e premte, janar 04, 2008

Superstitious practices

Most Albanians are very superstitious.
This can be seen in a number of different ways.

First of all there is the popularity of horoscopes. For some it is an important part of their life. They follow them daily and are very influenced by them.

Secondly there is the practice of reading the bottom of a coffee cup.

There are some that have the “gift” of telling fortunes through the residue at the bottom of the coffee cup. This is the Turkish coffee that leaves a large amount of coffee at the bottom of the cup (and in your stomach I would imagine!). Again many women are very influenced by this.

Then there are many different things to ward off the “evil eye”( Albanian “syri i keq” Turkish “nazar”). The “evil eye” is a belief that someone has “evil” powers and can curse you just by looking at you. If your eyes meet, then he/she can curse you. Usually the belief is that someone is jealous of what you possess and therefore “curse” you by giving you the “evil eye”. To ward off this evil, people will put cuddly toys on new buildings so that anyone with the ability to curse, will look at the cuddly toy rather than the building or the family in the building, and as a result a curse is not cast on those that live there.

They will hang out garlic on their balconies, hang a “lucky horseshoe” upside down at the door of their house. Many houses, shops and cars have an amulet or talisman hanging to protect them.

When people meet you in the street they will say “marshalla” after any kind of praise. So for example, when our eldest son was born, he was almost 5kg in weight and was a big baby. One lady told us never to tell anyone his proper age, in order to ward off the “evil eye”. She held the view that over-praise may cause something bad to happen to him. For this reason they repeat the word “marshalla” after praising you, or saying something nice or good about you.
This is seen in the song sung as the bride enters a wedding…
« Sa bukur na ka dal' nusja,
Marshalla, marshalla;

E bukur per bukurie,
Marshalla, marshalla;

Paska ball per perishan! Marshalla, marshalla
Paska vet'llen si gajtan! Marshalla, marshalla
Paska synin si filxhan! Marshalla, marshalla
Paska hundin niskavi! Marshalla, marshalla
Paska faqen gurabi! Marshalla, marshalla
Paska gojen si kuti! Marshalla, marshalla
Paska dhambët si inxhi! Marshalla, marshalla
Paska gushen farfuri! Marshalla, marshalla
Paska qafen si zambak! Marshalla, marshalla
Paska shtatin si bajrak! Marshalla, marshalla»

( I think there are different versions and the words sometimes change. I also think that at some point they sing, “sa shyqyr, sa shyqyr!” instead of “marshalla”. “Shyqyr” …well there is no point in me trying to tell you what it means, I will likely get it wrong! I believe it means something along the lines of “thankfully”. Someone will correct me I am sure. I am not even certain it is Albanian, I think it may be a Turkish word.)

The superstitious practices are explained very well in the excellent article The Dordolec: Albanian House Dolls and the Evil Eye, by Kristin Peterson-Bidoshi, in the Journal of American Folklore.
“Informants mentioned numerous precautions one can take to prevent the evil eye. Of the forty informants, thirty-five use garlic, two use black beads, ten use horseshoes, two use sheep horns, three use flags, and one uses onions. Three of the thirty-five Muslim informants say the word "Marshallah" after any praise is spoken. Marshallah should accompany all complimentary remarks, Albanians say, and failure to say it after admiring or praising a child will certainly be considered to be the cause of any illness or misfortune that may befall the child in the near future. As early as 1914, Cozzi discusses Albanian farmers' use of Marshallah against the evil eye. He writes, "When these mountaineers see each other in the street with a flock/herd or with some beautiful animals, they put their hands in front of the eyes saying, 'mos past synin e keq' ('may it not have the evil eye') or 'Marshallah, Marshallah' ('what God wills, what God wills')" (461).14 Marshallah is an expression used the world over as protection from the evil eye. Donaldson documents this practice in Iran and postulates that the authority for its use is found in Sura 18:37: "And why didst thou not say, when thou enteredest the garden, 'What God wills'? There is no power but in God" (1938:55). On a similar note, George Foster documents the Spanish and Spanish-American practice of uttering the phrase "God bless you" to ward off the evil eye (1953:207).”

I did read a book a long time ago about by a Christian missionary who had lived in Turkey( if I remember correctly). He had many strange stories of superstition which he claimed was very much mixed in together with Islamic beliefs in Turkey.
There were stories of the “Jinn” which are half human half “angelic” beings. In fact the English word “genie” comes I believe from the word “jinn”.
What I found surprising on coming to Albania was not that the “evil eye” and stories of “Jinn” are believed, but that they are not just for one side of the community: e.g. both catholics and muslims believe in the “evil eye”.

For us Westerners, when we hear of these things for the first time, they appear to be “old wives tales” and we find it hard to understand how ANYONE could believe them. But, some of these are very much part of life in Eastern countries and certainly in Albania.

I have come to realise that they are not so “unbelievable” after all!

22 comments:

Ervivi said...

ahahaha....sometmes I still ask my mother to read the bottom of my coffee cup....
and se always tell me the same things :D ....
but I find it funny...

onortosu said...

I think you're ahm reading too much into this. Sure there are many people that are superstitious but it's not the majority of Albanians (it's mainly elderly women). For many people it's more entertainment (in the case of horoscope) or tradition. As for marshalla, it's an arabic word (actual form something like mashallah, notice the allah at the end). It stands for what God wills, but in albanian it's used in a non-religious way to express a mild surprise at how big or good or [adjective] something is. Shyqyr like you say it's probably turkish, and it's used to express thanks and surprise and relief. Like the rain ended, shyqyr or you came just in time, shyqyr.

There is a joke in Albanian, I'm probably butchering the details as it's been a long time since I heard it but translated it goes something like:

An Albanian minister is visiting a Turkish dignitary, trying to get some aid. And he says, we have such big bridges, the turk says marshalla, and we're going to build even bigger ones, the turk goes ishalla (inshallah means god-willing in arabic), and finally the albanian says with your financial help, and the turk goes, mazallah (forget the exact meaning of this word, but it means hopefully not).

onortosu said...

P.S. To the albanians I recommend perusing the following list and looking for words we use and see what their original meaning was and how we use it now:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_replaced_loanwords_in_Turkish

e.g. hata :)

Eralda said...

This is great! So many great memories of my women family members (grandmothers and aunts) reading the coffee grounds.

I am a 26 year old woman, a Christian, and I live abroad, and even though I know better, I cannot help but mutter "Marshallah!" anytime a passerby compliments my 2 year old son. Some people also touch their nose and spit while saying "Marshallah." I am not sure why this is, but my parents do it. If I were to guess, I would say that by spitting mucus on the beautiful and healthy baby, the evil eye won't covet it or something along those lines. The nose touching thing probably has to do with the same thing, since the nose outputs mucus. Anyway, thanks again for the fun entries.

God bless! (and that was not intended to ward off the evil eye :) )

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