The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini-set of traditional Albanian laws

I decided to study a little more about our Laws that influenced our culture. A lot of these laws are discriminating women since it’s a 500 years old code of conduct – Even if the Kanun is not legal today, it is widely respected and still practiced in some parts of Albania and Kosova. Mainly in villages.

As I mentioned, Albanian culture is based on the 500-year-old Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini, a traditional Gheg code of conduct, where the main role of women is to take care of the children and to take care of the home.

The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini is the most famous and comprehensive compilation of Albanian customary law. For centuries it strictly governed social behavior and everyday life among Albanians in different historical periods.

Lekë Dukagjini was allegedly the first who codified the “Kanun” in the 15th century. The code was written down only in the 19th century by a Catholic Albanian Shtjefën Gjeçovi.

There are still some laws that are followed. Even though it is old, there are many families who practice parts of it. Hypothetically, men may have more knowledge about the Kanun since they have a central role in the customary law. Here, it should also be mentioned that all of the male informants considered some of the laws in the Kanun to be good and that they would prefer to maintain these rules. On the other hand, they also pointed out that some of the laws (e.g. the woman’s role in the household and inheritance issues) are not appreciated since they discriminate women. This indicates that the women do not have the possibility or power to influence their situation. Hypothetically, due to the discriminating laws, the women may have ignored the importance of the Kanun even though they have obeyed its’ laws.

The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini is composed of 12 books and 1,262 articles.

(1.Church, 2.Family, 3.Marriage, 4. House, Livestock and Property, 5. Work, 6.Transfer of property, 7. Spoken word, 8. Honor, 9.Damages, 10.Law Regarding Crimes, 11. The kanun of the elderly, 12.Exemptions and Exceptions)

According to the Kanun, “a girl does not become a bride without a matchmaker” (Kanun §40). The matchmaker is usually relative and he is the one who speaks “with the parents of the young man and the parents of the young woman […] to obtain consent to give the young woman to the young man” (Kanun §37).

when the men were asked about how they met their wife, most of the informants answered that they had been recommended  her by relatives.

They also claimed that the engagement is not official until the couple’s parents have approved their relation. Thus, the rule in the Kanun (§40) “a girl does not become a bride without a matchmaker” is practiced and still very important since they referred to it as being married the “Albanian way”. The practice “to ask for the hand” indicates what Kosova Albanians should do in order to marry “the right Albanian way”.

According to the Kanun it is only the sons who are recognized as heirs (Kanun §88). All the male informants, in contrast to the female, will inherit from their parents. Even though all the informants are aware of the rule regarding inheritance (no matter if they refer to it as tradition or a rule in the Kanun), they all claim that they will not follow it since they consider all of their children as heirs, regardless of gender.

Furthermore, the Kanun describe “the rights of young men and women” concerning interference in marriage and choice of husband or wife. The Kanun also states that the young woman cannot choose her own husband: “she must go to the man to whom she has been betrothed” (Kanun §31).

Families choose their inlaws based on high moral reputation, but also physical strength and health in the family. The families profiles are thus more important than the boy’s and the girl’s qualities. Families look for a bride who has a high personal reputation and who is untouched; she should also be proper (sjellshme) and diligent (punëtore). This is demonstrated through her handwork and trousseau (cejz). If a bride has good handwork, she is assumed to be good at other things, such as housework and raising children. Physical beauty is also important since it reflects the family’s status; it indicates their ability to find a bride of quality into their home. It is common that the boy’s father sends a male relative (msit) to the bride’s home in order to arrange the marriage.

Arranged marriage is not the same as forced marriage; an arranged marriage implies that a young man or a woman have made his or her parents, siblings, relatives or friends understand that they are looking for a partner. In this way, someone is asked to be a mediator in order to ask around among relatives and friends if they know or can propose someone appropriate. A husband or a wife is searched through reliable contacts and sometimes a relative comes up with a proposal. According to the Kanun, it is important that the proposed husband or wife belongs to a respectable family, that is, they are reliable and have a good reputation.

The Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini is a good example of how culture is institutionalized. By the very fact of their existence, institutions control human behavior by setting up predefined patterns that channel the human conduct in one direction.The male informants are aware of and have knowledge about the Kanun; they are identified with and shaped by it, and their objectivation results in reification. The female informants, on the other hand, do not have any knowledge about the Kanun.

Hypothetically, this gender difference may have to do with the fact that the Kanun is patriarchal in its structure and emphasizes the men’s role. Since men have a central role and women are neglected or discriminated in many areas, men not only bear the responsibility but also want to pass on some of the rules in the Kanun.

However, there are much more laws in the Kanun, I chose just a few of them, which I found very interesting and had influenced our behavior in society. If you’re interested in reading more, I would recommend buying the book itself. You can find it on Amazon, or in every bookshop in Albania/Kosovo.



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