Dukagjin Highlands

Region of Albania; part of the Shkodër District
Shala valley.

Dukagjin Highlands[a] (Albanian: Malsia E Dukagjinit) is a mountainous region in northern Albania, east of Shkodra and north of the Drin.[1] It is roughly equivalent to the northern half of the Shkodër District, with some minor parts in Malësi e Madhe District.


It is a mountainous region in northern Albania, east of Shkodra and north of the Drin,[1] including parts of western and central Accursed Mountains range within the Albanian border (Northern Mountain Range), roughly centered in the northern half of the Shkodër District (some minor parts are located in Malësi e Madhe District). The highest point is Maja Jezerce (2694 m). The Shala and Kir rivers are located within the region.

To the west lies the Malësia tribal region, which includes the tribes of Hoti, Kastrati, Kelmendi and Shkreli.[2] To the east lies Malësia e Gjakovës, which includes the tribes of Krasniqi, Gashi and Bytyqi.


Pult municipality:

  • Mëgullë
  • Pog
  • Plan
  • Xhan
  • Gjuraj
  • Kiri
  • Bruçaj

Shalë municipality:

  • Theth
  • Nënmavriq
  • Abat
  • Mekshaj
  • Nicaj-Shalë
  • Gimaj
  • Vuksanaj
  • Lotaj
  • Ndërlysaj
  • Lekaj(Qete)
  • Pecaj
  • Rracaj
  • Breg-Lumi

Shosh municipality:

  • Pepsumaj
  • Brashtë
  • Ndrejaj
  • Nicaj-Shosh
  • Palaj

Temal municipality:

  • Koman
  • Malagji-Kajvall
  • Kllogjen
  • Toplanë
  • Vile
  • Serme
  • Arrë
  • Telumë


Middle Ages

High Middle Ages

Baleč and its surroundings were part of the Byzantine Theme of Dyrrhachium until the Serbian ruler Stefan Vojislav (1018–1043) conquered the region and gave Baleč the status of seat of the župa (county) of Barezi as part of Duklja.[3] By the time of the reign of Constantine Bodin (1081–1101), all of northern Albania (north of Drin), and also some fortresses to the south of the Drin, were part of Vojislavljević's realm.[4]

Pilot (Pult), including Dagno, was a county of Serbian Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja (1166-1196).[5] The important Via de Zenta, a trade route connecting the Adriatic with Nemanjić' Serbia (see Serbian Grand Principality, Kingdom, Empire), crossed this region; It started from the mouth of the Bojana, the Shkodër (Skadar) port, (alternatively Bar then Cetinje) along the Drin Valley to Prizren, then to Lipjan, then through Novo Brdo to Vranje and Niš. The Republic of Venice and Ragusa used the road for trade with Serbia and Bulgaria. The road ended its use with the conquering of this part of Serbia by the Ottoman Empire.

Situated further to the south was Arbanon.

Late Middle Ages

With the crowning of Stephen Uroš III Dečanski of Serbia, Stephen Uroš IV Dušan was crowned Young King of Zeta. Žarko held Lower Zeta during the reign of Emperor Dušan the Mighty. In 1360, Balša I and his sons are mentioned as "lords of Skadar", thus, Žarko may have either lost the rule or died.[6] On 18 September 1385, Balša II was killed by the Ottomans at the Battle of Savra, and he was succeeded by his nephew Đurađ II Balšić who inherited the parts of Zeta and northern Albania, including the cities of Shkodër, Drisht and Lezhë, as per the Balšićs' traditional rule of seniority.

On 2 June 1403, the Venetian Senate confirmed Goranin, Damjan and Nenad of the Dushmani family the rule of Pilot.[7]

In Venetian documents, Lekë Dushmani and his relative Damian are mentioned as lords of Pult in 1446.[8] On March 2, 1444, Dushmani became a founding member of the League of Lezhë.[9] According to Fan Noli, Peter Spani who also joined the League, ruled Shala and Shoshi.[10] Pal Dukagjini and Nikola Dukagjini, who also joined the league as vassals to Lekë Zaharia, did not rule this area, but a region farther to the east, which included villages Buba, Salita, Gurichuchi, Baschina.[11][12]


Albanian bajraks (1918).

Visiting Theth in the early 20th century, the traveller Edith Durham said:

I think no place where human beings live has given me such an impression of majestic isolation from all the world.[13]

Edith Durham described Theth as a "bariak" of some 180 houses and also observed that it was almost free from the tradition of blood feud (known in the Albanian language as Gjakmarrja) which so blighted other parts of the Albanian highlands.[13]

In the First Balkan War, the Dukagjin region was occupied by the Principality of Montenegro. After the Treaty of London in May, 1913, the Great Powers recognized the independence of the Principality of Albania and appointed German Wilhelm Friedrich Heinrich as monarch. The Dukagjin region was subsequently included into Albania.


