Margjela of Bibë Doda: Matriarch of Mirdita

The Resilient Princess Who Shaped a Nation's Legacy

The Future Princess of Mirdita, Hidja of Hasan Ajazi, Margjela of Bibë Doda was born into the renowned Ajazi family of Lura. The Ajazis converted to Islam late, during a time when, for various reasons, most of the population no longer adhered to Christianity.

Bibë Kolë Ajazi was married to a Muslim woman with whom he had three sons: Hasan, Ali, and Meta.
After Biba’s death, the household’s management was taken over by the eldest son, Hasan, who married Dedë Vladi’s sister from the village of Pregjë – Lura. Hidja Ajazi was born in Arrë Mollë in 1848. She was the only daughter of Hasan Ajazi; tall, healthy, naturally beautiful, and intelligent. According to tradition, Mirdita’s leaders also married Muslim girls from notable Lura families, a tradition dating back to when Lura was Catholic.

Bibë Doda was no exception; after the death of his first wife from Shkodër, he married Hidja of Hasan Ajazi, who was baptized with the name Margjela after their marriage.After Bibë Doda was poisoned by the Turks in 1868, Hidja, now baptized as Margjela and widely known as the Princess of Mirdita, was left alone with her son Prengë and daughter Dava.

Her brother Stafa and nephew Limani stood by her side at every moment.
Thanks to her family’s support and the majority of Mirdita’s leaders who refused to break the Kanun, Prengë Bibë Doda, then a child, was recognized as the traditional Head of Mirdita.

The Ottoman authorities maliciously sent Bibë Doda’s son to Istanbul, allegedly for protection and education, thus depriving Mirdita of its rightful heir to the captaincy throne. Under these circumstances, Stafa left Limani in Shkodër with Margjela and Dava and went to Istanbul himself to take care of Prengë, staying with him for several years.Prengë Bibë Doda and his uncle, Staf Ajazi, were settled in the Saralitas neighborhood of Istanbul, where they were kept under surveillance by the Ottoman authorities.
Stafa spoke on behalf of the Prince, being his advisor and guardian.

Meanwhile, Prenga, who had previously received private tutoring in Shkodër from the Arbëresh Leonardo di Martino, his father’s secretary, continued his education at Robert College, an American school established in 1863, offering elite education. The school taught English, French, and native languages, with Albanian language instruction provided when the number of Albanian students reached twenty-five. Besides the aforementioned languages, students could learn another language of their choice: Turkish, German, Bulgarian, or Armenian.Margjela’s Influence on Mirdita’s Self-Governance.

To fill the void left by Bib Doda, Margjela, Bib Doda’s widow, wished to pass the role to her son, Prengë Bibë Doda, who was not yet of age. She wanted Kaptan Gjon as a guardian for her son, and gradually, Bib Doda’s widow achieved her goal.
The people of Mirdita, in a full assembly in Shën Pal, declared Prengë Bibë Doda as their Head and appointed Kaptan Gjon as his guardian until he came of age.
Claiming they could not accept the election results in Shën Pal, the Turkish government appointed Kaptan Gjon as kajmekam, in place of Preng Bibë Doda.
Since the people of Mirdita did not recognize this appointment, Kajmekan Gjoni was forced to leave his post in April.

Margjela was a highly intelligent and determined woman, naturally endowed with keen political instincts and cunning. Her influence was felt everywhere concerning her son’s captaincy aspirations. Indeed, Margjela was seen as a significant political actor in the expected developments in Albania, hence the information about her in the European chancelleries that had consulates in Shkodër. The Austro-Hungarian consul informed Vienna that “Margjela’s stance has become more secretive.
She carefully covers every influence she tries to exert on the Mirditas through her close associates. Her steps are not so easily traceable and do not provide any solid ground for her participation in political events.

The Doda family had friendships with the French, and Emperor Napoleon III himself was Prengë’s godfather, hence the French Consulate provided necessary protection for Margjela. After the assassination of Dedë Tuci, Consul Lë Rée took specific security measures for her home.
On this occasion, the Doda family, Margjela, and Davatook refuge in the French consulate in Shkodër.
This situation was attempted to be exploited by Marshal Mustafa Asim Pasha, who had long aimed to isolate all members of Prengë Bibë Doda’s family and, at an opportune moment, remove them from Albania once and for all.

