IHT article: Sworn to virginity and living as men in Albania

Sworn to virginity and living as men in Albania
By Dan Bilefsky International Herald Tribune
Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pashe Keqi recalls the day nearly sixty years ago when she decided to
become a man. She chopped off her long black curls, traded in her dress
for her father’s baggy trousers, armed herself with a hunting rifle and
vowed to forsake marriage, children and sex.

Had she been born in Albania today, says the 78-year-old sworn virgin,
who made an oath of celibacy in return for the right to live and rule
her family as a man,  she would choose womanhood.

“Back then, it was better to be a man because, before, a woman and an
animal were considered the same thing,” says Keqi, who has a bellowing
baritone voice, sits with her legs open wide like a man and relishes
downing shots of Raki and smoking cigarettes. “Now, Albanian women have
equal rights with men and are even more powerful, and I think today it
would be fun to be a woman.”

Sworn virgins became the patriarchs of their families, with all the
trappings of male authority, by swearing to remain virgins for the rest
of their lives.

The ritual was a form of self-empowerment for rural women living in a
desperately poor and macho country that was cut off from mainstream
Europe for decades under a Stalinist dictatorship. But in  Albania
today, with  Internet dating and MTV, the custom is all but
disappearing. Girls no longer want to become boys.

The tradition of the sworn virgin can be traced to the Kanun of Leke
Dukagjini, a code of conduct that has been passed on orally among the
clans of northern Albania for more than five centuries. Under the Kanun,
the role of women is severely circumscribed: Take care of children and
maintain the home. While a woman’s life is worth half that of a man, a
virgin’s value is the same  –  12 oxen.

The sworn virgin was born of social necessity in an agrarian region
plagued by war and death. If the patriarch of the family died with no
male heirs, unmarried women in the family could find themselves alone
and powerless. By taking an oath of virginity, women could take on the
role of men as head of the family, carry a weapon, own property and move

They dress like men, adopt a male swagger and spend their lives in the
company of other men.

Some also took the vow as a means to avoid an arranged marriage. Still
others became sworn virgins to express their autonomy. Some who
regretted the sacrifice transformed themselves back into women and
married later in life.

“Stripping off their sexuality by pledging to remain virgins was a way
for these women in a male-dominated, segregated society to engage in
public life,” says Linda Gusia, a professor of gender studies at the
University of Pristina in Kosovo. “It was about surviving in a world
where men rule.”

Taking an oath to become a sworn virgin should not, sociologists say, be
equated with homosexuality,  which has long been taboo in rural Albania.
Nor do the women have sex changes. In the northern Albanian countryside,
about 40 sworn virgins remain, according to researchers studying the

Known in her household as the “Pasha,” Keqi says she decided to become
the man of the house at age 20 when her father was murdered in a blood
feud. Her remaining four brothers opposed the communist regime of Enver
Hoxha, who ruled Albania for 40 years until his death in 1985, and they
were either imprisoned or killed. Becoming a man, she said, was the only
way to support her mother, her four sisters-in-law and their five

Lording it over her large family in her modest house in Tirana, where
her nieces served her brandy while she barked out orders, Keqi said
living as a man had allowed her freedom denied other women. She could
work construction jobs and pray at the mosque alongside other men. Even
today, her nephews and nieces said, they would not dare marry without
their “uncle’s” permission.

“I was totally free as a man because no one knew I was a woman,” Keqi
said. “I could go wherever I wanted to and no one would dare swear at me
because I could beat them up. I was only with men. I don’t know how to
do women’s talk. I am never scared.” When she was recently hospitalized
for an operation, she recalled, the other woman in her room was
horrified to find herself sharing close quarters with a man and
requested a move.

Keqi said that being a woman made her a more compassionate man. “If the
other men were disrespecting a woman, I would tell them to stop.” She
said being deprived of a life of sexual intimacy was a necessary
sacrifice. She did not miss having children, she added, because she was
surrounded by her nieces and nephews. “Once I made up my mind 100
percent, I had the strength to never turn back.”

Being the man of the house also made her responsible for  avenging her
father’s death, she said, including the Kanun’s edict that spilled blood
must be met with spilled blood. When her father’s killer was released
from prison five years ago, by then a man of 80, Keqi said she ordered
her 15 year-old nephew to shoot him. Then the family of the man took
revenge and killed her nephew.

