272 the Neapolitan Charles of Anjou proclaimed himself Rex Albaniae. In southern Italy Albanians are known as Arbëresh. The term Arnauts designates Albanians in the service of the Ottoman Empire. Shqiptar, the Albanian self-designation, in popular etymology relates to shqiponjë (the eagle) as the symbol of the mountains, the emblem of the medieval national hero Gjergji Kastrioti (Skanderbeg), and the national flag. In Slavic languages, Šiptari has a derogatory connotation while Albanski is a neutral term. Albanians is the internationally used name.

Demography. After the postcommunist political transition the birth rate decreased from 2.5 percent in 1990 to 1.8 percent in 1998, although it is still high by European standards. In 1996, life expectancy reached 71.4 years and 75 percent of the population was younger than age thirty-five. The crude mortality rate ranged between 5.4 and 5.7 per thousand. These figures suggest a large population increase, but the population decreased slightly from nearly 3,286,000 in 1990 to an estimated 3,284,000 in 1998 because of emigration. After the mobility restrictions of the communist regime ended, approximately 15.6 percent of the population, mostly young and middle-aged men (70.7 percent of all immigrants) and also young families, emigrated primarily for economic reasons. Emigrants' remittances constitute an estimated one-fifth of the nation's gross domestic product. In 1999 there were approximately 500,000 Albanian migrant workers in Greece, 200,000 in Italy, 12,000 in Germany, 12,000 in the United States, 5,000 in Canada, 2,500 in Belgium, 2,000 in France, and 2,000 in Turkey. Internal migration has depopulated poverty-stricken rural areas, while urban areas such as the Tirana district have nearly doubled in size (from 374,500 in 1990 to 618,200 in 1999).

Linguistic Affiliation. Albanian belongs to its own branch of Indo-European, with influences from Latin, Greek, Slavic languages, and Turkish. Dialect differencesroughly categorized as Gheg (north) and Tosk (south of the Shkumbin River)were first nationally standardized on the basis of the central Albanian northern Tosk dialect during communist times. The Latin alphabet has officially been used since 1908. For patriotic reasons, Kosovar Albanian Gheg speakers adopted the standardized variant in 1968. The dialects differ at every level from phonetics to grammar to vocabulary.

History and Cultural Relations

Archaeological evidence of Illyrian settlement dates from the second millennium b.c.e. Illyria was in the orbit of the ancient Greek civilization and after 158 b.c.e. was controlled by the Roman Empire. Whether there was pre-Slavic settlement by Albanians in Kosovo is a matter of controversy. After Hun, Gothic, and Slavic invasions, by 750 the area was under Byzantine rule. It was under Bulgarian rule from 851 to 1014, under Norman rule from 1081 to 1185 and then areas came under the Neapolitan control of Charles of Anjou, under Serbian rule from 1334 to 1347, and under Venetian control until 1393. In the mid-fifteenth century Prince Gjergji Kastrioti (Skanderbeg) reconverted to Christianity and led the ethnically mixed allies of the 1444 League of Lezha in resisting Ottoman control. At the beginning of the sixteenth century all Albanian territories were under Turkish rule. Under the Ottomansgoverning indirectlyvarious customary rules of self-regulation called kanun flourished. Islamization of nearly two-thirds of the population resulted from tax pressures on the Christians (raya), the recruitment of Christian children for the janissary corps (devşirme), the flight of many Christians to Greece and southern Italy, and the disintegration of church structures. There were opportunities for social and professional improvement in the Ottoman army and administration, and Albanians gained high feudal and military positions under the sultans. Modern Albanian historiography locates the national "rennaissance" (rilindja) in the nineteenth century, when the first uprisings against the disintegrating empire occurred. Schooling became a disputed question. Muslim and Greek Orthodox schools existed alongside Italian-supported schools and the Austro-Hungarian Kultusprotektorat Catholic schools, of which only the latter eventually promoted the use of Albanian after 1880.

In 1912 Albania was declared an independent nation. However, only after the Balkan Wars in 1912-1913 and a half-year interlude of rule by the foreign Prince Wilhelm zu Wied in 1914 was Albanian independence recognized internationally in 1920. A semidemocratic government under Bishop Fan Noli was overthrown in 1924 by troops of Ahmet Bej Zogu, a northern tribal leader who was proclaimed King Zog in 1928. He fled the country as a vassal of Mussolini's fascist Italy in 1939. During occupation by the Germans during World War II, southern Albanians cooperated as partisans with the English on the eventual victorious side while many northern monarchists sided with the Germans.

