Malësia e Madhe, known simply as Malësia, is a historical and ethnographic region in northern Albania and southern Montenegro corresponding to the highlands of the geographical subdivision of the Malësi e Madhe District.
Malësia e Madhe is Albanian for "great hilliness". It is simply known as Malësia, or in the local Gheg dialect, Malcía, pronounced Malsia. Elsie also describes the region as part of the Northern Albanian Alps. The tribes are commonly called "highlanders", Albanian: malësorët, anglicized as "Malissori" or "Malisors".
The region includes parts of the Prokletije mountain range (known in Albanian as Bjeshkët e Nemuna, "the cursed mountains") and hinterland of the Lake Scutari, with valleys of the Cem (Serbo-Croatian: Cijevna) river.
The Malësors (Albanian highlanders) live within northern Albania and historically Malësia e Madhe (great highlands) contained five large tribes with four (Hoti, Kelmendi, Shkreli, Kastrati) having a Catholic majority and Muslim minority with Gruda evenly split between both religions. Within Malësia e Madhe there were an additional seven small tribes. During times of war and mobilisation of troops, the bajraktar (chieftain) of Hoti was recognised by the Ottoman government as leader of all forces of the Malësia e Madhe tribes having collectively some 6,200 rifles during the late Ottoman period. Malësia e Vogël (small highlands) with seven Catholic tribes such as the Shala with 4 bajaraktars, Shoshi, Toplana and Nikaj contained some 1,250 households with a collective strength of 2,500 men that could be mobilised for war. Shoshi had a distinction in the region of possessing a legendary rock associated with Lekë Dukagjini.
During the Ottoman period, when northern Albania was part of the Sanjak of Scutari, Albanian tribes in Malësia some times sided with Montenegrin tribes in fighting the Ottomans. An example is from 1658, when the seven tribes of Kuči, Vasojevići, Bratonožići, Piperi, Kelmendi, Hoti and Gruda allied themselves with the Republic of Venice against the Ottomans. In 1757, the Bushati family transformed the sanjak into the semi-autonomous Pashalik of Scutari. After this, the Albanian tribes sided with the Bushati.
After the Ottoman Empire lost the Montenegrin–Ottoman War (1876–78), Plav and Gusinje were ceded to Montenegro, which sparked Albanian attacks in the area organized by the nationalist League of Prizren in support of the Ottoman Empire. Later, in the early 20th century, the northern Albanian tribes switched sides against the Ottoman Empire and rose up with Serbian aid in 1910 and Montenegrin aid in 1911. The latter began with a memorandum signed by the Malësian tribal representatives.
The Malësian tribes won a victory at Deçiq in April 1911. The Albanian revolt of 1912 led to the Albanian Declaration of Independence later that year. On May 26, 1913, 130 leaders of Gruda, Hoti, Kelmendi, Kastrati and Shkreli sent a petition to Cecil Burney in Shkodër against the incorporation of their territories into Montenegro. Gruda and parts of Hoti came under Montenegrin rule.
The region is inhabited by an Albanian majority, divided between Catholicism and Islam, while a small Serb-Montenegrin community is present in some villages. The Albanian population ethnographically belongs to the Ghegs group.
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 "Ândrra e Pretashit" (The Dream of Pretash), initially called "The Wise Men along Cemi River" to the people of Malcía.
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 "Malcía e Madhe" written between 1900 and 1945.
Robert Elsie divided the tribes of Albania in his works according to regions. There were ten tribes that belonged to the Malësia e Madhe in the Northern Albanian Alps.
- Gruda (in Montenegro)
- Hoti (partially in Montenegro)
- Triepshi (in Montenegro)
The histories of the respective clans (and hence the whole region) are amalgamations of both historical events and genealogies passed along by oral transmission.
- Prek Cali, Kelmendi chieftain
- Ded Gjo Luli (1840–1915), Hoti chieftain
- Sokol Baci (1837–1920), Gruda chieftain
- Baca Kurti (1807–1881), Gruda chieftain
- Tringe Smajli (1880–1917), Gruda member
- Nora of Kelmendi
- Elsie 2010, p. 291.
- Elsie 2015, p. 15.
- Treadway 1998, Pearson 2004
- Gawrych 2006, p. 30.
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- Elsie 2015, pp. 36–46.
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- Elsie 2015, pp. 58–67.
- Elsie 2015, pp. 68–78.
- Elsie 2015, pp. 79–80.
- Elsie 2015, pp. 81–88.
- Elsie 2015, pp. 89–90.
- Elsie 2015, pp. 91–92.
- Elsie 2015, pp. 93–98.
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- Durham, Mary Edith (2009) . High Albania. Echo Library. ISBN 978-1-4068-2855-9.