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Malësia or Malsia is a historical and ethnographic region in northern Albania, consisting of the Malësi e Madhe District. It is made up of five mountains (Albanian: Pesë Male), and seven Clans (Albanian: 7 Fiset). The tribes are known as Malsor.
Malësia e Madhe is the region's official name (or, alternatively, Malcía, pronounced Malsia) which may be translated as "Greater Highlands." In the Middle Ages, the region was recorded as Pultí, though the earliest extant source in which the name "Malësia" is mentioned dates back to 1400 AD.
Malësia has a population of about 60,000 people and is mostly inhabited by ethnic Albanians.
After the establishment of Albania as part of the Ottoman Empire, the Malësia people sided with the Montenegrins for many centuries to come, fighting the Ottomans. However, when the famous Albanian Nobles, called Bushatli, ran northern Albania, the Malësia people gave up their alliance with the Montenegrins and allied with the Bushatli as they were of Albanian blood and heritage, although officials of the Ottoman Empire. During the Ottoman occupation, Malësia people have had the most rights among many peoples of the Balkans. Most of the time they have refused to pay taxes, give soldiers to the Ottoman Army, and accept the laws of the Ottoman Empire.
Albanian National Movement
The People of Malësia participated actively in the League of Prizren, which was an alliance among the Albanians as a result of weakening of the Turks and raising new powers in the Balkans, namely the Serbs and the Greeks. The League was called by Ali Pasha of Gucia, a region culturally and ethnically belonging to that of the Malësia e Madhe region. The League chose its leader from the city Dibra, his name was Iljaz Pash Qoku-Dibra. The League was divided into two main fractions, that of those who wanted Albania to remain under the Ottoman Empire, like Abdyl Frashëri and Ali Pasha of Gucia, and those who sought total independence from both the Ottomans and the Slavs, like Marash Lula from the Dukagjini Region. Malësia sided with those who sought full independence. Later, as the Ottoman Empire betrayed Albanians by making a deal with the Slavs and Greeks to split Albanian into four of five pieces, all leaders of the League of Prizren fought against the Turks. Ali Pasha of Gucia became one of the most distinguished anti-Ottoman leaders.
In the Selca Village of Kelmendi, the Heads of Malësia along with the intellectuals and social and political activists from the city of Shkodër drafted a memorandum through which they requested the independence of Albania from the Ottomans. This was the first and boldest request for freedom made from Malsia during the 424 years of Ottoman occupation. The meeting was considered so important that leaders from all over ethnic Albania participated. Some of the participants did not sign the memorandum out of fear of persecution.
On April 6, 1911, at the Battle of Deçiq, the Malsia fighters reached the top of the strategic hill of Dečić (Deçiq). Many of them died that day, but they were able to crush the Ottoman forces and raise the Flag of Albania after 432 years of occupation. This was the first time Albanians raised their Flag since the Castle of Shkodër had fallen in 1479. About a year and a half later, with the help of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Albanian Flag was risen officially in the southern town of Vlora.
In 1913 when the European Powers established the borders of the Balkans, they split Malsia in two parts. Gruda, Trieshi, Koja part of Hoti and many villages around Lake Scutari and the Adriatic Sea that were descendants of Malsia, were given to Montenegro, while the rest of Malsia remained within the Albanian border.
The people of Malësia, as they were relatively rich and relatively patriotic, were declared "Enemies of the People" by the communist government. They dared, however, to start the first revolt against the communist rule. The uprising was crushed. The leaders either escaped to Montenegro, died in jail, or were executed. Prek Cali, the most distinguishable leader along with Llesh Marashi, are today held as heroes.
Due to its rich culture, the highland region has attracted more attention from anthropologists, artists, writers and scholars than any other Albanian-populated region. It is Malësia that produced what has been considered the national epic of the Albanian people, Lahuta e Malcís (The Highland Lute). Author and Franciscan monk Gjergj Fishta spent 35 years composing this epic poem, in which is chronicled the whole range of the ethnic Albainan cultural experience (e.g. weddings, funerals, historical battles, mythology, genealogy, and tribal law). It is as interesting to modern readers as an anthropological document as it is a magnificent poem.
Anton Harapi, Albania's most distinguished Christian philosopher, dedicated his masterpiece "Andrra e Pretashit" (Pretash's Dream), initially called “The Wise Men along Cemi River” to the people of Malcia.
The oldest book of modern Albania was written by a Maltsia Priest, four and a half centuries ago. The author, Gjon Buzuku, was a Catholic priest. The only copy of the book, written in the dialect of Kelmendi Rugova, and Kastrati, that survives has a few pages missing.
In 1908, anthropologist Edith Durham visited the Malësia region and catalogued her findings in her ethnographic work "High Albania," which was, for nearly a century, the most trusted source of information about the Albanian highlanders.
Albanian anthropologist Kolë Berisha wrote, among other books, the four-volumes ethnography entitled "Malcia e Madhe" written between 1900 and 1945.