These antagonisms caused postwar show trials until 1950, and many of the northern Albanian men were executed as collaborators. Under the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha (1946-1985) Albanian political "isolationism" was expressed in the building of 250,000 concrete bunkers throughout the country. Yugoslavia was its patron state until the 1948 Corn-inform conflict. The Stalinist Soviet Union served as a patron from 1948 to 1961, and the People's Republic of China was the patron state until 1978. In a period of increasing budget deficits, starvation, and protests, Hoxha's successor, Ramiz Alia, began democratization reforms within the communist system in the late 1980s. In 1990, at a time of mass flight and student demonstrations, religious freedom, party pluralism, free elections, minority rights, the right of free expression, and the right to have a passport were granted.

The postcommunist transition period was characterized by a major international development presence ("international patronage"), mass migration, political polarization, and destabilization. Northern rural communities faced a vacuum of the previously omnipresent state power. After fraudulent elections in 1996 and the overnight loss of the population's savings in "pyramid schemes" in 1997, state institutional structures disintegrated, and the population armed itself from communist-built army depots. An international military presence and strict monitoring of elections led to political and economic stabilization. Albania successfully coped with the influx of nearly half a million refugees from Kosovo in 1999 and remained neutral during Albanian guerrilla warfare in Macedonia in 2001.


During the communist period approximately two-thirds of the population lived in rural, agriculturally dominated areas. During the 1990s the urbanization rate increased radically, and it is expected that early in the twenty-first century there will be equal rural and urban populations. Historical urban centers had developed at major trading routes connecting mountains with lowlands and hinterlands with the coast (Berat, Elbasan, Shkodër), at major ports (Durrës, Sarandë, Vlorë), and at centers on the highland plains (Gjirokastër, Korçë, Kukës, Peshkopi) or coastal plains (Kavaje, Lezhë). Tirana gained national significance only when it became the capital in 1920. Under communism cities with specific administrative, economic, or industrial functions (for example, mining and agricultural cities) developed out of previously rural settlements. Brick buildings lacking plastering, apartment blocks called palati, and central community buildings for each settlement ("house of culture") are reminders of communist housing policies. In the early 1990s, 95 percent of houses were privatized.

Village settlements in the northern mountains are characterized by the coresidence of agnatic groups and patrilineages so that territorial and kinship principles of social organizationdespite communist attacks on "patriarchal traditions"overlap. Hardly any traditional kullë remain from Ottoman times: These were traditional fortified tower houses of stone with slits for light in the lower floor and closable windows above, adapted to the threat of brigandage, foreign invasion, and blood feuds. Precommunist houses were built of stone and timber with a central fireplace for the extended family and a formal reception room. Within walking distance of the village, wattle and daub constructions on summer pastures (bjeshkë) offered shelter during the period of dairy production in the summer months. In Muslimdominated rural regions stone wall enclosures were built for socioreligious and defensive purposes. Houses in areas with a Mediterranean climate have a porch that serves in the summer as a place for cooking, sleeping, and living. In these areas the influence of modern Greek architecture can be observed. There are a few remaining manor houses of former latifundia holders (the çiftlik system) and some castles of aristocratic families.


Subsistence. The extended household was based on a semiautonomous subsistence economy of horticulture, agriculture, and shepherding (sheep, goats, and cattle). Kurbet, labor migration prompted by poverty, in which one adult male family member works abroad and sends home remittances, was common both in precommunist times and afterward. Historically, many Albanians became wandering craftsmen with skills in areas such as house construction throughout what was known as the "European Turkey" of Ottoman times. One son in an extended family might have had to serve in the Ottoman army, which provided additional income.

The communist command economy fostered industrialization and the expropriation and nationalization of the means of private production. Farming was integrated in cooperatives and state collective farms. These policies led to the mass slaughter of animals and periods of starvation in the 1980s. There was widespread unemployment despite a "full-occupation" policy. In the postcommunist 1990s the official unemployment rate exceeded 18 percent. In 1999, 70 percent of employed persons worked in agriculture to meet subsistence needs. Foreign aid, migrants' remittances, and the informal sector became the pillars of the economy.

