1. Introduction

Figure 1
Figure 1: Map of Albania indicating the approximate extent of the Dukagjin region and the location of the SVP survey territory (Galaty).

Northern Albania is perhaps the only place in Europe where tribal societies survived intact into the 20th century, and yet we know very little about their origin and evolution (Fig. 1). It may be that they formed during the 15th century AD as people fled Ottoman control and sought refuge in the remote high mountains. This explanation implies that isolation, and isolationism, the ability to shut out the external world, determined tribal formation and survival. Boehm (1984) argued that similar such tribal isolates elsewhere constitute a cross-cultural social 'type', referred to as a 'refuge-area warrior society' [View Comments], which depended for its formation and survival on an organised, mutually beneficial, adaptive symbiosis with an encroaching, militaristic state. In general, however, it has been all too common to equate unusual or superficially 'vestigial' forms of social organisation with 'isolation' (Kaser 2002 and Brunnbauer 2004 are important interventions on this issue). We argue that the tribes of northern Albania never experienced true isolation from the broader currents of change around them. Or, at least, to the extent that they were isolated, they themselves negotiated the nature and extent of that isolation (Kardulias 2007). Shifting patterns of international warfare, regional and local politics, and migration to and from the mountains both caused and relieved pressure on northern Albanian populations. Tribal social structures proved a dynamic response to these shifting pressures (Schon and Galaty 2006).

Furthermore, we argue that analysis of other, very different, periods of settlement in the valley - Middle Palaeolithic, Iron Age, and Post-Communist, in particular - throws the history of recent tribal formation into sharp contrast (Table 1). When compared to these other periods, the refuge-area warrior societies of northern Albania c. AD 1400-1945 do indeed seem anomalous. They were, perhaps, extreme in terms of their: full-time, year-round residency patterns, which depended on mixed farming of New World crops coupled with short-term, vertical transhumance; intensive manipulation of the built environment and landscape; a tendency to entrenched patriarchy; and use of violence. But not in terms of the degree to which they did or did not engage with the outside world. Factors other than extreme isolation must account for their appearance and persistence.

Archived Comments

The authors would be interested to hear from readers about similar societies in other parts of the world. Michael Galaty


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