Sworn Virgins

Albanian sworn virgins (Albanian: burrnesha or virgjinesha)-women who take a vow of chastity and wear male clothing in order to live as men in the patriarchal northern Albanian society. The practice exists, or existed, in other parts of the western Balkans, including Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia.

Other terms for the sworn virgin includevajzë e betuar (most common today, and used in situations in which the parents make the decision when the girl is a baby or child), mashkull (present-day, used around Shkodra), virgjineshë, virgjereshë, verginesa, virgjin, vergjinesha, Albanian virgin, avowed virgin,muskobani, muskobanj, ostajnica (Serbian: means man-woman, manlike, she who stays), tombelija, basa, harambasa (Montenegrin), tobelija (Bosnian: bound by a vow), zavjetovana djevojka (Croatian), sadik (Stahl, Turk Moslem: honest, just).

Excerpts from Suzana Milevska’s presentation.


Dr. E. Schultz, ‘Albanisches Mannweibertum’ Die Woche – Moderne Illustrierte Zeitschrift, 1907: IV (40-52), no. 40. Berlin: 1758-1763.

J. G. Hahn, Reise durch die Gebiete des Drin und Wardar. Wien: Denkschriften der kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, XV. 1867.

Antonia Young, Women Who Become Men: Albanian Sworn Virgins (Oxford: Berg. 2001).

Aleksandra Djajic Horváth, ‘A tangle of multiple transgressions: The western gaze and the Tobelija (Balkan sworn-virgin-cross-dressers) in the 19th and 20th centuries,’ Anthropology Matters Journal, 2003-2, 10 July, 2005 http://www.anthropologymatters.com/journal/2003-2/horvath2003_tangle.htm.

Predrag Šarcevic, ‘Sex and Identity of “Sworn Virgins” in the Balkans,’ 10 June 2005


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