Through Miredite in Winter

Over 70 years ago, a young Harvard Professor of Anthropology, Dr., Carelton S. Coon, led an anthropological expedition in the Miredite region of northern Albania. This book, Through Miredite in Winter tells the story of that expedition. The book was recently published by the Columbia University Press in New York. Written originally in Albanian by Stavre. Th. Frasheri, it was translated into English by Peter R. Prifti.

This is a slender violume but it is packed with data not only about Dr. Coon’s expedition, but also åbout the society of Miredite at the time. Frasheri, an Albanian educator who accompanied Dr. Coon as a guide and interpreter, was a keen observer and serious writer, who gives a faithful and revealing portrait of the people of Miredite and northern Albania in that time-frame.

The book tells of Dr. Coon at work, measuring the heads of Albanian Highlanders, who were as curious as they were mystified by his research. There is material on the social organization of the five Miredite clans, all of them based on the patriarchal system. This was a male-dominated society, and there is much data on men’s physique, native costume, character and so on, including their astounding skills with rifles. The lot of women was hard, yet not without virtue.

The author writes about the hospitality of the Miredite people – one of their most honored traditions. He tells about their Greetings and Oaths, which were delicate social rituals suffused with symbolic meaning. He devotes a whole chapter to the notorious “blood feud” tradition – a heavy burden on their lives. Another tradition of rare interest was that of the “Man-Virgin” meaning women who chose not to marry, and dressed and lived like men. Weddings were elaborate rituals, involving among other things payment for the bride-to-be in gold coins.

Life was hard in Miredite, but as the book shows, it had its lighter side. The Highlanders had their own brand of humor and homespun amusements, such as age-old games, native songs and dances, instrumental music and lively social banter. They lived impoverished lives, but were sustained by bedrock virtues like honor, respect for rank, pride and personal bravery.

In addition to text, Through Miredite in Winter, is illustrated with some twenty pages of photographs of people and places in Miredite and elsewhere. The book has hard covers, and can be ordered from the Columbia University Press.

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