It is no surprise that in many publications on Albanian folk costumes the Xhubleta is mentioned and described. The garment is unique for Europe and only found in the very northern mountain range of Malesi e Madhe and nearby regions and across the borders with Montenegro and Kosovo.
The Xhubleta is a bell-shaped skirt reaching down to the calves and worn from the shoulders with two shoulder straps at the upper part. The xhubleta is made up of horizontal strips of wool of different length, small at the top, getting longer to the bottom, which gives it the bell-shaped form.
In fact there are two different types of Xhubleta.
The first one was worn in the north eastern region of Pukë and is more tight to the body. The number of strips is less and the length of the strips is also shorter than the strips on the second type. Where there are about 5-6 strips, the second type has 14-18 more narrow strips (about 4-6 cm broad), creating a much more undulated skirt. The strips are called “iva”. The last iva on the bottom is usually with a white strip, the other ones are black for married women, but for girls more white strips are used between the black ones. Both types require a lot of skill by the women who made these garments as they are made up of about 25 -30 pieces of felt, brought together into one piece by a lot of woolen braid, strips of cloth(velvet also). Due to the heavy material strong woolen yarn has to be used to sew it together.
The costume with the xhubleta is completed by a shirt (the upper piece of the xhubleta does not cover arms and shoulders), a waistcoat with fringes on the shoulders, a sash (kërdhokla) or waist belt, stockings to cover the ankles and calves, apron and several scarves worn over the apron and head. The waist belt or kërdhokla is a broad one, about 15-20 cm broad and fastened with metal clasps. The decorations, material and colors are continued in every piece of the costume, thus creating a costume which looks as one piece. Finally the beautiful appearance of the costume is completed by a special hairdress.
If the design and cut of this costume with the xhubleta are what makes it unique, we could finish the article, and direct you to the pictures, but there is much more to tell about the xhubleta , which makes it even more unique and interesting.
The colors, or rather the lack of colors
The costume with the xhubleta is mainly black, with a narrow strip of white at the bottom. Decorations are also in black or dark blue, giving it an overall black appearance. The girls have also white strips, which distinguish them from the married women, but no further colors are used, except for the usually velvet shirt , added scarves and some jewelry. The story goes that after the defeat of the Albanian warriors by the Turks, they only used black felt to express the mourning of the women for the deceased warriors. In fact there are some samples of colored strips in the xhubleta, but just a few remained. Only three xhubleta with colored strips are preserved. The Institute of Folk culture in Tirana has just one, the museum collection in Shkodra has one and the third is preserved in the Musée de l’homme in Paris. Now we know that at least two more are in the private collection of Gjon Dukgilaj in Shkodra, one with a red strip and one with also a green strip. As the story might be right, these samples must be very old.
A xhubleta of the first type is documented in Wolfgang Bruhn and Max Tilke’s work “Kostümwerke”, first published in 1934. This xhubleta is almost completely in red and orange colors. Also Daniel Kordinez (a Hungarian author) describes the wealth of colors in the Kelmend costumes in the 18th century.
The connection with the ancient world
Taking a look at the Klicevac figurine from the first Bronze age ( found in Klicevac, east of Belgrade, Serbia), the resemblance with the xhubleta is striking. The horizontal strips and bell shaped form of the skirt is obvious, but also the waist belt, apron and fringes on the shoulders at the back are also present. If this clay figurine represents the early xhubleta, the xhubleta might be nearly 4000 years old. Other scholars also relate the xhubleta to the Mycaenean and Minoan culture, where the dress is also made up from horizontal pieces as seen on figurines and wall paintings. This might point to the ancestry of the north Albanian people.
Another aspect of the xhubleta is referring to ancient origin: the symbols used in the decorations. As described by Luljeta Dano “Perëndesha Athina dhe symbole të tjera Kozmogonike, Tirana 2007”, many ancient symbols appear on the xhubleta, like the black goddess Athina, the Medusa, dragons and other cosmic symbols. Even the headdress seems to be related to the ancient world. Statues of goddesses of the 3rd to the 5th century BC found in Durrës show a striking resemblance in hairdress, which is typical for the women of the Malesi e Madhe region. Some scholars explain the xhubleta as a relic from the ancient past and preserved by the people of northern Albania who lived there ages ago and retreated to the mountains when foreigners invaded their country.
Xhubletas can be seen in the museums, especially in the Kruja ethnographical museum (the xhubleta was also worn to the south in Milot, north of Kruja, where Malisor people settled also), but also in the souvenir and antique shops for sale in Tirana, Kruja, Shkodra and other places. During the Logu I Bjeshkës festival, held in Kelmend every year on the second Saturday in August, Miss Bjeshka is chosen from a number of women dressed in their best Xhubleta costumes. In the series of books with the Marubi pictures many photographs show the women of the region in their xhubleta, an excellent collection for study of this costume through the period of 1858 to 1950.
For further reading: Bido, Agim: Arti popullorr ne veshje e tekstile Tirana, 1991 Dano, Ljuljeta : Perëndesha Athina dhe symbole të tjera Kozomogonike, Tirana, 2007 Gjergji, Andromaqi: Albanian costumes through the centuries, Tirana, 2004 Nopsca, Dr. Franz Baron : Albanien, Bauten, Trachten und Geräte Nordalbaniens, Leipzig, 1925