“I always dreamed of avenging my father’s death. My brothers tried to,
but did not succeed. Of course, I have regrets my nephew was killed. But
if you kill me, I have to kill you.” In Albania, a majority Muslim
country, the Kanun is adhered to by both Muslims and Christians, though
the Ottoman Turks and successive governments have all tried to limit its

Albanian cultural historians said the cleaving to medieval customs long
discarded elsewhere was a byproduct of the country’s previous isolation.
But they stressed that today, the traditional role of the Albanian woman
was changing.

“The Albanian woman today is a sort of minister of economics, a minister
of affection and a minister of interior who controls who does what,”
said Ilir Yzeiri, a critic who writes about Albanian folklore. “Today
women in Albania are behind everything.”

Some sworn virgins bemoan this female liberation. Diana Rakipi, 54, a
security guard in the seaside city of Durres, in west Albania, who
became a sworn virgin to take care of her nine sisters, said she looked
back with nostalgia to the Hoxha era. During communist times, she served
as a senior army officer, training women soldiers in combat. Now, she
lamented, women did not know their place.

“Today women go out half naked to the disco and do not know their
limits,” said Rakipi, who has cropped hair and wears a military beret.
“I was always treated my whole life as a man, always with respect. I
can’t clean, I can’t iron, I can’t cook. That is a woman’s work.”

But even in the remote mountains of Kruje, about 50 kilometers, or 30
miles, north of Tirana, where long dirt roads snake through olive
groves, locals say the Kanun’s influence on gender roles is
disappearing. They said erosion of the traditional family, in which
everyone once lived under the same roof, had altered women’s position in

“Women and men are now almost the same,” says Caca Fiqiri, whose aunt
Qamile Stema, age 88, is the last sworn virgin remaining in her village.
“We respect sworn virgins very much and consider them as men because of
their great sacrifice. But there is no longer a stigma not to have a man
of the house.”

Yet there is no doubt who wears the trousers in the family’s one-room
stone house in Barganesh, their ancestral village. There, on a recent
day, “uncle” Qamile was surrounded by her clan, dressed in a qeleshe,
the traditional white cap of an Albanian man. Her only concession to
femininity were pink flip-flops.

Pointing to an old black and white photo hanging in the entrance  –
showing a handsome young man in his prime  –  Stema said she took an
oath of virginity at age 20, after her father died, and she was left the
eldest of nine sisters.

After becoming a man, Stema said she could leave the house and chop wood
with the other men. She carried a gun. At wedding parties, she sat with
the men. When she talked to women, she recalled, they recoiled in

Stema said becoming a sworn virgin was a necessity, and a sacrifice.
“The truth is I feel lonely sometimes. All my sisters have died, and I
live alone. But I never wanted to marry. Some in my family tried to get
me to change my clothes and wear dresses, but when they saw I had become
a man, they left me alone.”

Stema said she would die a virgin. Had she married, she joked, it would
have been to a traditional Albanian woman. “I guess you could say I was
partly a woman and partly a man, but of course I never did everything a
man does,” she said. “I liked my life as a man. I have no regrets.”

Go to iht.com/europe to listen to commentary from Dan Bilefsky and view
additional photographs of the sworn virgins who live in Albania.



Death by Sexy: The Eagles of Death Metal LIVE in the MELKWEG Amsterdam

EODM are absolutely very sexy indeed!!! And lots of fun. And great performers not to forget…

The Melkweg was completely full with a raving audience. A crowd of glam rock lovers completely went wild, yelling their lungs out and shaking their hips and asses like crazy…Male stage divers were smoothly and professionally escorted back into the audience, while the sexy young scantilly dressed girlies were confidently lured back-stage to be prepared for after the show. Interesting! 😉



Oerol 2008!!! Impression and reviews

Terschellings Oerol Festival is an annual location-specific theatre festival held on the Dutch island Terschelling in mid-June. Location-specific theatre, theatre in barns, sheds and on the streets, modern dance, opera, visual art, music and the various cross-overs are the ingredients of a festival that uses the whole island as its stage. Over the past 25 years, the festival has grown from a small-scale street festival into an internationally recognised, multi-disciplinary festival. 

