Just north of Prizren, before you reach Gjakova, take a left turn after the bridge and you reach a fascinating region of Kosova called Has (rhymes with “toss”). Like Opoja, Has is part of a larger ethnographic region, Luma, which extends from Kosova to northern Albania. The thirteen villages that make up Kosova’s side of Has is called “Hasi i Thatë” (Dry Has). Not only is there very little farmland; water is also hard to find. As in other regions of Kosova that suffer from the lack of natural resources, the Has men had to migrate north to find work. While the men of Gollak became day-laborers in nearby towns and the Opojans worked as laborers in Europe, the men of Has became Yugoslavia’s bread bakers. Visit a bakery anywhere in the country, and you would meet a Hasjan!
Only 20 minutes from the bustling town of Gjakova, in the late 1980s, Has was a very remote place. As the asphalt turned to dirt after the bridge, the modern world faded away and Tradition took over. When I was doing research there, families were still arranging marriages for their sons and daughters at 14 or 15 years old. Few girls went to high school, spending their time instead weaving and doing needlework. Blood feuds were still a way of dealing with crimes.
And then, there was the women’s costume which was truly unique on the planet, with its triangular, padded wooden platforms extending out from each hip, mounted on a wide harness. Married women wore this harness all day, removing it only for bed, when they took off the outer layers of the costume and slept in the white homespun chemise that they wore underneath. From head to toe, every inch of the Has costume was a work of art, with intricate designs on the sleeves, vest, apron, and leggings. These designs were not just embroidered; they were painstakingly woven as tapestry and applied to each piece.
I am very grateful to the Totaj family in the village of Gjonaj, my hosts when I was working in Has. With almost all the men away working in bakeries, there were mostly women and children at home. After a long day in the field visiting other parts of Has, they would give me food, shelter, comfort, and wonderful company. I remember eating roasted corn and potatoes, drinking “çaj bjeshkës” herbal tea, and talking with the young people long into the night about their way of life—what it was all about, and what they thought of it. Little did they know that within 15 years, after a war that devastated the country, their lives would be changed forever.