Canon, a cultural historical monument of the traditional law of Albanians

The canon is a cultural historical monument of the traditional law of Albanians. Until the 20th century, Albanians have inherited two canons: the “Canon of Lekidis” and the “Canon of Lek Dukagjini” that exercised its power in the regions above the Drini River and the “Canon of Ghegs-the Canon of Scanderbeg that exercised its power in the North Albanian territories. In southern regions the traditional customary law has survived only in fragments. So, the most complete model of traditional organization of Albanians’ life is the Canon of Leke Dukagjini.

The canon was of no value without the convention, without old and very old people, without folk that used to meet together to administer justice. The word canon itself had been borrowed from the Greek “Canon”, which stands to mean order, restriction.

Likewise the word convention, which means”parliament”, it had been borrowed from the neo-Latin root”convente” which means agreement. The local tradition of setting problems of justice is evidence of ancientness and civilization. The elements of self-discipline and self-responsibility to the highest degree can be elaborated only by a people that have been settled from time immemorial. A people who are able to create a certain standardized code of co-existence must first have possessed an established ethnical culture. A way of co-existence agreed upon by everybody without conditions takes several centuries to be regulated by uniform norms. The canon expresses the existence of a civic urban life and of an early community self- conscience.

The canon of highlands, which has been linked with the name of Leke Dukagjini, but which in many elements must still be older than this well-known historical figure, is an ancient legal universe. The formulas of swearing on oath do not mention the deities by name, making oaths like”by heaven and earth”, “by this weight”,’by this rock”, “by this bread” etc. is an expression of mythological faith. Only one thing really valuable could be able to resist entire centuries to come to our days. These oaths are similar to those of Old Greeks such as “by Uranus” (by heaven), “by Demeter”(by earth) etc. This canon was not only a law governing the co-existence (convention), but also family law, civil law, work and procedure law-a whole ensemble of justice, whereby the human person’s relationships with family, clan, friendship, banner and fatherland were established in the most compact fashion.

In spite of its severity the canon has been able to hold Albanians in an environment of a strict equality towards order. The canon has stipulated for the cult of the guest and hospitality with the Albanians. The cult of guest is best expressed in defining the house as”of God and guest”. According to the canon God and guest in connection to the house are made equal. There can not be a greater deification for the guest than this.

The cult of honor comes into the canon from very ancient times.In the Albanian customary law, the honor is the opposite of disgrace. Honor makes the house, canon says, but the house is not made with one generation. To set up a house, it takes three generations of honor in succession. The power of honor over the Albanian man has been above the power of shrine and state.

The cult of honor bears link with the cult of a given word, as it is known “the cult of besa”(faith, pledge, vow). Besa has been the moral testament of Albanians since mythological periods. It is said in the canon that speech is something given away that is what has been promised should be fulfilled.

For the first time the canon was put together, systematized and published in the Albanian language by Father Shtjefn Gjecovi in 1933, a priest of the Franciscan Order who lived in the midst of Northern Highlands.


/Klara Ruci/

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