Arts & Entertainment

Xhubleta, the ancient Albanian attire that almost died out

By Mimoza Dhima

Malesi e Madhe, Albania, Mar 26 (EFE).- The Albanian xhubleta, a thousand-year-old traditional dress, may be given a fresh lease of life after it was included in UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

“The xhubleta is Mediterranean, but we are lucky that it was preserved only among us, making it unique,” ethnographer Aferdita Onuzi tells Efe. “In style and decoration, it is just Albanian. There is no similarity with other garments, only with (those represented) in terracotta from 4,000 years ago.”

After its inclusion on the list designed to protect traditions, UNESCO has donated 84,000 euros ($90,573) to be used in a project aiming at documenting and passing on its process of manufacturing, as well as creating the necessary setup for further production.

“Its inscription on the UNESCO list comes along with an obligation from the state to keep (this clothing) alive,” Meri Kumbe, the deputy minister of culture, stresses.


The most complicated piece of the xhubleta is the black bell-shaped wool skirt hanging from the shoulders with two straps. The skirt can weigh up to 15 kilograms.

It is made up of numerous strips of felt ribbons sewn horizontally with wool threads.

The handcrafted garments are decorated with gold or silver threads and sometimes beads with geometric and floral figures drawn by artisans.

Rita Shkurtaj, president of the Xhubleta of the Albanian Alps association, has already started the work of digitizing the production process so that this “wonderful work of grandmothers and mothers” is accessible to all.

One of the few artisans keeping this ancient tradition alive is 71-year-old File Kola.

At the age of eight, Kola started learning to make the xhubleta with her mother and her aunt. She was the only one among her seven siblings who dedicated herself to this work.


She still keeps the xhubleta her mother wore on her own wedding day in 1938. Kola and her daughter wore the same dress on their wedding days in 1972 and 2005, respectively.

“I know how to do all the processes from the unraveling of the sheep’s wool, to the spinning and then the sewing and decoration,” Kola, whose pension is less than 100 euros, explains.

In the past, girls had between five and nine xhubletas in their dowry to put them on during different stages of their lives, from their wedding to their funeral.

The tradition began to fade among Catholic and Muslim women in the mountainous areas of northern Albania in the late 1960s when the communist dictatorship outlawed religion and private property and forced women to work in cooperative associations.

The xhubleta then was used only at parties and family celebrations.

Its near disappearance is also attributed to the high rates of migration from the region as well as the lack of tools.

However, Albanians who migrated to the United States from that region have started to purchase it for up to 3,000 euros after its UNESCO inclusion. EFE

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