The Land In Which The Maschitans Settled

Southern Italy, now the poorest part of the country but in ancient times the richest, has known many settlers in its long history. Imposed on the indigenous people were ancient Greeks (mainly from 900 BC to 400 AD), Ostrogoths and Visigoths (5th century), Byzantine Greeks (from the 8th to the 12th centuries), Saracens (Middle Ages), Normans (Middle Ages), together with Spaniards and French. There were also settlements of Waldensians, a religious group from Piedmont in northern Italy, and of course, the Albanians.

As in the rest of Italy, the settlers in the south originally established their own identities but soon lost them, speaking whatever local dialect prevailed, assuming the customs of the local people - in short, they became Italians. The blood that flows in the veins of these southern Italians is a hodge-podge of all these groups.

The Albanians, however, were an exception. If their blood is now largely Italian though centuries of intermarriage, they have somehow managed to retain their identify as a separate group. When the first migratory waves fleeing the Turks came to southern Italy, they established small villages, almost always on a hilltop, and kept their language and customs largely intact. They were neither driven out, as were the Saracens, nor merged culturally into the general population, as were the other groups, but remained as an identifiable group. They were not hated, as were foreign invaders, particularly the French and Spaniards, and posed no threat to the Italians. Having lived on Italian soil for over 500 years, their identity as a distinct group has never been threatened by expulsion but only by the same cultural integration that has made Italians out of all the peoples who have come to Italy.

In modern times Mussolini's fascist regime forbade the speaking of dialects in public squares and buildings, thus forcing the use of Italian. The process continued with compulsory education and has been accelerated by advances in transportation, radio, and especially by television. The dialect of the Maschitans and the other Albanian -Italian villages is becoming increasingly unnecessary, spoken mainly by the older generation among themselves, and by outposts in the New World where AlbanianItalians have settled.
 


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Intermarriage probably began with the very first settlers who were largely male and took local Italian girls for wives. It has continued over the centuries and is taking a heavy toll on the Maschitan dialect. When a speaker of Maschitan marries an Italian speaker, they must communicate in one language or another, and the language is almost always Italian.

The fact that the language still survives as the 21st century approaches is due to three factors: first, the Albanians who came to Italy settled their own villages, mostly on hilltops and mostly isolated by the mountainous terrain of southern Italy; second, the Albanians aroused no animosity among the Italians in the area (indeed, their flight from Turkish rule probably stood them in good stead, all of Europe fearing the Turk); and third, the Albanians, although they adopted Italian culture in general, wanted to keep the one cultural trait that set them apart, their language.
 
 



Skanderbeg, The Great Hero of the Albanians


 


By the 15th century the Turks has brought under subjection nearly all of the Balkan Peninsula except for a small coastal strip which is included in present-day Albania.

George Kastrioti (Skanderbeg) was one of four sons of one of the princes of Albania, John Kastrioti. All four brothers were sent to Istanbul as hostages and were trained in the Turkish military. Although his three brothers were killed at an early age, Skanderbeg survived and became one of the Sultan's favorite generals. Before a battle in Serbia, Skanderbeg defected, returning to his native land where he began a long period of resistance to the armies of the Turks.

In 1443 Skanderbeg proclaimed a holy war against the Turks. The Albanians, at that time staunchly Catholic, rallied to him. In 1449 Sultan Murad 11 sent an army under his best general to crush the upstarts, but Skanderbeg and his Albanian forces defeated them at the border. The Christian rulers of Europe delighted in this victory, threatened as they all were by the relentless Moslem onslaught, but sent only felicitations, not troops. The pope pleaded with them to help defend this citadel of Christendom against the infidel but to no avail. Skanderbeg and his Albanians had to stand alone.
 
 


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