Malësia or Malësia e Madhe, (Serbian: Малесија, Malesija) is a historical geographical region in northern Albania and eastern Montenegro. It consists of an area of land that stretches from the southeast of Podgorica to northern shores of Lake Scutari, and includes much of the Malësi e Madhe District of Albania. It is made up of five mountains (Albanian: Pesë Male), and seven Clans (Albanian: 7 Bajrake).

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Ded Gjo Luli Baca Kurti Gjokaj
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Pretash Zeka Ulaj Gjekë Marinaj



Malësia e Madhe is the region's official name (or, alternatively, Malcía, pronounced Malsia) which may be translated as "Greater Highlands." In the Middle Ages, the region was recorded as Pultí[citation needed], though the earliest extant source in which the name "Malësia" is mentioned dates back to 1400 AD[citation needed]. Due to variations in the pre-standardized Albanian alphabet, the region may also be spelled as Malesia, Malcia, Malesi, Malesija and Maltsia.


Malësia has a population of about 60,000 people and is mostly inhabited by ethnic Albanians.

The largest settlement in the area is the town of Tuzi, which has a population of about 4,000 people (over half of which are Albanians).

The Seven Clans

The region consists of a congregation of seven Clans—Hoti, Grudë, Kelmendi, Kastrati, Shkreli, Trieshi, and Koja e Kuçit—the first five making up the 5 mountains of Malësia.

The histories of the respective Clans(and hence the whole region) are amalgamations of both historical events and genealogies passed along by oral transmission.

Hoti is a Catholic Albanian village that is the brother village of Trieshi. Geographically, Hoti lies on the border separating Albania and Montenegro, on the north shore of Lake Scutari. Hoti is regarded as the leaders (bajraktar) of Malësia e Madhe.

Grudë is a village of Malësia that, along with Hoti, was instrumental during the Ottoman resistance. The mountain of Dechiq (Dečić), where the famed battle against the Ottoman conquerors took place, is located here, as is Tuzi, the de facto "capital" of Malësia. Grudë is mostly Roman Catholic but with a sizeable Muslim minority (20-30%). The Church of Grudë, known as Prifti, is the oldest church in the region, and it is not only an Albanian landmark, but, having been built in 1528, provides the most concrete date for tracing back ancestry.

Kelmendi is located on the eastern shores of Lake Scutari and stretches far into Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo. The village is mostly Roman Catholic although there are some sizable Muslim populations on the outskirts of Kelmendi. Kelmendi consists of villages as Vermosh, Selce, Nikci, Vukel, Boge, Lepush, Tamare, Budac, and Gropate e Selces.

Kastrati traces its descent from the famous fighting stock, Drekalović of Kuči. The people of Kastrati are Catholic and Muslim. Though some retain Slavic names, it is understood that this Clan is of Albanian origin. Gjekë Marinaj is celebrated, domestically and internationally, as the most important public figure of Kastrati.

Shkrel is one of the largest village of Malesia e Madhe. Shkreli led Malesia e Madhe in the resistance against communism with their leader Major Llesh Marashi, during World War II. Shkreli is Roman Catholic. Other examples of famous Shkrelsman are Bec Patani, Marash Mani, Dasho Shkreli, and Qek Deda.

Triesh is commonly considered the "younger brother" of Hoti because they derive from the Hoti clan, as they share a common ancestor, Keq Preka of Herzegovina. The people of Triesh were, along with their Hoti brethren, known for their role during the Ottoman resistance. Specifically, they are said never to have given in to political or religious suppression by the Ottomans; and, as a result, they not only retained an overwhelmingly Catholic population, but they never willingly paid any taxes or tribute to the Ottoman pashas.

Koja e Kuçit is a Catholic Albanian village that derives from the clan of Kelmendi near the Montenegrin Kuči Clan. The people of Koja have been praised for their resistance to the Slavic expansion, guarding their borders with life and blood from advancing Slavs into the Albanian Malesia region. Not one house in Koja was converted to Islam after nearly 500 years of the Ottoman occupation in the region. Pretash Zeka Ulaj the bajraktari Kojes was honored by the leaders of the other Six Malesia Clans and given the Albanian flag to mount on top of Deqic as a symbol of unity amongst the seven villages after finally defeating the Ottoman Turks.[citation needed]


Ottoman Occupation

After the establishment of Albania as part of the Ottoman Empire, the Malsia people sided with the Montenegrins for many centuries to come, fighting the Ottomans. However, when the famous Albanian Nobles, called Bushatli, ran northern Albania, the Malcia people gave up their alliance with the Montenegrins and allied with the Bushatli as they were of Albanian blood and heritage, although officials of the Ottoman Empire. During the Ottoman occupation, Malesia people have had the most rights among many peoples of the Balkans. Most of the time they have refused to pay taxes, give soldiers to the Ottoman Army, and accept the laws of the Ottoman Empire.

The League of Prizren

The People of Malcia participated actively in the League of Prizren, which was an alliance among the Albanians as a result of weakening of the Turks and raising new powers in the Balkans, namely the Serbs and the Greeks. The League was called by Ali Pasha of Gucia, a region culturally and ethnically belonging to that of the Malcia e Madhe region. The League chose its leader from the city Dibra, his name was Iljaz Pash Qoku-Dibra. The League was divided into two main fractions, that of those who wanted Albania to remain under the Ottoman Empire, like Abdul Frasheri and Ali Pasha of Gucia, and those who sought total independence from both the Ottomans and the Slavs, like Marash Lula from the Dukagjini Region. Malcia sided with those who sought full independence. Later, as the Ottoman Empire betrayed Albanians by making a deal with the Slavs and Greeks to split Albanian into four of five pieces, all leaders of the League of Prizren fought against the Turks. Ali Pasha of Gucia became one of the most distinguished anti-Ottoman leaders.