Industrial Arts. Traditional crafts include fine silver and gold filigree work; felt hats, vests, and trousers; wood carvings for interior decoration; soapstone carvings; wicker work decorations on small storage boxes; woodwork on traditional cradles, bridal chests, and spoons; musical instruments such as the two-stringed çifteli, the one-stringed lahuta, and shepherds' flutes; and embroidery and other needlework produced by women. Since the late communist period these products have been sold as souvenirs to tourists.

Trade. Famous for trading roads such as the Roman Via Egnatia and the port of Durrachium (Durrës) in classical times, trade was severely restricted in the communist era by principles of internal autonomy ("no import without export"). Exports included iron ore, chromites, electricity from plants in the north, gas, agricultural products, and a few finished goods such as textiles, timber, chemical products, plastics, cigarettes, and tobacco. Imports consisted of grain, luxury goods, machinery, vehicles, and chemical and electromechanical products. In postcommunist times small and medium-scale enterprises quickly developed but suffered considerably from the collapse of the pyramid schemes. Textiles, food, furniture, and electrical domestic products were imported from neighboring countries and Turkey. In the informal sector, border contraband of tobacco, coffee, dairy products, and cannabis sativa from home production constituted private subsistence activities in the late 1990s; trafficking in narcotics, cars, oil, refugees, and women (for prostitution) was engaged in by internationally organized criminal networks and enriched only a few Albanians.

Division of Labor. In traditional Albanian society labor was allocated by the "lord of the house" among the men and by the "mistress of the house" among the women, with authority held according to seniority. Men generally took responsibility for all work outside the immediate neighborhood, and women for work within those bounds. Under communism many women were employed outside the home in industry and cooperative agriculture. This led to a double burden rather than female empowerment. In 2000 the official female unemployment rate was 21 percent, in comparison to 15 percent for men.

Land Tenure. Traditionally, the agnatic corporate group jointly held farmland. Pastures were owned as "communal land" by the village, and sales to outsiders were not permitted. In the plains the çiftlik system of land ownership integrated previously independent villages under the rule of feudal lords called bejlerët (plural of bej, or "landowner"). Mixed systems developed north of Tirana. In 1947 land reforms divided large estates into agricultural cooperatives and small-scale farmland for former tenants. Soon persecuted as "kulaks," these tenants also suffered expropriation. Full socialist state collectivization was achieved in 1967. In 1991 a new law ordered the division, registration, and distribution of collectivized farmland. Half a million hectares of agricultural land were to be allocated to former cooperative workers, creating small parcels. However, collision with reemerging customary inheritance laws based on kinship frequently led to conflicts with neighbors and the law.


Kin Groups and Descent. In the traditional highland regions territorial and patrilineal kinship principles overlapped. Genealogical knowledge of patrilineal descent from a common fictitious ancestor, facilitated by mnemonically efficient naming practices, justified claims to territory. Postmarital rules of virilocal residence assured the reproduction of corporate residence clusters of agnatic groups. Concentrically organized, segments included the extended house (shpi), the brotherhood (vëllazeri) or neighborhood (mehallë), and the patrilineage or tribe (fis). The patrilineage was called "the tree of blood" (lisi i gjakut), and the matrilateral kin "the tree of milk" (lisi i temblit). Kinship in the southern and central regions tended to have more bilateral orientations shaped by Greek Orthodox or Islamic rules. Communist modernization practices promoted nuclear families. Crises, poverty, and the migrations of the postcommunist era have resulted in further nuclearization of family ties while temporarily strengthening traditional bonds in Kosovo and Macedonia.

Kinship Terminology. Traditional kinship terminology is classificatory with bifurcate and merging features and is governed by the principles of age seniority, fratristic (brotherly) coresidence, and gender differentiation. Patrilateral cousins are referred to as brother (vëlla) and sister (motër), siblings' descendants as grandchildren (nip/mbesë), the mother's brother as dajë, and the father's brother as mixhë. Bacë is used to refer to the oldest brother or uncle or sometimes the father (whoever has the highest authority in the shpi); dadë is the female equivalent. Originally, the zot i ships, the "lord of the house," called all young men of the shpi "my son," the girls "my daughter," and every married woman "my wife." Nusë was originally the name given to a young bride who had not yet given birth, but it later was used to designate all in-married women.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Northern traditions included ideals of seven- to fifteen-generation exogamy that were subverted by the forgetting of matrilateral relations. Marriages are still arranged in the rural regions of Kosovo and Macedonia and in northern Albania. Postmarital virilocal patterns of residence determine power relations within families. Traditional customs of bride-price payment, ritual lamenting during separation, the bridal procession, and the symbolic subordination of the bride at the ritual stage of integration into the husband's family's house have been reestablished in the north. Rare relics of precommunist practices include swearing eternal virginity and becoming a classificatory male to escape unwanted marriage ("sworn virgins"), the levirate, the rejection of infertile women, infant betrothal, and bridal kidnapping. In the 1990s the regional reemergence of traditional practices may have facilitated trafficking in women. Turkish, Greek, and West European marriage styles have influenced most Albanian weddings. Divorce, which formerly was almost unthinkable, is increasing.

