The mountain village of Thethi (or Theth in a sentence with a preposition) lies in the valley of the Lumi i Shalës, the Shala river in the Malësia e Madhe mountains, north Albania. It is one of Europe’s most remote areas where the age-old traditions of the Kanun, the code of 15th-century prince Leka Dukagjini still survives. In this law, “besa”, word of honour or sacred promise is paramount, and violations could lead to reprisals and blood feuds lasting for generations.
Theth’s “Kulla e ngujemit”, the lock-in tower, is the windowless stone building where the men of a feuding family could take refuge for months or even years. It was easily defended, with its high walls and only slits for windows. The men would survive on livestock kept on the ground floor and food brought by the family’s women, who were never targeted. Although those Kullas are no longer used, the tribal culture associated with them still lingers, despite the four decades of the harsh communist rule when the regime tried to stamp out tribal practices.
Life is hard here in winter, with heavy snows closing the road in winter, and the population has been dwindling over the years. There are many abandoned houses, fallen into ruins. The Roman Catholic church is still the centre of the local people, often called “Malisor” (mountain people). They may greet visitors with a glass of raki (anise-flavoured spirit) and small cups of thick, sweet coffee. Under Albanian tradition and the Kanun, you cannot turn away a guest. But tourism is putting Theth on the map, and local families are now taking paying guests into their homes. They offer an excellent opportunity to experience life in this unique corner of the Balkans. There is now a school in the village where youngsters are learning English. It is a part of the Balkans Peace Park Project, which has created a trans-national, cross-border park in the adjoining mountain areas of Kosovo, Montenegro, and northern Albania. It is a symbol of peace and cooperation. There are excellent trekking possibilities, like walking to Valbona, to the east across a pass via the village of Program.