Sworn Virgins

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“A widow without sons has traditionally had few options in Albania: she could return to her birth family, stay on as a servant in the family of her deceased husband, or remarry. With a son or surrogate son, she could live out her life in the home of her adulthood, in the company of her child. Murray quotes testimony recorded by René Gremaux: “Because if you get married I’ll be left alone, but if you stay with me, I’ll have a son.” On hearing those words Djurdja [the daughter] “threw down her embroidery” and became a man.”

The practice has died out in Dalmatia and Bosnia, but is still carried out in northern Albania and to a lesser extent in Macedonia.

The Socialist People’s Republic of Albania did not encourage women to become sworn virgins. Women started gaining legal rights and came closer to having equal social status, especially in the central and southern regions. It is only in the northern region that many families are still traditional patriarchies. Currently there are between forty and several hundred sworn virgins left in Albania, and a few in neighboring countries. Most are over fifty years old. It used to be believed that the sworn virgins had all but died out after 50 years of communism in Albania, but recent research suggests that may not be the case, instead suggesting that the current increase in feuding following the collapse of the communist regime could encourage a resurgence of the practice. (sursa)

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