The wider ethnographic region consists of a congregation of seven Albanian clans: Hoti, Grudë, Kelmendi, Kastrati, Shkreli, Trieshi, and Koja e Kuçit — the first five making up the 5 mountains of Malësia.
The histories of the respective Clans (and hence the whole region) are amalgamations of both historical events and genealogies passed along by oral transmission.
- In Albania
Kelmendi is located on the eastern shores of Lake Scutari and stretches far into Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo. The village is mostly Roman Catholic although there are some sizable Muslim populations on the outskirts of Kelmendi. Kelmendi consists of villages as Vermosh, Selcë, Nikçi, Vukël, Bogë, Lepushë, Tamarë, Budaç, and Gropat e Selcës.
Kastrati traces its descent from the famous fighting stock, Drekalović of Kuči. Most of the people of Kastrati are Catholic with a minority of Muslims. Though some retain Slavic names, it is understood that this Clan is of Albanian origin.
Shkreli is one of the largest village of Malësia e Madhe. Shkreli led Malësia e Madhe in the resistance against communism with their leader Major Llesh Marashi, during World War II. Skrijelj is Roman Catholic and Muslim (especially their descendants in Kosovo and Sandžak). Other examples of famous Shkrelsman are Bec Patani, Marash Mani, Dasho Shkreli, and Qek Deda.
Albanian-inhabited lands under the jurisdiction of Montenegro
- Hoti is a Catholic Albanian village that is the brother village of Trieshi. Geographically, Hoti lies on the border separating Albania and Montenegro, on the north shore of Lake Scutari. Hoti is regarded as the leaders (bajraktar) of Malësia e Madhe.
- Grudë is a village of Malësia that, along with Hoti, was instrumental during the Ottoman resistance. The mountain of Dechiq (Dečić), where the famed battle against the Ottoman conquerors took place, is located here, as is Tuzi, the de facto "capital" of Malësia. Grudë is mostly Roman Catholic but with a sizeable Muslim minority (20-30%). The Church of Grudë, known as Prifti, is the oldest church in the region, and it is not only an Albanian landmark, but, having been built in 1528, provides the most concrete date for tracing back ancestry.
- Trieshi is commonly considered the "younger brother" of Hoti because they derive from the Hoti clan, as they share a common ancestor, Keq Preka of Herzegovina. The people of Triësh were, along with their Hoti brethren, known for their role during the Ottoman resistance. Specifically, they are said never to have given in to political or religious suppression by the Ottomans; and, as a result, they not only retained an overwhelmingly Catholic population, but they never willingly paid any taxes or tribute to the Ottoman pashas. The villages of Trieshi are Rudina, Nikmarash, Budza, Muzheck, Stjepoha, Delaj, Benkaj, Poprat, Cemi and Koritë.
- Kojë ( Koja e Kucit) is on of the seven Northern Albanian tribes of Malësia. Koja is the Albanian Catholic tribe of Koja e Kuçit, the name derived from a combination of the Albanian Koja tribe, within the mountain. The people of Koja are referred to as Kojan(e). Koja's sons and daughters, together with other Christian Albanians and Slavs, gave their lives fighting Turks for centuries to keep their Catholic identities alive during 500 years of occupation. Pretash Zeka Ulaj from Koja was one of the Malësor leaders that led the region to its freedom when fighting in 1911 in the Battle of Deçiq, alongside the famous Ded Gjo Luli from Hoti. Dokë Preci Krcaj, Cakë Uci Ivanaj, Gjeto Toma Kolcaj, Tomë Uci Ivanaj, Kolë Doka Marashaj, Marash Leca Gjokaj, and Gjeto Gjeka Ivanaj are remembered as Seven Heroes of Koja for giving their lives in the Battle of Deçiq.
Albanians in Malësia are predominately Catholic, with a minority of Muslims.
- Prek Cali
- Ded Gjo Luli
- Sokol Baci
- Baca Kurti
- Tringa Smail Martini
- Nora of Kelmendi
- Pretash Zekaj Ulaj
- Athanas Gegaj
- Gjelosh Gjokaj
- Mirash Ivanaj
- Recherches albanologiques: Folklore et ethnologie (in French). Pristina: Instituti Albanologijik i Prishtinës. 1982.
- "ALBANIAN JOAN OF ARC.; Handsome Heroine Takes Father's Place and Vanquishes Turks.". New York Times (PARTS III AND IV ed.). May 21, 1911. pp. Page C3.
- John D. Treadway (1983). The Falcon and the Eagle: Montenegro and Austria-Hungary, 1908-1914. Purdue University Press. ISBN 978-1-55753-146-9.
- Owen Pearson (2004). Albania in the Twentieth Century, A History: Volume I: Albania and King Zog, 1908-39. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-013-0.
- Jovićević, Andrija (1923). Малесија. Срп. етн. зборник XXVII (SANU). OCLC 635033682.
- Slijepčević, Đoko M. (1974). Српско-арбанашки односи кроз векове са посебним освртом на новије време. Iskra.
- Durham, Mary Edith (2009) . High Albania. Echo Library. ISBN 978-1-4068-2855-9.