Nora of Kelmendi is a legendary folktale. She’s an Albanian woman known for her beauty and valor. She is sometimes referred to as the Helen of Albania because her beauty also sparked a great war. She is also called the Albanian Brunnilde also, for she herself was the greatest woman warrior in the history of Albania.
There are two versions of Nora’s legend; both end with Nora killing the Pasha, head of the Otoman Army, who had vowed to reduce the Highland, aka Malësia e Madhe into ashes if Nora did not become his wife.
Nora’s father, a noble warrior, wanted a son to help him fight against the Ottoman Empire, so when Nora was born, he abandoned her at an orphanage. His sister, knowing the doings of her brother, adopted Nora and raised her as a boy. Nora’s biological father, having the desire to train some young man to become a fighter, decided to train the adopted “son” of his sister.
Hence, unknowingly, he trained his own daughter to become a fighter. As she grew up, however, Nora turned out to be the most beautiful girl in Malësia. It is said that she was as pretty as a true Zana. Her fame spread through the whole country and so a Pasha who resided at the Rozafati Castle in Shkodra, heard about her also.
One day, Nora came down to the city with her parents. The pasha came out of the castle and fell in love with Nora upon setting eyes on her and he decided to marry her by the laws of the Albania Kanun, which meant he would send a trusted man to Nora’s house and ask for her hand.
However, Nora’s family replied that the Albanian Canun did not allow for marriages with non-Albanians. The pasha was not accustomed to such refusal because he already had a harem full of women from all over the world so he went into full rage: “Either Nora will become my wife or I will burn all of Malësia to ashes!”
The pasha then led his army and besieged Malësia e Madhe. Nora had proved to be a great warrior, but now she had to prove that she was wise also so she would save Malësia e Madhe from destruction.
So she thought of a plan to kill the angry pasha.
There are two versions of the story. In the first version, Nora pretended to want to marry the Pasha without the permission of her family. Dressed as a bride in jubleta, the traditional Highlander Albanian women dress, she went to pasha’s tent. Seeing her, Pasha fell on his knees and began to pray, believing she was a true gift from heaven as a reward from the almighty Allah for his services to Him.
Then pasha ordered his troops to rest and to get ready to leave for Shkodra the next morning. The soldiers happily put down their swords and slept for the night. When all was quiet around the pasha’s tent, Nora retrieved a war dagger that her father had given her, a dagger that had been passed through her family for many generations. It was believed the dagger had magical powers, for no one who had carried it had died from wounds inflicted by opponents—highly unusual at that time and in this turbulent region. Nora stabbed the pasha, kicked him on the back of his head, and choked him so he could not scream. The pasha fell down. At that point Nora could no longer stab him because by Albanian custom, it is dishonorable to strike a man who is not standing or to hit a man who does not fight back. Nora fled and, as planned, the army of Malësia attacked the Ottomans, winning temporary victory over them. Pasha survived his wounds, gathered his own special unit and followed Nora to her home.
In a second version of the legend, Nora never goes to the tent. Instead, as the armies fought, several of the Ottomans broke away from the main body of the army to attack the villages. Nora led an army of 300 women against the Ottomans who had set off to burn and kill everyone in sight. In the battle, Nora came face to face with the Pasha and killed him in a duel.
In both versions, Nora kills the pasha in a fair duel.