Domestic Unit. The traditional rural domestic unit was shaped by fratristic, patrifocal, and virilocal principles subsumed under the originally Slavic-derived term zadruga. In the late 1990s the average family had two rooms, with two people sharing each room. Restricted space and deficits in the social security system explain the presence of three-generational domestic units, although young people express a preference for neolocal postmarital residence. Remittances from migrant labor are preferably put toward home improvement, particularly sanitary improvements.

Inheritance. Traditionally, inheritance of land was corporate and patrilineal. Pressures involving land resulted in the expansion of territory, the splitting of a family, or migration. Women were materially compensated only through a dowry. Both communist and precommunist reforms introduced equal rights but had little sustainable success in rural areas.

Socialization. Traditionally, children seldom addressed adults and owed respect and servitude to their elders. During adolescence boys were given a weapon; girls were expected to produce needlework as a contribution to the dowry. Baptism, the first haircut, and in Muslim areas circumcision were important rites of passage. In early communist times an 80 percent illiteracy rate was fought (and ideological control established) by providing daycare and kindergarten, and primary, middle, and high school education to every child. Schooling was based on the ideological "triangle of education, productive work, and physical and military training." Postcommunist schooling has suffered from teacher shortages in rural areas and overcrowded classrooms in urban areas, high rates of dropping out, and the survival of authoritative or nationalistic teaching methods. Nevertheless, education is highly valued.

Sociopolitical Organization

Political Organization. Traditionally, every "lord of the house" and the village elders of the patrilineages had a voice in the village or tribal assembly (kuvënd). Ottoman military rankings regionally coexisted with or substituted for the kinship-based sociopolitical representation system. The "standard-bearer" (bajraktar), regionally a vojvod or bey, had administrative and juridical functions in peacetime and exerted leadership during war. The Communist Party replaced traditional authorities with functionaries at all levels and maintained control through totalitarian methods, including an omnipresent secret police (sigurimi). Party pluralism, which was introduced in 1990, inaugurated a highly polarized political landscape dominated by the Socialist and Democratic parties. With the exception of 1997, elections were internationally considered relatively free and fair, although crises provoked widespread political fatigue. Nongovernmental organizations such as cultural, labor, sports, and other associations are gaining influence, although they rely heavily on foreign sponsors.

Social Control. Village gossip, slander, and ignoring were used to sanction improper actions and words. "Honor" (ndera) was a social status assigned to someone who conformed to the collective values of kin and friendship solidarity. This was also expressed in distinctions between the "faithful" and "traitors." The concept of besa covers social relations that extend kin ties to former strangers who have become friends (mik, plural miqe). The meanings of besa include word of honor, security guarantees, hospitality (and protection of a guest), alliance guarantees, friendship ties (including to a former blood enemy), and responsibilities to one's wife's agnates. Ndera described not only qualities such as personal strength, masculinity, dignity, family integrity, hospitality, and the capacity for defense but also a person generously sharing the profits from the sheep trade. Maintaining a facade of "honor" was as significant as displaying readiness to kill in retaliation for transgressions. The option of feuding was understood to deter transgressions in the highly competitive and resource-poor northern highlands.

Communist ideological practices differentiated people into those "faithful" to the regime and "traitors." Individual liability was introduced with postcommunist legal and police reforms aimed at implementing the rule of law and providing internal security.

