CRANKY LADIES OF HISTORY: A few notes on Nora (of Kelmendi)

Cranky Ladies logoWelcome to Women’s History Month 2015, which has the theme “Weaving the stories of women’s lives”, which fits perfectly with our Cranky Ladies of History anthology project! After 18 months of work, including our successful crowd-funding campaign in March last year, we are proudly releasing the anthology on March 8. To celebrate, our wonderful authors have supplied blog posts related to their Cranky Lady, and we are delighted to share them here during the month of March. 

To get your own copy of Cranky Ladies of History, you can buy from our website, order your favourite real world bookshop, or purchase at all the major online booksellers (in print and ebook). 

A few notes on Nora by Havva Murat (“The Pasha, the Girl and the Dagger”)

Nora of Kelmendi
Nora in traditional Albanian garb and with the Pasha’s head firmly in her grip

Nora of Kelmendi, literally from Kelmend: a remote, mountainous region of Northern Albanian that flows into both the neighbouring countries of Montenegro and Kosovo, was born around 1630 AD. The cultural melting pot that is the Balkans, had by this time been held for around 200 years (from circa 1431) by the Ottoman Sultans and their local (in this instance, Bosnian) Pashas, taken after a series of bloody medieval wars that saw the lowlands fall into the hands of the Turks and the highlands foster and give birth to many uprisings. Nora, born into a Roman Catholic Family, became renowned as the greatest female warrior in the history of the country for killing the aforementioned Pasha in a duel (although her feats are more the stuff of legend than historical fact, but we won’t let that get in the way of a good story). It is interesting to note here that there are still many Roman Catholic families living in this region of Albanian today despite the fact that the majority of Albanians converted to Islam while under Ottoman rule – but not the Kelmend! This group were determined to hold onto their own faith and customs in the face of the Ottoman threat and thus their reputation as the most stubborn tribe in the nation grew.

POTENTIAL SPOILERS FOR “THE PASHA, THE GIRL AND THE DAGGER” AFTER THE CUT – check out the story in Cranky Ladies of History before you read!

There are two versions of how Nora managed to down the Pasha after he threatened to destroy her homeland if she didn’t marry him, and while scintillating, I decided instead to focus my story on the odds she overcame to rise to a position of respect in a fiercely patriarchal culture. And Albania is fiercely patriarchal still…but getting back to the legend, Nora’s gender rendered her useless to a macho, warrior father whose first priority was to raise an army to repel the advancing Ottomans. So it was that he abandoned her at an orphanage shortly after her birth and her aunty secretly adopted her (Besjana rocked in the legend as much as in my story). Skip forward some years and Nora’s father decides to train his sister’s ‘adopted son’ as a knight who then, of course (and this cross-dressing part wasn’t explained in the legend), grows into the most beautiful woman around. At this point the Pasha just thinks Nora is a hottie and little does he realise that he is going to meet his end at her beautiful hand. And so the Pasha, now living in Shkodra, falls instantly in lust with Nora at first sight (love might be a bit of a stretch for a man with a vast harem) and quickly sends an emissary to ask for her hand in marriage, but her fiercely proud father refuses to give her in marriage to a non-Albanian. So we can see that the turbulent history of the Balkans goes back a long way with so many squabbles over land, wealth and nationality.

Nora Albanian Peasants
Medieval Albanians in traditional costume having a party and sword dance

I chose to end my story with the first meeting between Nora and the Pasha, (as well as add a tournament that isn’t in the original legend), but for those who want to know what happened after the Pasha was so eagerly snubbed by the Kelmendi, here are the two versions:

  1. Nora pretends to want to marry the Pasha, gets dressed in traditional clothes, goes to his tent, woos him, stabs him with the magic dagger, chokes him…but he survives. He follows Nora home, they duel and then he really dies.
  2. There is no clandestine trip to the Pasha’s tent. Instead Nora leads a troop of 300 Albanian women to tackle the Ottomans as they come in to rape and pillage whilst the Albanian men are on the battlefield. Nora meets the Pasha and kills him in a duel, fair and square.

Either way Nora kicks butt and teaches the Pasha that you can’t force a cranky Albanian woman to join your harem, whilst also teaching her father that having sons is overrated when you have a daughter that can wield a dagger as well as she woos a man. Dagger wielding and Pasha killing definitely land Nora a firm place in the Cranky Ladies of History annals. Now to think of what I can do to land mine! Hope you enjoy all the fantastic stories in the anthology and get as inspired by this project as I have.

Nora albania-map
Map of Albania and surrounding region showing Shkoder (top left) next to Lake Scutari
Nora Rozafa Caste
Ruins of the Rozafa Caste, home of the Pasha, (on hill top) at Shkodra, Northern Albanian

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