After leaving the French consulate, her first visit was to the Russian vice-consul, Krillov, where she appeared accompanied by the French consul Lë Rée.

The Sublime Porte did not stand idly by and attempted to accuse Margjela, reminding her that through Kaptan Marku, she had secured the cooperation of the Mirditas in a plot against Gani Bey, mentioning the fact that Gani Bey, after returning from Greece, had taken refuge with Kaptan Marku.

In the face of Turkish intrigues, she remained strong, and at one point declared: “Any external interference in the internal affairs of the Mirditas will meet with strong resistance…”As opponents of the Russians, the Austro-Hungarians closely monitored Margjela’s movements.

On the one hand, they informed the authorities in Vienna, and on the other hand, they maintained relations with her, expressing their state’s friendship.
In a report sent by the Austro-Hungarian consul in Shkodër to Vienna, Margjela of Bibë Doda’s cunning and the various roles she played in agreements with France, Russia, Montenegro, and the Greek agitation are discussed.

Vic Vardell, an advisor to the Imperial Government of Austro-Hungary, sent a letter to the Princess, thanking her for the sculpture she had sent him.
A closeness of the Austro-Hungarian consul with the family of the Mirdita leader was noticeable. “Mother Princess” was visited by the Austro-Hungarian consul at her residence in Orosh, and at the same time, her son Prenga in Istanbul was instructed to visit the Austro-Hungarian ambassador. On this occasion, the Austro-Hungarian government provided Bibë Doda’s family with a monthly assistance of two thousand piastres.

Princess Elena Gjika was impressed by Margjela’s role, writing in a letter to Jeronim De Rada: “Mr. Lejcan has published in the latest bulletin of the Societe de Geographie in Paris (April-May) an article about the Mirditas, whom he describes as active farmers and skilled warriors.

The most influential figure is always the Old Princess, the mother of Bibë Doda. When the French traveler visited Mirdita, Kaptan Mark (referring to Marka Gjoni) was acting as the regent, as the successor of Doda (Bibë Pasha) is only 12 years old.”Princess Margjela in the Descriptions of Father Marçin Çerminjski.

After the death of Bibë Doda, the governance of Mirdita was taken over by the widow of the deceased Prince, who is the mother of the interned Prengë Bibë Doda, a woman of extraordinary abilities and qualities. The Mirditas consider her their leader. They pay her dues and, from time to time, send their representatives to seek her advice on important matters concerning their community.
During my stay in Albania, I got to know this remarkable personality.
At that time, Princess Bibë Doda was residing in her home in Kallmet.
I went there on horseback, as any other means of travel was utterly impossible, except on foot. The palace is small and multi-storied. It has a wide courtyard and a garden alongside, filled with flowers and shade-providing trees. All these are surrounded by a wall.

Several Mirditas from the honor guard group were sitting allaturka on the garden’s grass, under the shade of a large grapevine. They wore stunning, brightly colored attire, intricately embroidered. Their waists were tied with belts, behind which pistols and yataghans with silver hilts, adorned with precious stones, were visible. When I appeared, they all stood up and paid me special respect, full of taste and gratitude. Astonishment, as well as manliness, a sign of their strength and glory, was evident on their faces.
Two Mirditas jumped to hold my horse and helped me dismount.
The Princess, who had been informed of my arrival, was waiting for me at the entrance to the room. She was tall and dressed in a national costume that was no different from those of other Mirdita women. Although she had planted six crosses for her lost family members, which brought much suffering to her life, she did not show her grief.

An Extraordinary Woman Margjela of Bibë Doda died in 1913 in Shkodër and was buried there. She was an extraordinary woman who managed to protect her son’s position and, along with it, the legacy of Bibë Doda with the dignity of a princess for 37 consecutive years.

Margjela mirrored her husband’s prowess, possessing the essential leadership skills, keen intelligence, and unwavering determination. Although she did not overtly engage in governance, her profound impact on the Mirditas’ choices was unmistakable, influencing both the community leaders and her son. Margjela witnessed her homeland’s liberation from Turkish rule, celebrating the esteemed status of her family—a testament to her enduring dedication and sacrifices.

~ Nikollë Loka

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