According to Bell (1931), "Upper Pulti, the region to the north-north-east of Shkodra, is inhabited by the Merturi, Nikaj, Shala, Shoshi, Toplana, and Gimaj clans, bajraks, or groups of bajraks."

According to Myres (1945), "In Malsia e vogel are included Shala, Shoshi, Plandi, and the tribes of the Toplane district".

According to Enke (1955), the "Mountains of Dukagjin" (German: Bergen des Dukagjin) was inhabited by the "six bajraks, Shala, Shoshi, Kir, Gjaj, Plan and Toplana.".[14][15]

According to Prothero (1973), "The Dukagjin (in the Wider sense) include the six bajraks of the Pulati, Shala and Shoshi, Dushmani, Toplana, Nikaj, and Merturi. Their territory lies between the Malsia e Madhe and the River Drin."

According to an Austrian map dating to 1918, the tribes had the following main settlements (including modern municipalities): Shala had Theth, Lekaj and Nicaj-Shalë (in Shalë); Shoshi had Goraj-Budishtë (in Kastrat) or Zagorë (in Shkrel); Kiri had Kiri (in Pult); Gjaj had Xhan (in Pult); Plani had Plan (in Pult); Toplan had Toplanë (in Temal).

All six tribes today belong to the Roman Catholic faith by majority, and to a lesser degree Islam. They speak the Northwestern Gheg dialect of Albanian.

The Shala and Shoshi tribes are closely associated, have the same occupations and characteristics, and are sometimes called one bajrak.[15]

Lekë Dukagjini's Kanun, a set of customary laws, are still today applied in the following regions of Albania: Lezha mountains, Mirditë, Shala-Shoshë and Nikaj-Mertur.[16]

The Gjâma e burrave, or "Men's Lament" is a death rite performed only by men and for men only, maintained exclusively by the Catholic Albanians in the highlands of Dukagjin, in Iballë and Gjakova (in Kosovo[a]).[17]

A pagan tradition in Dukagjin and Malesia e Vogel was Shen Verbti ("the holy blind one"), the god of hailstorms who lived in the clouds. In Shala, he was known as Rmoria (possibly from Latin rumor, "shouting, noise, rumour.").[18]

Edith Durham's High Albania and its customs (1908)

Traveller Edith Durham visited North Albania in the 1900s. She collected the following information about the tribes of Dukagjin, whom she grouped into the Pulati, and then into the two groups of Lower Pulati (or Pulati proper) and those of the Diocese of Pulati. She said that Pulati was hard to define, as the ecclesiastical borders (Diocese of Pulati) extended farther than the Pulati tribes.[19]

Lower Pulati:

  • Ghoanni: small Catholic tribe, one bajrak.
  • Plani: Catholic tribe, one bariak, tracing origin of three stocks which are intermarriageable. One descends from Kelmendi.
  • Mgula: small Catholic tribe, one bajrak.
  • Kiri: Catholic tribe, one bajrak.

Diocese of Pulati:

  • Shala: very large entirely Catholic tribe, with four bajraks (Thethi, Petsaj, Lothaj and Lekaj). According to legend, all bajraks descend from a common ancestor, one of three brothers who fled Raška after the Ottoman conquest, the two other brothers established Shoshi and Mirdita, respectively. The three tribes reckon they are too nearly related to be intermarriageble. Thethi bariak occupy the head of the valley with 180 houses, all Catholic. Thethi is self-governing, and is almost independent from the rest of the Shala. Petsaj, Lothaj and Lekaj bariaks are said to have separated into three main houses 376 years earlier. Lothaj and Lekaj recently decided they are far enough removed to intermarry. Thethi and Petsaj do not intermarry within the tribe. Shala tells that, when it arrived in the land, there were already small dark people inhabiting it. With these, they intermarried. Eight houses near Abate, lower Shala, trace origin to these earlier folk, the rest emigrated to Deçani.
  • Shoshi: origin as above. It lies south of Shala on the right bank of the Shala river.
  • Toplana: small Catholic tribe, one bariak, lying east of Shala on the right bank of the Shala river. It is in a very wild district, and has the highest death-rate from gunshot wounds of all the Christian tribes. It tells that it is very old.

The whole district inhabited by the above tribes is called Malsia e vogel ("Little Mountains"). Also included in the diocese of Pulati is:

  • Nikaj: This is an offshoot from the Muslim tribe of Krasniqi. Its ancestor Nikola left Krasniqi while Krasniqi was yet Christian. One hundred houses in Nikaj. Nikaj is all Catholic. It is one of the wildest and most poverty-stricken of the tribes.


