An ancient practice that can be traced all the way back to medieval times continues to baffle all who hear about it. The tradition consists of women choosing to become ‘burrneshas’ or sworn virgins in order to gain access to certain privileges and rights that are normally reserved for men in this deeply patriarchal society. The word burrnesha is derived from the Albanian word ‘burr’ which means man.
The custom originated with the medieval behavior code known as Kanun, which regulated every aspect of life. The code called for every family to have a male representative. However, if for some reason such as disease or death a family failed to have one such male, a female could assume the role. The Kanun is said to be very respectful of the women who decide to become burrneshas. The sacrifice is held in high regard.
At first the journalists have a very hard time finding a burrnesha that was willing to tell her story. Apparently the sworn virgins also took a vow of silence. But finally they come across some who wanted to speak.
The vow was usually taken at a very young age. Probably long before the girl was mature enough to understand what she was getting herself into. The women talk about gaining immediate freedom that was only available to men at the time. They were not required to be involved in any domestic chores like cooking and cleaning, but they were expected to live and work alongside men in the village and defend women and children.
A burrnesha literally becomes the head of the family and is expected to provide everything a male would provide, such as financial stability and safety from enemies. She begins to dress like a man, cuts off her hair, and is even allowed to carry a gun. One woman never thought it was something she would do until her brother died and she had to step in and become a father to his children. So she became a burrnesha, moved in with the brother’s wife, and educated his children. Another one became a burrnesha after her three brothers died one after the other. She did it to restore the position of heir.
Some believe that the tradition is dying and there’s a lot that is still not known about it, especially because few are willing to talk. Find out more now.