Lahuta is Albanian Cultural Heritage
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A letter directed to UNESCO Representatives
Dear representatives of UNESCO,
I have just been informed of the following news:
In November 2018, Serbia took the Albanian national epic songs and recorded them in UNESCO as a value of the Serbian Cultural Heritage. Needless to say, the country is now inscribed in the 2018 Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Just out of curiosity we would really like to know whether the decision that you have undertaken and you as UNESCO think that this decision is fair toward the traditional Albanian heritage.
Dear Representatives, if you happen to be of the kind who has never heard the musical sounds the lute makes, or you have never had the opportunity to read “Lahuta e Malcis” of Father GjergjFishta, a famous Albanian poet, then you really can’t grasp the idea of what the lute is and the role it plays as an instrument in our cultural heritage.
We have a substantial concern on what has just happened. With the loss of the national epic songs, or rather their reattribution to a nation to whom they do not belong, we have automatically lost “Eposi i Kreshnikëve” (traditional Albanian songs that are escorted with lute sounds). So we plead you to learn historical facts from random people such as ourselves before undertaking decisions of this scale. With that in mind, we are attaching here a scientific study that we hope will shed light in the matter and hopefully suffice in doing justice to the protection of Albania’s cultural heritage:
The Mythical Art of “Lahuta e Kreshnikëve” (the Lute of Heroes)
The preparation of the files to rename the “Epika e Kreshnikëve” (Epic of Heroes) a world treasure, entails in itself the traditional art of carving the lute, a workmanship that has been preserved for many generations. The lute is a key musical instrument in traditional epic songs dedicated to Albanian heroes. We have the feeling that the ornaments and engraving process of mythical creatures in the body of the lute have not been given the attention that it deserves. A key factor that has helped the preservation of the instrument itself is also the fact that it has been taken care of from generation to generation, for almost two centuries. To take an example, even when the instrument became obsolete or simply unusable due to wear, it was never tossed away, burned, or broken, but was rather preserved mostly in the ceilings of traditional Albanian homes, and was given the respect it deserves.
The maintenance of Lahuta (the Lute) entailed within many rules. First, the instrument was to be hanged somewhere out of reach and no other object or any type of cloth was to be hanged near the instrument. This in addition shows that according the mentality of that time, the Lute not only served as an instrument, but it also played a role in being a good omen for the house. In other words, because it was in full display as soon as a guest entered a home, the instrument served as a talisman from evil, according to the Pagan ideologies in the times when people relied on myths and cults.
The lute thus was not merely an instrument but it also served as an icon in a traditional Albanian home; it was an image, a reincarnation of traditional mythical creatures that have protected our history throughout.
While we are at the topic of evaluating the importance that the lute has played in our traditional culture, it is also important to touch upon the topic of the figurines that are engraved in the body of the lute, as part of the ancient cult art of our predecessors. Careful investigation of the lutes that have been well-preserved by collectors and Albanian rhapsods leads to some amazing and at the same time surprising images.
The usual engravings of the lute involves the so-called head of a goat. It has been scientifically proven that this comes as a result of the role that goats have played throughout Albanian history, and in particular the gold horn goat. The goats play an important role in this matter as they are thought to have served as protectors of the magical powers of ‘Zanas’- mythical Illyro-Albanian creatures that resided in the woods. The gold-horn goat is also said thought to have descended from the Amalthea goat that fed the Gods.
We have to account for the fact that while the goat’s head is a motif that appears across other cultures as well (i.e in the lute engravings of Montenegro, Bosnia, and Croatia), the other figurines that we are displaying here are solely found in the Albanian heritage. For this, they importantly serve as significant typology in preserving Albanian art as it appears on the “Epic of Kreshniks” as well as our traditional beliefs in mythical creatures.
For example, we have figurines that display Zana (literal translation to fairies), Albanian mythical creatures, surrounded by clocks which have traditionally protected them from dangers and have helped Zanas serve as guardians to Albanian heroes from the “Cycle of Kreshniks” (Cycle of Heroes).
The most interesting case is the carving of a mythical Albanian creature known as Ora (literal translation to Clock). We see this motif firstly appear on the engraving of a lute belonging to the 19th century according to oral tradition passed down from generation to generation of rhapsods.Ora for the Northern Highlanders of Albanian lands plays a very important role. These creatures have their own tribes, brotherhoods, and distinguished heroes. Up until the mid 20th century, Albanians residing in the highlands would wake up praying a prayer known as “NdihmoOra e Fisit” (Help us Ora of tribes).
When Mujo, a famous Albanian hero was injured in a war against the slavs and was thus reduced to his deathbed, he was guarded by three creatures: Ora, a snake, and a beast. The epic song describes Ora as:
Gja e vogëlOraqëpoishte
Dyherërreshts’mund ta kqyrje.
By the side of the hero Ora is standing,
It is but a small little thing,
Yet it has these two eyes that strike like lightning,
Don’t look at her twice or your ears might ring*
*Not a literal translation; fit to rhyme
This mythical creature is engraved in different lutes as a round-shaped face with two eyes whose pupils are sharp like an arrow, pointed ears evidently not resembling those of humans, with a stance that is ready for action. As per our understanding, this lute that we are also displaying in the photos was famous in the areas around river Drin. In this old instrument one can also see a rhapsode himself as the carrier of these Albanian epics throughout centuries.
In the photo that we are displaying here, in the lute which comes from the Pukamountains, one can see the rhapsod’s eyes are rather unstressed- not as a missing organ- but without any holes that resemble general eyes of a human. This is directly tied to the mythical world of what rhapsodies represent in the Albanian history; the rhapsods are entangled in their own worlds and are there to be heard rather than to be seen. It is worth mentioning that the carving also includes the traditional Albanian hat (known as plis or qeleshe), an accessory that has been passed down from ancient times.
The snake that is often encountered in Albanian art and sculpture even nowadays, also appears in the carvings of traditional Albanian lutes with the body of snake and the head of a human. The photo below shows the head of anengraved lute. Though it is carved by an amateur hand, the work is magnificent as it portrays a snake healing the wounds of GjergjElez Alia and the Hero Mujo.
According to professor ZymerNeziri, the songs that are part of the Legendary Albanian Epics are the biggest heritage of traditional oral poetry, and they are sung up to these days mostly in the mountain areas of Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro. It is worth mentioning that its content and originality make these epics the last ones that are still sung to this day in the parts of South-Eastern Europe.
Lahutais needless to say an inseparable part of this epic as it is its key instrument. In addition however, the instrument itself is a piece of traditional art as it holds within mythical subjects and creatures that have shaped ancient Illyrian beliefs, and have been passed down to the present-day Albanian history.
This artistic sculptural heritage with mythic themes that has been passed down from generation to generation in a timespan of thousands of years holds within key Albanian heritage symbols. Passed down from the 19th century and even before, the instrument among other things lays the foundation of Albanian tradition, and as such we hope that it will be given the evaluation and scrutiny it deserves. We hope it will soon be re-categorized where it belongs; among the key heritage symbols of the Albanian nation.
Another topic is the change of themes pertaining to engraved figurines of many Balkan nations from the beginning of the 20th century, including here Albanian workmanships of the lutes from this century and beyond.
Photos: J. Brahaj. August 8th, 2018
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