Governance and politics

What (Little) We Know about Albanian Tribes: Reflections and Tabulations

Albania Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia,

This essay is about major findings in Elsie’s Tribes of Albania, some of his related works, and other sources. It is based on a much shorter book review solely focused on Tribes of Albania that already has been published in the preceding issue of our journal (see Ten Dam 2018: 38-45). The
latter review—and perhaps parts of this essay as well—will form part of a broader yet shorter review essay on several of Robert’s Elsie last works on the Albanians, which the peer-reviewed journal Iran and the Caucasus (Brill) intends to publish sometime this or next year.

The Tribes of Albania: History, Society and Culture forms an outstanding, insightful and sorely needed addition to the field of ethnic studies in general and the oft-neglected field of Albanian studies in particular. Indeed, it should help to overcome the “glaring lack of knowledge and scholarly information about the tribes of northern Albania” ( (last acc. 23-4-2019) ). This is all the more important once one realises that particularly the region of northern Albania has contained, like Montenegro, one of the few truly tribal societies on the European subcontinent that survived more or less intact at least up to the mid-twentieth century.

For decades, Dr Robert Elsie has been one of the most prominent specialists on Albanian poetry and literature, who has continuously sought to “present to the Western reading public—works of Albanian literature which may be seen to be of major cultural relevance” worldwide (Elsie 1996: ix-x). With his numerable translations over the years, Elsie has combatted the “glaring lack of literary translations from Albanian into English” (Elsie 2006: x). His untimely death in late 2017 (see announcement on leaves a gaping hole in Albanian studies for years and even decades to come, that few if any non-native scholars would ever be able to fill given his in-depth knowledge and vaunted mastery of the Albanian language.


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