Conflict. Local feuding and revenge killings emerged after 1991 over private land conflicts, irrigation rights, injustices suffered under communism, and conflicts of interest and power in the informal sector. Although in the north these events were explained through revitalized kanun customs of feuding, urban hot spots such as Shkodër, Vlorë and Tropojë, situated on international trafficking roads, suggest more modern causes.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Apart from the Muslim Sunni Islam majority, there exists the historically influential Islamic Sufi community of the Bektashi, a Dervish order (previously 15 to 20 percent of the population). The nation is 8 to 10 percent Catholic in the north and 15 to 25 percent Orthodox in the south. During the national renaissance in the nineteenth century (the rilindja) the notion that "the faith of the Albanians is Albanianism" was established. Meant to integrate national religious divisions, this idea recalled syncretistic pagan and crypto-Christian beliefs. In 1967 the communist state imposed the doctrine of "scientific atheism." Religious freedom was relegalized in December 1990. Numerous adult baptisms, conversions, and strategies of shifting identities and names were prompted by Islamic scholarship, Greek working permits for the Orthodox, and international missionary work.

Magico-religious beliefs were shared across the religious denominations. They find expression in practices that protect against evil, such as the worshiping of patron saints, pilgrimages (a prominent destination is Baba Tomor, a personified mountain), the wearing of amulets, soothsaying, euphemistic naming, and the placement of dolls in the eaves of new houses to distract the evil eye. In the 1990s, such practices became more common and fertility magic prospered. Historical practices such as couvade (the father acting as if he had borne the child) survive only in sayings.

Religious Practitioners. When in need of advice, comfort, or education, people historically consulted priests, wandering monks, or Muslim clerics, depending on local availability. After 1948 religious practitioners suffered persecution. After 1991 Albania became a major destination for missionaries from the United States, the Vatican, and Saudi Arabia. Informal practitioners such as magical healers found new niches.

Ceremonies. With regional variations, life-cycle rituals on the occasions of giving birth, the first haircut (and nail cut), baptism, weddings, and funerals have syncretistic features in terms of Albanian modernity or tradition and Western or Eastern influences. In the 1990s old church festivals, processions, and pilgrimages were revived, as were local oath-giving ceremonies, reconciliation rituals, and purification rites for new land or harvests. Nevertheless, there are still communist-introduced secular rituals such as the International Women's Day, May Day, and particularly the New Year, which compete in significance with religious holidays.

Arts. Polyphonic and epic traditions of singing and folk dances were nationalized through changing texts and framed in competitive performances on the stages of national folklore festivals (every five years in Gjirokastër) during the communist period. Literature, prominently represented by Ismail Kadare, offered novels in which metaphors of history and culture served as subtle criticism. Theater, film, sculpture, and painting were vehicles for ideology. With the postcommunist crises, theaters were transformed into bingo halls while interregional cooperation profited from the flourishing oppositional activities of Macedonian and Kosovar Albanians. Tirana's National Art Gallery featured a critical exhibition of socialist realist paintings at the turn of the millennium.

Medicine. Diseases were attributed to evil spirits (vile) that often symbolized the illness and had to be ritually distracted, predicted, diverted, or exorcised by ritual specialists such as folk doctors (hekim), dervishes, and "wise old women" with inherited herbal knowledge. Communist health policies replaced such traditions with a network of hospitals, research institutions, care centers, and maternity stations and by providing free medical treatment. However, in postcommunist times many underpaid medical personnel emigrated, particularly from rural areas; new diseases and drug abuse spread; and pharmaceutical and medical supplies were lacking, all of which opened niches for informal or traditional ways of practicing medicine.

Death and Afterlife. Across religions, female ritual specialists guided the chorus of wailing women in repeating poetic antiphonal two-verse death chants. Regionally, face scratching, the cutting or tearing of one's hair, and other mourning rites were practiced. Northern collective male rituals included vocalizations and gestures in unison that might have indicated the loss of means of communicating (hearing, talking, seeing) with the deceased. The deceased person was presented in his or her best clothes, sometimes with items attached, such as an apple, cigarettes, a rifle, or money, which were meant to ease the journey. The deceased was always buried in a grave that faced the sunset (to the west). Old graves featured wooden crosses decorated with pre-Christian symbols. Cemeteries were usually situated at elevated sites at the periphery of villages or cities. Mountain sites associated with murder were indicated with stone piles (murana). In the communist era private ritual mourning was done without religious references. National remembrance days honored the "heroes of the liberation war" (prominently partisans) at monumental "martyrs' cemeteries" at elevated parts of cities.

For the original article on Albanians, see Volume 4, Europe.


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Elsie, Robert (2001). A Dictionary of Albanian Religion, Mythology, and Folk Culture. London: Hurst & Co.

Gjonça, Arjan (2001). "Communism, Health and Lifestyle: The Paradox of Mortality Transition in Albania, 1950-1990." Studies in Population and Urban Demography No. 8. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Grothusen, Klaus-Detlev, editor (1993). Albanien: Südosteuropa-Handbuch, vol. VII. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht.

