Environment and territory
The natural features and climate of this area have encouraged the development of a rich flora that alternates woods with green meadows, creating a spectacular landscape especially attractive for those visiting the region.
The area is also rich in medicinal plants, high mountains plants such as gentian, arnica, sage, as well as blueberries and strawberries. Its typical products, such as tasty cheese and potatoes, are renowned throughout the country.
Within the villages, modern facilities alternate with typical houses of wood and stone, evidence of a past still alive despite the many changes that have occurred over the centuries. A section” of the past that allows travellers to immerse themselves in the colours of nature and the warm hospitality of the people.
History & Culture
Kelmend and Shkrel have an ancient origin: the archaeological findings in different territories of the area and in caves of Selcë and Vukël in Kelmend, and those found in villages Dedaj, Zagora and Bzheta in Shkrel , show that both areas have been inhabited, respectively, during the Neolithic and Early Bronze.
There are different opinions regarding the origin of the name Kelmend: from Latin Clemens-tis which means wise, simple, good, or the name of Pope Clement (90-101 years), Third Deputy of St. Peter.
Shkrel tribe, and people of Shkrel say they have come as nomadic cattle breeders from the upper areas of Balkan, which means , they come from the territories of today’s Bosnia and the Sanxhaku region of Novi Pazar, where used to live Illyrian tribe of the Dalmatians. With the arrival of Slavs in these regions, about XII century ( e.s.), indigenous population was forced to move to other Illyrian lands.
Kelmend and Shkrel residents speak geg dialect. The term “geg” shows in general dialects of north Albania, together with Southern dialects (Tosk) Albanian language give the overview form. Natural boundary that separates the broad lines of these dialects is Shkumbini River that runs through Elbasan, central Albania. Both dialects have phonetic and lexical changes, but speakers understand each other without difficulty.
Geg dialect is not homogeneous and each area has changed and enriched the vocabulary with terms typical of the country pursuing various historical influences (Latin, Serbian, Turkish, etc..).
Despite that Albanian is one of the oldest languages of the Balkan, Illyrian origin, it is documented in writing rather late in the fifteenth century. The first book printed in Albanian is “Missal” Gjon Buzuku (1555), written in Geg.
Tradition and Folklore
On Shkrel and Kelmend villages still survive today customary codes, Kanun, which besides State law, govern the daily life of families. Thanks to these codes, many traditions and customs of the area are maintained, and represent one of the most appealing aspects of these communities.
Villages, mainly livestock, show a close relationship with the mountain: the phenomenon of displacement with herds from the field to mountains is an essential part of the area’s economy and social rates of families.
Hospitality is one of the main values of the Albanians and the hospitality they show to the tourists is extremely warm and impressive. The arrival of a friend in these countries, still today, is a sacred occasion: Kanun, “the house of an Albanian belongs to God and guest.”
Weddings, funerals, births and religious festivals continue to experience widely in these days in the villages, with a large participation by the entire community. Such events are accompanied by characteristic music and singing, dishes with local products, traditional clothing and dance.
Songs and dances associated with more traditional acoustic instruments, worked in a craft, small and light tools which suits the shepherd: two-string lute, lute and flute.
Costumes carry over 4000 years of history itself, inherited from one generation to another and still get worn today during important moments. Sleeveless wool (xhubleta) is a feminine dress on shape of a bell, is made of black felt belts, finely embroidered with gold and silver. Tight breechec (Çakshir), a male dress, is white, tight and elegant, embroidered on its sides with black Spik. On the black belt, decorated with silver, men always kept their hand-gun.
Traditional musical instruments are one of the assets of Albanian culture. The mastery of the playing a musical instrument is a special craft: the Albanian craft. The first musical instruments were made for every family using locally available materials and tools, such as leaves, grass, a variety of plants, horns, animal leather, stone, iron, etc. The opening of the first musical instrument store was in the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century. The original musical instrument is the lute. It is thousand of years old. The history of the flute goes back a long time as an instrument of the pastoral peoples. Shepherds spend time enjoying its warm sounds. The tradition of using the flute in this way has been handed down from generation to generation. Each year at various cultural events in Kelmend, which take place in August “Logu Bjeshkeve”, dances and songs are accompanied by the sounds of these traditional musical instruments.
The lute is a popular bow instrument, with a string made of horse’s tail hair and a body made from a single piece of wood (maple, walnut, etc.). Kasa has a half spherical form and is covered with tough fur, which is strapped to its sides with wooden pegs. Luta’s arch is made of wood, usually with strings of camel hair dipped in pine resin. The Luta is often decorated with symbols of ancient cults such as the goat’s head, snake, or historical figures, etc. Music of the lute is nasal and fits very well with the theme of epic songs.
The flute is a popular musical instrument which works with breath, known especially as the instrument of shepherds. The pipe size is 18-20 cm. and constructed of wood such as bush, elder, dowry, walnut, but also from metal pipes, especially of brass and bronze. These pipes are used mostly by men. The flute is used to play familiar shepherd songs, lyric songs etc..
Two-stringed lute (Çiftelia)
The two-stringed lute is a popular musical instrument with two strings, played with a pende (plectrum). Pende is usually extracted from the skin of a cherry tree trunk. Çiftelia has three parts: the cup, lid and tail, the size and shape vary according to regions. The tail is divided into 11 to 13 curtains. The player focuses on the first string; the second string is used as rhythmic support in the form of a bourdon. Çiftelia’s repertoire includes bravery, epic, lyric songs and accompanying dances.
The alpine landscape, seemingly harsh, cold, mountainous, wild and rugged, hides a whole symphony of wonders which are there to be enjoyed. As the wind is hissing through the mouth of the mountains, branches of leaves tremble and bird song forms a choir to entertain the inhabitants of Kelmend and Shkrel. It is this background that has increased people’s artistic soul. Music has become integrated as part of their lives. Cradle songs of the Highlanders put babies to sleep, while they sing love songs at weddings and with mournful songs send their loved ones to their last abode. They went to war with songs, which described the military events and gave them courage and strength.
Cradle songs by which mothers put their babies to sleep, Lullabies or Nina-Nana songs are short. They are poetic monologues, where the parents express their desires for children that are associated with wisdom, love, courage, health, long life etc. Usually these songs begin with the words: “nani-nani, son / daughter” or “nina-nana”. Mothers compare their daughters with a rosebud, the pomegranate flower, the apple and the son to a dove or a star. The personification of sleep is very beautiful, the mother representing it as a dove that comes and takes the baby in its arms.
Wedding songs are quite varied and speak of the beauty of the couple. There are also other songs of love, courage, etc. Lyric love songs have a richness and erotic beauty. They sing of the pure love of the couple, the elegance and beauty of the girls.
Epic of heroes (or heroes Cycle) is a legendary epic consisting of various epic songs, which mostly are accompanied by lute. The Epics constitutes an important part of the Albanian legendary epic in general, mostly for the great message that it carries: resistance in the name of freedom, justice and dignity, as well as its high artistic values.
Songs often portray fantastic legendry characters associated with ancient beliefs and deeds of superhuman strength, protected by mythological beings.
Northerners have a very deep conviction that “Songs of Knighthood” make men courageous, giving them strength to endure bullets, and bloody wars. These traditional songs have been heard with delight and honour in the assemblies of the broad masses, at weddings and other celebrations or near the chimney of typical houses on long nights of winter, even before the start of a battle, or in the middle of the war. That’s why a home without the lute, the house where hero songs are not sung, is regarded as “a left house” not deserving of respect.