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Portraits of Albanian Women Who Have Lived Their Lives As Men

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For her project Sworn Virgins of Albania, photographer Jill Peters visited to the mountain villages of northern Albania to capture portraits of “burneshas,” or females who have lived their lives as men for reasons related to their culture and society.

Many of the women assumed their male identities from an early age as a way to avoid the old codes that governed the tribal clans, which stated that women were the property of their husbands. Peters explains,

The freedom to vote, drive, conduct business, earn money, drink, smoke, swear, own a gun or wear pants was traditionally the exclusive province of men. Young girls were commonly forced into arranged marriages, often with much older men in distant villages. As an alternative, becoming a Sworn Virgin, or ‘burnesha” elevated a woman to the status of a man and granted her all the rights and privileges of the male population. In order to manifest the transition such a woman cut her hair, donned male clothing and sometimes even changed her name. Male gestures and swaggers were practiced until they became second nature. Most importantly of all, she took a vow of celibacy to remain chaste for life. She became a “he”. This practice continues today but as modernization inches toward the small villages nestled in the Alps, this archaic tradition is increasingly seen as obsolete. Only a few aging Sworn Virgins remain.

Thus, Peters wanted to capture this fading tradition before it disappeared forever. She also writes that she learned a great deal from her interactions with her subjects and their communities:

I learned that the Burrnesha are well respected within their communities. They possess an indescribable amount of strength and pride, and value their family honor above all else. Their absolute transition is wholly accepted, posited and taken without question by the people among whom they live. But most surprising, is they have very few regrets for the great deal they have sacrificed.

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Wikipedia has an entire article regarding Albanian sworn virgins, in case you’d like to learn more about this practice.

Sworn Virgins of Albania by Jill Peters (via Feature Shoot)


Image credits: Photographs by Jill Peters and used with permission


 
  • David

    Really interesting article. Just a minor correction- the mountains in Albania are not the Alps.

  • jen

    Thank you for your research, Jill Peters.

  • Ire

    This argument is stupid. American films does not show reality, but neither Catholic Church does. Mother Teresa was not so great. She was pretty hypocrite. WAKE UP.

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    well we have to remember its not just christians who are hypocrites

  • ForTheTruth2

    Actually the thing is broader then that.
    Albania wasn’t that male-dominated as it is today.
    Women have always been cherished and treated very honorably. They had a say in every decision that was taken. They weren’t married forcefully traditionally. Marriage was set up by the families for both boys and girls, but they were always asked if they wanted to and could say no. In the case of the daughter, who went to live with her husbands family, the girls family always asked around and checked if the family of the boy was good enough for their daughter and if she would have had a nice life there.
    The family did get mixed up in the marriages, because they thought a young person just wouldn’t know better then the elders about life.

    But, even the girl did not inherit the land of her fathers, she did get compensated for it in gold, she and her children were at her brothers house just like in her own. And, the brother had several duties towards her, like to care of her and give her everything she lacked in wealth, if he was able to, until she died.
    Lots of other stuff to tell..

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    So why did they have to become MAN?? Yeah but why would the family say you have to marry this person and we have to check around if the boy is a good match? Well we all know thats different now. What if the brother was learning disabled or phisycally disabled then what?

  • Collin Nonapplicable

    White I doubt the author had no motive or goal for posting this, I’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  • Alice Barrus

    Since the set of ‘having a motive or goal’ is far larger than the set of ‘trying to prove something’ I agree that the author has a motive or goal (of educating people about a practice) without needing to ‘prove’ anything other than that the practice existed and hey, here’s some information about it!

  • Collin Nonapplicable

    It still appears to me as if this article was written with intent to prove something. Again, we will have to agree to disagree.

  • Alice Barrus

    Or you could come out and say what mysterious something you feel is so clear that the author was trying to “prove”, what in the article made that clear to you, and what in that method failed in succeeding at that proof. It’s not much of an objection if you can’t even establish what you believe the author was trying to “prove”.

    “I object…. you… are asking me to think about a part of the world unfamiliar to me!”

  • http://www.twitter.com/super_negra Super_Negra

    Wow

  • NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

    Nope. Women are stronger as women. They have to be to survive constant threats of male violence.

    NAMETHEPROBLEM. COM

  • NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

    Yep, men are trash. The sooner women deny them any contact or energy, the better.

  • NI MEN HAO-DY TRAMPOLINA

    MEN ARE A PLAGUE. PUT THEM ALL ON AN ISLAND AND WATCH THEM KILL EACH OTHER OFF. THEN, WOMEN CAN FINALLY LIVE IN PEACE.

    RADICAL FEMINISTS KNOW MEN HATE WOMEN. WE KNOW THAT MEN ARE A DISEASE.

    NAMETHEPROBLEM. COM

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    Bitter you cant get a real man? They have SPERM! thats what our Value! we all know you will inheriet the earth!

  • Jamie

    You are a plague and people like you.