This year Terschellings Oerol Festival took place from 13 through 22 June. The theme of the festival had everything to do with ‘time’.

Our bold warrior visited the following performances:

Beumer en Drost: ‘Dick Bos’: 7.5 out of 10

Very well created and executed. At times quite funny. Especially the interaction with the old neighbour-lady. Entertaining. But a bit simple. The main character was convincing and quite facetted, but the story line very one dimensional and predictable. A beautiful show for younger people.  

For an interview and a video with some scenes from the performance (in Dutch), check out: http://weblogs.nrc.nl/weblog/cultuurblog/2008/06/15/oerol-2008-dick-bos-video/

De Jongens: ‘Under Construction’: 5 out of 10

Fragmented, long and pointless. The high energy and enthusiasm of the actors kept the warrior from falling asleep the first twenty minutes. Unfortunately there were 40 minutes more. In which NL-FA had started. Not good. 😉

Boogaerdt / Van der Schoot ‘Tsjechov bij de bushalte’ [Tsjechov at the bus stop]: 5.5 out of 10

Interesting location and concept. Solid acting. Rather uninteresting play-writing. Infinite use of the ‘weapon’ of repetition. Yeah…we get it by now. And…oh…how funny…a high-heeled woman falls into a creek, and yes…she’s stuck. Can we please move on? When is that damn bus coming!!!!!

p.s. Thanks Marjan and Rick for giving the late comers their two minutes of fame:  


For a different take on this performance check out: theater centraal

Laura van Dolron : ‘Laura en Lars: 8 out of 10

Laura van Dolron shows she is a solid and highly entertaining performer. Her style is daring and disarming, the content of this specific performance a tad superficial though. Van Dolron starts by briefly laying down the theme of the performance, her love for Lars von Trier, but mainly by talking about her main theme, herself and her love for standing in the spotlight. During this slow start she remarkably quickly succeeds in creating rapport with the audience, making us feel we are her friends. Though the friendship got quickly tested when Van Dolron shot some seemingly out of character quick-shot remarks like ‘Can you imagine what it would be like to be a smart character in a Heleen van Rooyen book? [ed.]’, that apparently hit the target for the (in our view notoriously overenthusiastic) Oerol crowd, but seem a bit too easy and stand-uppish for this high-potential performer.

Though Van Dolron was able to keep us interested for more than an hour straight with her captivating stories and to the point observations, especially about the black and white depiction of women in movies and literature (saints or whores), she never dove under the surface of the first sketches of her theme. Her observations were entertaining, but mostly safe and thus less relevant (except for the odd sharp remark like the one about the feminists (‘whores in denial’) :-), quite daring considering the suspicion that this group seems to be very well (even rather over-) represented in the Oerol audience). Hardly any subject was touched upon deeply enough to leave a lasting impression, apart from the ‘theme’ that was Van Dolron herself. But where Lars came in, and the actual relevance of that theme for her or for us remained unclear. Her convincing authenticity and flow of positivity compensated for this, letting the audience leave with a good feeling, but not with an overkill of food for thought. 

All in all Van Dolron shows to be a gutsy and talented lady. Definitely worth checking out…

For a review by Vincent Kouters (in Dutch) 

Volkstheater: ‘Zeeuwse Nachten III’: {5 out of 10]

(review to be inserted later)

Artemis: Priemgeval

Have not been able to get tickets for this one…But we’ve been told by many that it was a great performance.


Holland forever….

We might have lost from the mighty Guus H., but we will go on and stand strong…  😉 (some wishful thinking cannot hurt here)

South Africa here we come!! 😉 10/9/2008 is the first preliminary for the World Championships against Macedonia FYR. Our warrior is very curious to see how our Dutch guys will play then, after this EC roller coaster…

p.s. Rob, Jacqueline, Anneke, Paul, Sascha, Pieter, thanks for being such fabulous hosts!! (and big kudos to J&R for ad hoc hosting the NL-FA match during the power outage on the hill and for A&P for bringing the big suitcase full of drinks and snacks that came in very handy :-), and to the two Italian guys gracefully taking their loss at the NL-IT match), and thanks to Dana for the lovely orange hawaii skirts, excellent!! All in all, it was a short, but exhilarating experience.