Hahn, Georg von (1854 [reprint 1981]). Albanesische Studien. 3 vols. Jena: Friedrich Mauke Verlag [reprint, Athens: Karavias].

Hasluck, Margaret (1954). The Unwritten Law in Albania. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schwandner-Sievers, Stephanie, and Bernd Fischer, editors (2002). Albanian Identities: Myth and History. London: Hurst &Co.

Tirta, Mark (1996-1997). "Survivance des rites païens chez les albanais," Bulletin, Association internationale d'études sudest européen, Bucharest, 26-27, pp. 85-93.

Vickers, Miranda, and James Pettifer (1997 [reprint 2000]). Albania: From Anarchy to a Balkan Identity. London: Hurst & Co.

Internet Sources

Albanian Human Development Report 2000, UNDP Albania.


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ALTERNATE NAMES: Shqipëtarë, Shqipëria

LOCATION: Albania; Macedonia; Greece

POPULATION: 3.5 million

LANGUAGE: Albanian

RELIGION: Evangelical Christianity (Seventh-Day Adventist, Jehovah's Witness); Roman Catholicism; Islam; Eastern Orthodox


The name "Albania" is derived from an ancient Illyrian tribe, the Albanoi, who inhabited part of modern-day Albania from around 1225 bc to ad 200. Albanians call their country Shqipëri (Skip-AIR-ee), "Land of the Eagle."

For almost 500 years, Albania was controlled by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. The Albanians fought to resist being controlled by the Turks. Their national hero, Skanderbeg, led the Albanian people's resistance to the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s in at least twenty-five fierce battles. It was only after Skanderbeg died in 1468 that the Turks were able to claim victory. They then ruled for 445 years. The Turks were Muslims, and a majority of Albanians became Muslims during this period.

Albania won independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912. Its present-day boundaries were confirmed following World War I (191418) at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

There are two major ethnic groups in Albaniathe Ghegs and the Tosks. The main difference between the two groups is the dialect (variation on a language) of Albanian that they speak. The Ghegs live in the northern half of the country, and the Tosks live in the south.

As of the late 1990s, there were as many Albanians living just outside of Albania's borders as there were within it. Observers often describe Albania as a country completely surrounded by itself.


Albania is one of the Balkan countries that form a peninsula bordered by the Adriatic, Aegean, and Black Seas. The word "Balkan" means mountain in Turkish, and the Balkan countries take their name from the Balkan Mountains.

Albania is about the same size as the state of Maryland. Albania's dimensions are 230 miles (370 kilometers) long by about 90 miles (144 kilometers) at its widest point. Albania's western edge borders the Adriatic Sea, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the "boot" of Italy. The coastline features some areas of scenic white sandy beaches.

Along the coast the summers are hot and dry, while the winters are rainy.

Away from the coast, most of Albania is covered with mountains. The North Albanian Alps reach 8,500 feet (2,590 meters) above sea level. There is more rainfall in the mountains than along the seacoast.

Albania's population numbers approximately 3.5 million, and is projected to reach 3.6 million by 2000. In 1950, almost 80 percent of the population lived on farms. By the mid-1990s, many farmers had moved to the cities, leaving only about 60 percent of the population living in rural areas.


Albanian (Shqip) is one of Europe's oldest languages. It is one of the nine Indo-European languages. Albanian has seven vowel sounds: a (ah), e (eh), i (ee), o (oh), u (oo), ë (uh), and y (ew). When ë appears at the end of a word, it is sometimes silent.

Albanian uses the same alphabet as English, and adds the letter ç, representing the ch sound.

one një nyUH
two dy dEW
three tre trEH
four katër KAHT-uhr
five pesë pEHS
six gjashtë JASH-tuh
seven shtatë sh-TAHT
eight tetë tEHt
nine nënd nUHnd
ten dhgetë duh-YEHT

The two main Albanian groupsthe Ghegs in the north and the Tosks in the southboth speak Albanian but use different pronunciations. For example, when speaking the word është (is), a Tosk would say EH-shtah, but a Gheg would say AH-sht. Until World War II (193945), Gheg was the dominant dialect. After 1945, most political leaders were Tosks, and the government tried to make the Tosk dialect the standard. Many writers and political activitists spoke the Gheg dialect, and they kept it alive in the north of the country.