  • Man from Shala

    Man from Shala

  • Mountaineer from Dukagjini

    Mountaineer from Dukagjini

See also


    1. ^ The political status of Kosovo is disputed. Having unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, Kosovo is formally recognised as an independent state by 100 UN member states (with another 13 states recognising it at some point but then withdrawing their recognition) and 93 states not recognizing it, while Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory.
  1. ^
    Name: Dukagjin highlands, used by Elsie, is used as the article name. There are also ambiguous terms Dukagjin, or Dukagjini region. The toponym "Dukagjin" is said to derive from duka (duke) and Gjin (John) - "Duke John", but it may possibly be a folk etymology.[1] Malësia e Vogël is a local name referring to the region. It has also been called Tribe of the six bajraks (Fis i gjasht bajrakvet). Another name is Shala-Shoshi, derived from the two centres, Shala and Shoshi.
  2. ^
    The political status of Kosovo is disputed. Having unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, Kosovo is formally recognised as an independent state by 100 UN member states (with another 13 states recognising it at some point but then withdrawing their recognition) and 93 states not recognizing it, while Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory.


  1. ^ a b c d Elsie 2010, p. 85
  2. ^ Istorijski glasnik. Naučna knjiga. 1960. p. 189. Retrieved 9 May 2013. У "брђане" у Малесији спадају....
  3. ^ Živković 2006, p. 105: "Među župama koje su pomenute kao sastavni delovi dukljanske države u trenutku smrti Stefana Vojislava, samo jedna nije bila deo Duklje (Zete) u prethodnom spisku župa koji donosi Pop Dukljanin, a koji bi se mogao opredeliti u polovinu X veka. U pitanju je župa Bareci koja je obuhvatala područje istočno od Skadra. Tako bi se moglo reći da je Stefan Vojislav izvršio prilično skromno teritorijalno proširewe svoje zemlje na račun dračkog temata"
  4. ^ Bogdanović 1990, p. 36: "У доба највеће проширености дукљанске српске државе под Бодином (1081-1116) њеним границама је била обухваћена читава данашња северна Албанија, ...северно од Дрима, али и пространа облас јужно од Дрима укључујући све мале градове у скадарским жупама (Балеч, Дриваст, Сард, Дањ, Сапа, Шаст, Св. Срђ и Влах"
  5. ^ Fajfrić 2000, ch. 9. Nemanja ustupa presto sinu Stefanu: "Nemanjina država je obuhvatala ... Na jugu ... Gornji i Donji Pilot na putu od Prizrena u Skadar."
  6. ^ Andrija Veselinović Radoš Ljušić, "Srpske dinastije" , Novi Sad, 2001. ISBN 86-83639-01-0
  7. ^ Miloš Antonović (2003). Town and District in Littoral of Zeta and Northern Albania in XIVth and XVth Century. Istorijski institut. p. 273. ISBN 978-86-7743-031-3.
  8. ^ Valentini, Giuseppe (1967). Acta Albaniae Veneta saeculorum XIV et XV. Typis Josephi Tosini. p. 319. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  9. ^ Noli, Fan (1947). George Castrioti Scanderbeg (1405-1468). International Universities Press. p. 36. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  10. ^ Noli 1947, p. 36
  11. ^ Schmitt 2001, p. 300

    Am folgenden Tag bestätigte Querini Paul Dukagjin und Leka Dukagjin, dem Sohn Tanushs – wohl des in Padua internierten, oben erwähnten Tanush Dukagjin – ihren Besitz auf dem Gebiet des verstorbenen Leka Zaharia. Die Dukagjin anerkannten Venedigs Herrschaft über Dagno, und "kamen freudigen Sinnes zu Übergabe und Gehorsam an die Dogenherrschaft von Venedig noch eifriger zu deinen als dem Herrn Leke Zaharia". Paul und Leka Dukagjin waren also fur ihren besitz bei Dagno vassalen Leka Zaharias.

  12. ^ Božić 1979, p. 364

    Нову власт прихватила је и Лекина породица, приклонили су јој се и његови дворани. Зато им је Франћеско Квирин потврдио поседе и стечена права. Павлу и Леки Дукађину призната су села Buba, Salita, Gurichuchi и Baschina

  13. ^ a b Edith Durham, High Albania (London, Edward Arnold, 1909; republished by the Echo Library, 2009), at page 82
  14. ^ Enke 1955, p. 129: "In den Bergen des Dukagjin: in Shala, Shoshi, Kir, Gjaj, Plan und Toplan."
  15. ^ a b Naval Intelligence Division 1945: "Shala and Shoshi are closely associated, have the same occupations and characteristics, and are sometimes called one bajrak. Shala is also declared part of the Dukagjin 'clan of the six bajraks'"
  16. ^ Islam Qerimi, Vjollca Salihu 2011, Some Aspects of Research on Social Organization and ..., p. 5
  17. ^ Gjovalin Shkurtaj, Etnografi e të folurit të shqipes: (përmbledhje studimesh socio dhe etnolinguistike). Shtëpia Botuese e Librit Universitar, 2004. p. 42
  18. ^ Elsie 2001, p. 259
  19. ^ Durham 1908, Table of the tribes of North Albania, Pulati Group


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