The Epos of the Frontier Warriors: Albanian poetic tradition and living heritage of oral epic world
Author: Neziri, Zymer
Affiliation:  Institute of Albanology of Prishtina




The Albanian songs of the Epos of Frontier Warriors are a cycle of epic, heroic legendary songs. They are among the most important artistic pillars of ethnic Albanian culture. The Epos of Frontier Warriors is a multifaceted poetic reflection of ordinary life (6th to 8th c.), and represents interethnic conflicts that have lasted for centuries, and the bloody struggles of Illy­ri­ans/Albanians with the south Slavic settlers in Illyria (Balkans), from when the latter began to arr­­ive until the fourteenth century, particularly during the 13th and 14th centuries, when the co­n­f­lict was aggravated and expanded as the Serbian Nemanjić dynasty reinforced its central fe­u­dal rule, as stated by the Aleks Buda (1986). Maximilian Lam­bertz (1958) agrees that these songs ‘derive from the time of the exodus of the Slavs through the Lower Danube in the Balkans (Illyria), and they preserve the memory of the old Illyrians or Albanians against the Slavs, who we­re in­va­d­ed around the years 700-800.’ These songs are among the last epic poetries in Europe which are still sung at the beginning of this millennium, and it is rightly said that they belong in the realm of the world epic.

Lahuta-players are mainly cattlemen, the majority of whom come from mountainous or hilly-mo­u­n­tainous areas. Renowned lahuta-players can remember over ten thousand verses by heart. Lahuta-players are mainly men, though there are cases of female lahuta-players. Lahuta-players sing these songs accompanied by a single-stringed musical instrument called a lahuta. The lahuta re­presents the most ancient archetype of chordophone tools in the European continent arch. The la­huta has also been raised to a cult level. The cult of the lahuta in the Albanian family is wi­des­p­r­ead, just as there is a sacred respect for the songs of warriors.

The mythical poem is personified and transcends the earth and cosmic beings such as groves, springs, rills, hills, mountains, horses, birds, moons, stars, sons and skies. The legendary epic songs focus on topics such as when Halil sleeps for one hundred years and wakes up saying,I seem to have slept a bit!’ or when Mu­ji is sentenced to two thousand years of incarceration and se­rves them: this is covered in just one verse. Another example from the legendary epic songs in the epos that has attracted the interest of scholars is the verse in which the frontier hero emerges from Jutbina (Bosna) and arrives in Miskov (Moscow). These are two poems which overthrow the traditional rules of literary creation, essential to legendary poetry.

There are many topics in the Epos of Frontier Warriors: the protection of territory (pastures, fo­re­s­ts, fields, etc.), the protection of livestock (sheep, goats, horses, etc.), the protection of kullas (courtyard, goods, buildings) and family issues (mother, bride, sister). Furthermore, the po­ems al­so deal with wars against taxes. The topic of the origin of frontier warriors – farmers or or­ph­a­ns getting their power from fairies and maintaining a friendship with them – is also wi­des­p­r­e­ad. Another frequent topic is that of the marriage of frontier warriors: marriage in friendship, ma­rriage on conditions, marriage in a race, marriage in obstacles, marriage by ab­du­c­tion, and marriage by force.

The Epos of Frontier Warriors is a type of Albanian legendary epic poetry, and is among the ol­d­est examples of spiritual creation of the endangered Albanian people, who were unfortunately on the brink of extinction. Its collection in five countries of the Ba­l­kans is essential for the Albanian people in this new millennium. Many articles ha­ve been written regarding the artistic va­lue of this legendary epic poetry, and studies have been conducted by Albanian and foreign scholars in the last two centuries. It has been co­ncluded that its artistic value is very high: the Ep­os of the Fro­ntier Warriors may be de­emed one of the highlights among European and world ori­gi­nal fol­k­lo­res today.

The Epos, along with polyphony, mo­ur­ning traditions and the xhubleta of the code known as the Ka­­nun, is the oldest ethno-cultural monument of which the Albanians can pride themselves in the world. Although there have been around half a million verses of songs and variants collected up until today, work is not over for collectors of the Epos of Frontier Warriors, especially for tho­­­­se in the larger study centers in Tirana (Albania) and Prishtina (Kosova). Having a high re­ga­rd for it as a great national treasure, we anticipate that we will demonstrate that the le­ge­n­da­ry Ep­ics of the Albanian Frontier Warriors are a world treasure of art and culture, and as such, should be registered with UNESCO as a world cultural treasure.