  • Jamie

    Ha, just looked at your other posts, please go away..soon. Women like you hold back the rest of us hard working females. I work in IT, never had a problem getting a job, probably because I view everyone as equal, and you do not. You just keep spreading the hate, and making the equality fight look ridiculus with your man hating comments. So thanks jerk, for making my struggle even harder. Unlike you, I have the personality and mindset to dig and be equal with the men in my field, you obviously have failed. Blame yourself, because i am doing just fine in the path I chose. I overcame obstacles and suceeded, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You just failed at life…here is a suggestion…go get a man, you need one.

  • Jamie

    You nd the other one please disconnect from the internet. Chip on your shoulder much? No clue how life works?

  • Jamie

    Please go remove your vagina and all connecting parts, you do not deserve them, and you cleay have no idea what being a woman is. You are a disgrace to our sex.

  • Jamie

    Hopefully she won’t. I’ll kill myself.

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    indeed she is

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    HAHA yeah but the sperm banks are a problem from the 1990 and hasnt stopped its grown!

  • Jamie

    Last I checked, you still need a man to get sperm.

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    But man think there only value is sperm. there no website for eggs just sperm. If woman want a loving husband dont put his value in only his sperm. Now for lesbians i have no idea since the children ask who is my daddy and a piece of me is missing since I dont know who my father is now my mom

  • Jamie

    Woman can rent their wombs and donate eggs, its just not as easy, obviously. Men are worth much more than sperm, ya some may have donated it for money, but mayne they needed that cash for an education or food. Same for womem who sell their eggs. I’ll be the first to admit I enjoy when my boyfriend is with me , if we go for a walk at night, I’m less nervous, he is stronger than me, and provides opionins on subjects that differ from mine, and I love him for it. That piece of trash above dosen’t deserve a man.

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    why does life have to be a factory!??! But if you boyfriend donated sperm and you married him those wouldnt be your kids and how would a person explain you have a brother or sister somewhere. yeah I agree she doesnt deserve anybody lesbian or boy

  • Jamie

    Its always been like that. Back in the day, like way back, it was wet nurses, renting out your nipples, lol. technology just advanced I guess.if he just donated sperm, and had no clue who bought it, and who those kids are, than why does it matter? There may not be any children from the sperm, how do would we even know, its confidential. Well to a point anyway. There are so many combinations of families now I just don’t think it even matters. 2 white dads, 1 asian adopted baby, 1 half sister, 2 african kids, so a few siblings that may or may not exist aren’t really anything .I think if someone told me I had a half sister somewhere I would forget all about it after a few days. Lol sorry that was a book!

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    It matters because man are more then just SPERM! Well why would anyone want to do that since the kids even zac wahls will want to know who daddy is. oh what was the book? its become just a factory you know! dang life is more then just a factory and now its a slap in the face with the Fosters and some of the new gay themed shows.

  • Jamie

    I agree. I was saying what does it matter if you know who your sperm brothers are.

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    They are FAMILY

  • Jamie

    Not really. Related, not family.

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    how they heck are they not related???

  • Jamie

    You misunderstood. They are related, but not family in my opinon.

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    How are they not family? people value mans sperm and only blame the man. Even though the woman carries the baby nine months and says that was the most diffcult decision to knock myself up with sperm. They have changed the landscape to devalue men and made it impossiable for man to have relationships with there kids

  • Jamie

    I just don’t consider a person I never knew, no matter how related to me, as family. I think of family as my siblings, and cousins and aunts and uncles that I grew up with and know. sorta like a house sometimes isn’t a home expression. I have a half uncle I met twice, if he died, I really wouldn’t care. He’s not an uncle to me, or someone I care about. I hate when men get all the blame when a woman gets knocked up. so ridiculous. and you are right, there are some crazy women out there who do everything in their power to keep the kids away. But I see the tide slowly changing.

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    but some of those family are blood but are you close to them? The tides have never changed since now its about the sperm banks

  • Jamie

    Thats what I’m saying, I consider the close ones family, distant ones relatives. Ot seems people are really starting to fight for the rights of a father. I don’t think sperm banks are bad either, but I also don’t think the donators should be traked down and forced to pay. If someone chooses to be a single mother through sperm m donation, thats on them. Ya,it sorta asucks for the kid, but Iits not the worst. Sorry for all the typos disqus is being odd.

  • Rachel Pittman

    I must correct…To be female and to live as if male in gender, is not living as a “man.” It is worth mentioning that male and female brains are neurologically wired different. A male having two separate hemispheres vs females having two hemispheres but neurologically connected. This biological difference allows men to be more goal and statistically oriented. Females on the other hand think using both right and left brain hemispheres congruently. Suffice it to say, whether one dresses as a different sex does not make them so. In our world men are just being men. Long and short of it is men are primarily left brained, goal oriented, calculating, egocentric humans. Sadly, not all men have learned how to harness their intentions into positive results. The strength of a woman is found in her ability to rise to competency alone and without aid from the opposite sex. I suppose in Albania the a fore mentioned females found the best way to do that was by wearing male clothes, competency not with standing their God given genes.

  • Micah 李 文 Jung

    Then what about trans does the man who wants to be woman have wires that are different in there brain and vice versa for a woman wanting to be a man? How can you pigeon hole everyone with solely just there gender? what if a guy is very creative? Some guys are SO creative! Some girls are more goal oriented and calculating and big egos