The Gertsche Memorandum

In the Selca Village of Kelmendi, the Heads of Malcia along with the intellectuals and social and political activists from the city of Shkodër drafted a memorandum through which they requested the independence of Albania from the Ottomans. This was the first and boldest request for freedom made from Malsia during the 424 years of Ottoman occupation. The meeting was considered so important that leaders from all over ethnic Albania participated. Some of the participants did not sign the memorandum out of fear of persecution.[citation needed]

On April 6, 1911, the Malsia fighters reached the top of the strategic hill of Dečić (Deçiq). Many of them died that day, but they were able to crush the Ottoman forces and raise the Flag of Albania after 432 years of occupation. This was the first time Albanians raised their Flag since the Castle of Shkodër had fallen in 1479. About a year and a half later, with the help of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Albanian Flag was risen officially in the southern town of Vlora.

Political Division

In 1913 when the European Powers established the borders of the Balkans, they split Malsia in two parts. Gruda, Trieshi, Koja part of Hoti and many villages around Lake Scutari and the Adriatic Sea that were descendants of Malsia, were given to Montenegro, while the rest of Malsia remained within the Albanian border.

Malesia under Communism

The people of Malesia, as they were relatively rich and relatively patriotic, were declared "Enemies of the People" by the communist government. They dared, however, to start the first revolt against the communist rule. The uprising was crushed. The leaders either escaped to Montenegro, died in jail, or were executed. Prek Cali, the most distinguishable leader along with Llesh Marashi, are today held as heroes.[citation needed]

Modern Trends


Albanians in Malësia are predominately Catholic, with a minority of Muslims.


Due to its rich culture, the highland region has attracted more attention from anthropologists, artists, writers and scholars than any other Albanian-populated region. It is Malesia that produced what has been considered the national epic of the Albanian people, Lahuta e Malcis (The Highland Lute).[citation needed] Author and Franciscan monk Gjergj Fishta spent 35 years composing this epic poem, in which is chronicled the whole range of the ethnic Albainan cultural experience (e.g. weddings, funerals, historical battles, mythology, genealogy, and tribal law). It is as interesting to modern readers as an anthropological document as it is a magnificent poem.

Anton Harapi, Albania's most distinguished Christian philosopher, dedicated his masterpiece "Andrra e Pretashit" (Pretash's Dream), initially called “The Wise Men along Cemi River” to the people of Malcia.

The oldest book of modern Albania was written by a Maltsia Priest, four and a half centuries ago.[citation needed] The author, Gjon Buzuku, was a Catholic priest. The only copy of the book, written in the dialect of Kelmendi Rugova, and Kastrati, that survives has a few pages missing.

In 1908, anthropologist Edith Durham visited the Malesia region and catalogued her findings in her ethnographic work "High Albania," which was, for nearly a century, the most trusted source of information about the Albanian highlanders.

Albanian anthropologist Kole Berisha wrote, among other books, the four-volumes ethnography entitled "Malcia e Madhe" written between 1900 and 1945

Malësia’s Most Famous Two Gangs

They two main “gangs” of the mystic region of Yútbinah are the one led by Gjeto Basho Muji and the other led by the elder Dizdar Osman Aga. The warriors come from those Valleys and they do not fight each other. They are all from Jutbina.[citation needed]

Cursed Mountains (Bjeshket e Namuna)

Malësia people were relatively independent from the Ottoman empire, meaning they did not pay taxes, did not give them soldiers and did not acknowledge their law. Hence, their enemy was the one that had been their “enemy” for a millennium before the appearance of the ottomans – namely Slavs. For this reason the majority of the confrontations in the “Knight Songs” happen among the Albanians and the Slavs.

The songs have been preserved as an authentic cultural heritage against musical heritage introduced by the Turkish occupying army in the low lands. The Turkish music is accompanied by “çiftelia”, a two string musical instrument in rural areas, and “aheng” a small gypsy orchestra in urban areas. In the Kosovo region developed another kind of music which also was brought into Balkans by the occupying Turks. The music is accompanied by an instrument with many strings, called “shargia”. It sounds like the classical Persian music of Iran.

There have been very few changes in the way the Albanian Lute is used. The main drive was to save themselves from “trukization” through “çiftelia” “shargia” and “aheng” music.

A lot of information has been lost too, but there are a few names that affirm the authenticity of the epic as having been developed in Maltsia/Rugova region. The city of the Slavs is the New Kotor. Kotor is the name for a nearby Montenegrin city by the Adriatic sea. Accursed Highlands stretch from Maltsia to Rugova. The smiths/horse-shoe makers are from the city of Shkodra.

Robert Elsie has translated the “Lute of Malcia” in English (he titled it the Highland Lute) and about 30 songs from the “Albanian Epic”.

Prominent Figures

Gjekë Marinaj, born in Malësia e Madhe, Albania, in 1965, is widely regarded as the most prominent living Albanian-American poet, scholar, and achiever.

See also



"ALBANIAN JOAN OF ARC.; Handsome Heroine Takes Father's Place and Vanquishes Turks.", New York Times: Page C3, May 21, 1911, 

External links

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