Every Thursday after Easter in Frascineto, a little hamlet which was founded by a group of Albanian refugees, in Pollino National Park area, the Vallja take place.
La Vallja is a kind of “ridda” (an old dance where people dance in circle by holding hands each other): really in this case the women wear the traditional costume (usually with 2 skirts, one fuchsia and over it one blue, but nowadays they are worn by the “Misses”, too!) and next them there are the gentlemen (“caporali”), 2 up to 4 per side. The Vallja moves in a semicircle, all the dancers are held together with a white handkerchief in their hands (the sweat of their bare hands could soil their clothes) and dance along the main street of the hamlet, singing ancient rhapsodies that praise Giorgio Castriota Skanderbeg (born in Kruja-Albania), who was a prince and leader of the Albania army, dead in 1468. But others are songs of love and history-legend, such as the heart breaking one dedicated to Constantine and his sister Durentina.
Among these songs there is one that recalls a famous and important battle, won by Skanderbeg against the Ottoman Empire when his army stood up to Turkish advance own for over twenty years. And this victory happened close to Easter, between Monday and Thursday, so it does not regard the religion. In order to celebrate the victory, all around Albania the women wore their wedding dresses. For this reason the Vallje are passed down from generation to generation, especially in Frascineto/Ejanina and after a long period in Civita and S. Basile, too. Other arbresh (the ancient Albanian) communities organize meetings of arbresh groups calling them “Vallje” in different period of the year, but they’re very different although the missioni s the same: to keep strongly their tradition and language.
The dance wants that one of the “caporali” turns towards his neighbor, lifts his handkerchief creating a kind of bridge, and passes the whole vallja below. Another choreography is the following: one of the “caporali” comes back inside the vallja which never stands still .. it keep moving. Everyone follow the caporale in a kind of snail which then slips off and they continue in a row passing under the “bridge – handkerchief” created by the other 2 caporali. Everything happens while they are singing a cappella without instruments: a woman, usually the first of the row who has the highest voice, sings the first verse, then the rest of the women follow her in contralto tone as also the men with their powerful voices. As soon as the verse is finished, it is taken up again from the first voice on the other side of the semicircle, so each verse is repeated twice. Everything continues in a harmony of voices.
The hamlet is full of lights, colors, golds and you can ear those songs which echo until the mountains in the Pollino National Park!
But the beauty is to be there for seeing in person the costumes and listen to the songs.
And during the parade, the vallja surround groups of visitors who have to offer something (chocolates or drinks) to the dancers of the vallja, for give them a moment of relax and recover energy. Whoever is involved must pay!
It’s considered an HONOR to be surrounded by a valley! Once upon a time, say the elderly, they used to bring the members of the vallja directly to their home and offered them the Easter pastries and the typical taralli (scaldatielli) with a good glass of wine!!
15 days after Easter, the ritual is repeated in the Eianina district for the celebration of the “MADONNA DI LASSU” or of the rocks: the place is a little bit over the hamlet towards the road to the mountain, but now there is just the hermitage, because the Madonna statue was stolen many years ago.
In those clearings the vallje gather all together and then descend towards the center of the hamlet, singing verses dedicated to the Madonna and to the oaks that offer them shade and refreshment. And finally, at dusk, “Skanderbeg gathers the company, to go feasting, being the party over!”
There are many spontaneous verses which from time to time are improvised (I am one of them who invents and rhymes them, dedicating them also to guests).
Then in the evening, we undress and go to feast, as Skanderbeg did, in one of the guest houses of the vallje friends and collaborators, after an open-air serenade and songs in Arbërisht language.
Maria Antonietta Rimoli – Frascineto/Eianina in memory
Watch the video made by Gaetano Ferrari – Frascineto/Eianina nella memoria
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