Meeting a bear

Korce Travel Blog

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Central Korçë, Albania

Korçë particularly impressed me in 1984, when we did not give it nearly enough time. On our recent visit to the city, we spotted something curious in the city’s centre. I wrote in my book "Rediscovering Albania":

After exploring the bazaar, we walked to a central square that was bounded on one side by buildings dating back from Communist times, and on the other side by far older buildings.

Lopa pointed out a man walking around a traffic roundabout in the middle of the square. He had a darkish complexion with close-cropped hair, and was wearing a large camera on a long neck-strap.

He was leading a large off-white, light golden-brown, bear on a chain. I suspect that he made money by taking pictures of people posing with the bear.  

Dayrell Oakley-Hill wrote that in pre-WW2 Albania there were two kinds of gypsy.

One lived in towns and undertook menial work such as cleaning, both domestic and municipal. Known as jevg, they also operated fairground attractions such as merry-go-rounds and Ferris wheels.

The others were Romany wanderers who moved from place to place often selling things, like baskets, which they had made. These were known in Albanian as arixhi, leaders of bears.

Angus Fraser wrote in his book The Gypsies that in the twelfth century Theodore Balsamon (died c. 1204) wrote about a passage in the Council of Trullo (692 AD, also known as ‘The Quinisext Council’.) which threatened a six-year excommunication for any member of the Church who exploited the public by displaying bears or other animals for amusement or by telling fortunes.

Those who did so, like our man in Korçë, were known in the seventh century as ‘bearkeepers’ and were clearly not too concerned about excommunication because they continue to go about their business today.  

PS: Dayrell Oakley-Hill spent many years in Albania helping King Zog form a modern police force. His memoirs make fascinating reading.

starship1 says:
I hate the use of animals in this way!
Posted on: Mar 01, 2017
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Central Korçë, Albania
Central Korçë, Albania
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photo by: AdamR3723