Many Albanians speak Italian because Italian television programs are broadcast in Albania. Southern Albania is near Greece, so many Albanians there speak and understand Greek. Young people, especially in the capital of Tiranë, understand some English.


Fairies, snakes, and dragons are among the main figures in Albanian mythology. Characters in Albanian folklore include the kucedër (a snake or dragon with many heads), the shtrigë or shpriga (witch), and the stuhi (a flame-throwing winged being that guards treasures). Zana are mythical female figures who help mountain folk in distress. To call someone a kukudh is the ultimate insult, since it means "a dwarf with seven tails who can't find rest in his grave."


Albania has no official state religion. The communist government (in power from 1946 to 1992) outlawed religion in 1967, and confiscated (took away) all church property. Freedom of religion in Albania was not restored until 198990. More than 70 percent of Albanians are Muslims. Muslims are followers of the religion known as Islam.

Islam has five "pillars," or practices, that must be observed by all Muslims: (1) praying five times a day; (2) giving alms (money or food), or zakat, to the poor; (3) fasting from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan; (4) making the pilgrimage, or hajj, to Mecca; and (5) reciting the shahada ("ashhadu an la illah ila Allah wa ashhadu in Muhammadu rasul Allah" ). This phrase means "I witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the prophet of Allah."

About 20 percent of Albanians follow Christianity as members of Evangelical, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholic churches.


Albanian Muslims observe Ramadan and the holy days of Islam. Ramadan, a month of fasting from dawn to dusk, occurs in early January. Albanian Christians celebrate traditional holidays such as Christmas and Easter. Another holiday, Dita e Verës (Spring Day), comes from an ancient pagan holiday and is still celebrated in mid-March. Albanians throughout the world commemorate November 28 as Albanian Independence Day (Dita e Flamurit ).


Most Albanians mark the major life events, including birth, marriage, and death, within either the Muslim or Christian religious tradition.

Albania has no funeral parlors. Wakes for the deceased are generally held at home for a period of two or three days before burial.


The Albanians are very expressive people. They commonly emphasize their statements by gesturing with their hands, shrugging their shoulders, and rolling their eyes upwards. When they want to respond "no" to a question, Albanians might nod their heads or shake their index fingers. To answer "yes," they might shake their head.

When two Albanian men meet, they embrace (hug) and kiss each other on the cheeks. It is common for them to walk along together with their arms linked. Men and women limit their greetings to a handshake; kissing in public is considered scandalous.

There is a greeting ritual when entering the home of an Albanian family. A female member of the host family serves the guest a qerasje (kehr-AHS-jeh) or treat. This consists of liko (LEEK-oh), a jam-like sweet, and a drink, such as Turkish coffee. It is considered rude to refuse these refreshments. However, it is acceptable to refuse the offer of a cigarette. The visitor then inquires about the health of each member of the host's family. Then the hostess inquires about the visitor's family. Only after this exchange is completed do people relax and begin normal conversation.

English Albanian Pronunciation
Hello Tungjatjeta tune-jat-YET-ah
Good morning Mirëmëngjes meer-mihn-JEHS
Good afternoon Merëdita meer DEE tah
Yes Po pOH
No Jo jOH
Thank you Faleminderit FA-leh-meen-DEH-reet
Do you speak English? A flisni anglisht? ah FLEAS-nee ahn-GLEESHT?

When an Albanian gives the besa (BEH-sah)pledged word or promiseit is considered sacred. Here are some greetings in Albanian:


Under communist rule from 1946 to 1992, many Albanians were forced to live in large, poorly constructed apartment buildings that provided only a couple of rooms for a family of four or more people. Many dwellings still lack central heating. There is a shortage of water, and there are frequent electric power outages in the larger cities. There is no regular rubbish collection, and cities are littered with trash.

There are no regulations against smoking in Albania. People feel free to smoke anywhere, including in public buildings, restaurants, and when visiting someone's home.


Albanian families tend to be small, with the average being two children. The Albanian husband does not generally do housework.

Both husband and wife believe that the household is the wife's responsibility. Elderly parents often live with their children, where they are treated with honor and respect. From the time he is born, the oldest son is trained to become the head of family when his father dies.


The fustanella, or Albanian kilt, was common dress for men until the 1400s. Common villagers and rural people wore a fustanella made from coarse linen or wool; more affluent men wore silk.

