What Is Gjakmarrja And Where Is It Practiced?

There are certain societies on Planet Earth (that’s our home, unfortunately) that take the concept of honor very, very seriously. A lot of people think this not-so-romantic notion of honor died out with the westernization of Japan. Not true at all. Actually, honor is still alive and well, and somewhat ironically it’s making a lot of unlucky individuals very dead and unwell. Gjakmarrja means “blood-taking” and even though you might mistake it for something Klingon, it is an Albanian practice in which family members take back the family’s honor by slaughtering the person or persons who stole it.

In other words, when ranking criminal justice systems, gjakmarrja ranks as just a little bit more strict than an eye for an eye.

Gjakmarrja isn’t all too common nowadays, but those who still practice it (or use it as an excuse to kill someone unliked) consider it more of an obligation than a choice. You might choose your sexual orientation or whether or not to live in poverty or whether God smiles upon your family, but you do not choose gjakmarrja. It chooses you. Sadly, this form of honor-killing is experiencing a recurrence in some parts of the world–namely it’s original home in some parts of Albania and Kosovo. When communism fell, the more remote, lawless regions of these countries fell back on old traditions. That’s just one more thing wrong with communism: it helps enforce a system of laws that prevent you from killing your enemies in the name of honor. A real shame.

Then again, with gjakmarrja comes order of a different kind. After all, honor-killing wouldn’t be quite the same without a rigid set of rules and regulations guiding how to best adopt the bloody practice. If you were hoping to take back any honor stolen by a woman or some old guy, you’re completely out of luck. You can’t kill women, children, male virgins, or the elderly.

It should be noted that gjakmarrja is just another form of killing in the name of honor, and even though it comes with certain rules and codes and definitions, it isn’t all that different from other practices throughout the Balkans (something explored in-depth by Ismail Kadare in his book Broken April. Kadare believes that blood feuds between landowning families is to blame for the continued violence over such huge time periods.

Today, the consequences of enduring blood feuds between rivals and landowning families–and even honor killings involving immediate family members–are discussed and explored at length in the media and cinema. Some purport that Albania’s failing government and judiciary branch are to blame, but whatever the cause, a solution needs to be found as quickly as possible. Too many victims are young and without any legal recourse, and it’s impossible to sort out justice from injustice so far into the fringe of Albania and other countries where these atrocities are still committed.