Thursday, February 25, 2016
Burrnesha or Virgjinesha - the Balkan's Sworn Virgins
Balkan sworn virgins (Albanian: burrnesha or virgjinesha) are women who take a vow of chastity and wear male clothing in order to live as men in the patriarchal northern Albanian society. To a lesser extent, the practice exists, or has existed, in other parts of the western Balkans, including Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Dalmatian hinterland (Croatia) and Bosnia.
The tradition of sworn virgins developed out of the Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit (The Code of Lekë Dukagjini, or simply the Kanun), a set of codes and laws developed by Lekë Dukagjini and used from the 15th century until the 20th century. The Kanun is not a religious document – many groups follow it, including Roman Catholics, the Albanian Orthodox, and Muslims.
The Kanun dictates that families must be patrilineal (meaning wealth is inherited through a family's men) and patrilocal (upon marriage, a woman moves into the household of her husband's family). Women are treated like property of the family. Under the Kanun women are stripped of many human rights. They cannot smoke, wear a watch, or vote in their local elections. They cannot buy land, and there are many jobs they are not permitted to hold. There are even establishments that they cannot enter.
Diana (pictured) was 17 when he decided to become a burrnesha. Now aged 60 he swims regularly in the cold, grey Adriatic. At school, flouting hostile opinion, she wore trousers, played football and got involved in fights. Her only concession to her gender was her long hair, until she cut it, aged 17. She told her father, she wanted to be a sworn virgin and that her mind was made up. She would not take no for an answer.
Recalling his oath, Diana strikes the table. Then takes another drag on his cigarette. Even as a young girl, aged seven, he had started smoking the lula, the long Albanian pipe.