When Albania was ruled by the Ottoman Empire (14681912), many aspects of Turkish culture were adopted by Albanians. In rural areas, men may still wear the fez, a traditional Turkish cap, and a colorful cloth belt. Women may wear embroidered blouses in the Turkish style, with loose pants.

Traditional costume for women of southern Albania features a blouse with wide cuffs in fabric to match an embroidered vest. A pleated petticoat is worn under a full skirt, and an elaborately embroidered apron and sash complete the outfit. Gold chains cascade from the neckline, are gathered into the sash, and are tucked into a pocket at the right side of the skirt. A kerchief covers the woman's hair.

In the north, the sleeves of the blouse are wide, with lace embroidery along the edges. Embroidery on the apron is elaborate, but distinct from the style of southern Albanian women. Gold coins are worn on a headband and on several strands of necklace that adorn the bodice (upper part) of the dress.

In cities, conservative Western-style dress is more common. Albanians are modest, however. Neither men nor women wear shorts or other revealing clothing. Traditional clothing is seen mostly at theatrical or folk dance performances in cities.


Albanian cooking is influenced by the years of Turkish rule. Lamb, rather than beef or pork, is the most common meat. Lakror (LAHK-roar), a typical dish, is a mixture of eggs, vegetables or meat, and butter wrapped in thin, many-layered pastry sheets. Another popular food is fërgesë (FUHR-ges), a dish usually made with minced meat, eggs, and ricotta cheese. Bread is a major staple of the Albanian diet. In fact, the word for bread, bukë (bew-KUH), is the normal word for "meal." Many Albanians enjoy raki (rah-KEE), a clear, colorless brandy made from grapes.


About 88 percent of Albanians can read and write. This is one of the highest literacy rates in the Balkan region. School is mandatory from age seven through fifteen. The rulers of the Ottoman Empire forbade the teaching of the Albanian language until 1887; the first school (Mësonjtorja) that taught it was opened that year. Before then, all teaching was done in Turkish or Persian.


Albanians love music, and there are many symphony orchestras performing in cities in Albania. Albanian folk instruments include the civility (a long-necked two-stringed mandolin); the gërnetë (guhr-NET-uh), a type of clarinet; the gajda (gahj-dah) and bishnica (bish-NICK-ah), wind instruments; and the sharkia (shar-KEY-ah) and lahuta (la-HOO-tah), stringed instruments.

Ismail Kadarë is Albania's most famous writer. Kadarë's novel The General of the Dead Army was made into an Italian film in 1982.


Since the end of the communist era (194692), a new spirit of enterprise has developed. Albanians have been quick to form their own businesses. Since 1992, Albanians have had a five-day work week, in contrast to the six-day work week under communism. Women make up over 40 percent of the labor force.


Albania's favorite sport is soccer (commonly called "football" in Europe). Second to football is volleyball, in which both men's and women's teams have become regional champions. Basketball and tennis are becoming more and more popular. Chess continues to gain favor, especially with children.


After a late afternoon nap, Albanians enjoy a leisurely stroll along their wide streets on their way to meet friends and relatives for a late dinner.

Albanians love storytelling. In coffee shops throughout the country, men can be found entertaining each other with humorous stories or heroic tales. Television programs broadcast from Italy are also very popular.

Classical music performances are well attended in Albania, and discos (dance clubs) are popular with teenagers and young adults.


Albanian women and girls are known for qëndisje (kuhn-DIS-jeh), elaborate embroidery created to decorate their dwellings. Using a small loom known as a vegël (VEH-guhl), they weave colorful rugs. Albanians produce sweaters, socks, gloves, and other items, using wool, cotton, acrylics, and fur. Lace-making, ounë me grep (WEE-nuh MEH-grehp), is another traditional folk art.

Men usually work with metals such as copper, brass, and aluminum to craft decorative plates, wall hangings, and utensils. Women are increasingly involved with pottery, creating unique useful and sculptural pieces.


The democratically elected government of President Sali Berisha has been accused of using some of the same dictatorial methods as the former communist government. It has been accused of silencing political dissent, restricting freedom of the press, and rigging the national elections. Journalists who strongly criticize the government can be heavily fined or imprisoned. Human rights groups charge that some have even been tortured.

Albanian television and radio programming reflects the official positions of the government.


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Hutchins, Raymond. Historical Dictionary of Albania. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1996.

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Wright, David K. Albania. Chicago: Children's Press, 1997.

Zickel, Raymond E., and Walter R. Iwaski. Albania: A Country Study. 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1994.

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