What is a blood feud?
Blood feuds are a serious problem but are little publicised in Australia. They are seen as the male counterpart to honour killing. Blood feuds are long-lasting conflicts between the men of opposing families. They begin when one man is perceived as causing offence to another. The offended man then seeks to reclaim his honour by spilling the blood of men in his opposer’s family. Restoration of honour can only be achieved by the spilling of blood. In killing, a man restores his honour, as well as his family and community structure.
The offender and his male relatives all become viable
targets because the blood of any man from the opposing
family counts towards restoring a man’s honour.
This is regardless of a man’s status within his family or
community, or the closeness of his relationship to the offender. The aim is not retribution but satisfaction of what is perceived to be justice. It is also about preventing the opposing family from gaining ‘victory’ in subsequent retaliations.
The concept may be hard to understand from an Australian’s point of view. This is largely because blood feuds are about the importance of honour, and honour takes on a much more critical meaning in some areas of the world than we may give it. A man’s personal and family honour is crucial to his integrity, dignity, pride and reputation. These things are taken very seriously. Blood feuds are based on past misdeeds, not future solutions. Whereas we might see wars as being something that has an end, blood feuds are ongoing things. It is difficult for those involved to ever be satisfied.
Who does it affect?
Unlike honour killings, where both men and women are targeted, blood feuds usually target men. Traditionally, the murder of a woman or child in this situation would be seen as dishonourable. However, these days this custom is not strictly adhered to, with the US Embassy in Albania reporting that children and women as also targeted.
Where is it happening?
Blood feuds mainly take place in Albania. However, they have also been known to occur in other areas of the Balkans, including Kosovo, as well as Sicily, Corsica and the Caucasus region.
How did it start?
The phenomenon was born out of a law set down by an Albanian prince over half a century ago. The law stated that an offence against honour must be repaid with either blood or a pardon. Authorities cracked down on the practice under communist rule in the middle of the 20th century, but following the end of the communist era, the custom returned with a vengeance. An ‘offence’ originally covered both a severe action, such as murder, and something we might consider minor, such as calling a man a liar in front of other men.
What’s being done?
In the affected regions groups, committees and individuals have established themselves as reconcilers. These include, the Committee of Reconciliation, the Foundation for Conflict Reconciliation, the Peace Missionaries Union, various other missionary groups, and prominent individuals, such as Sait Sanli http://www.taipeitimes.com).
Some of these groups organise events where communities pledge to give up the practice. Others are lobbying to alter the rules of the Kanun (the medieval code which describes the rules of blood feuds) so that only offenders are targeted.
In Albania, the government has tried seizing weapons. This is especially important because an economic collapse in 1997 resulted in raids of military facilities. About 1 million firearms were stolen and distributed amongst a population of only 3.2 million.
BBC interviews with Albanians suggest there is a general belief that the government is doing little to stop the practice and that justice is not being served so individuals must take justice into their own hands.
This is complicated by the perception that it is not the government’s position to intervene because to do so would be to imply that it is the government’s position to forgive. As a result, many blood feud killings are not reported because this would mean the offender would be jailed and given protection, leaving him unavailable for attack.
Food for thought…
Variations on blood feuds haved existed in most cultures at some point in time. In most instances being a woman did not result in immunity. One famous instance is the Hatfield-McCoy feud which took place between two families in the Appilatian Mountains of southern West Virginia and Kentucky in the US during the mid-to-late 1800s. The Feud between the two families was riddled with lust, revenge and murder whilst claiming the lives of both men and women, spared the two patriarchs. The blood feud system structure can also be seen in most gang warfare.
Journalist Lee Harris suggests that if we apply the blood-feud model to global issues such as the “war on terrorism” and the Al Qaeda conflict, we can gain greater insight into the conflict. Instead of following a traditional war model (fought for economic, territorial or policy reasons), these conflicts appear far more random. Like a blood feud, they are ongoing and any member of the opposition’s group is a target. This means that the murder of civilians obtains just as much satisfaction as the muder of a prominent official.
How do I know this?
Donkin, M 2002, ‘Eyewitness: Albania’s blood feuds—Mike Donkin in Northern Albania’, BBC News
, 5 May.
Gendercide Watch, Honour killings of women
Harris, L 2005, 'War in pieces: the blood feud', TCS Daily
8 July http://www.techcentralstation.com/070805LH.html
US Embassy Albania, http://www.usemb-tirana.rpo.at/
Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia, Blood Feuds