These are three passages from Edith Durham’s book “High Albania”. Edith Durham traveled thru northern Albania in 1908 and wrote about her travels. High Albania is full of folklore and these are three of my favorite examples. My post about the book is here.
The Tortoise’s Leaf
There is a wondrous plant is that breaks stone and iron. Should a hobbled horse, out grazing, touch it with the hobble the iron flies asunder. Valuable horses have often thus been lost. None knows where the plant grows but the tortoise.
When you find, as is not infrequent, some tortoise’s eggs, you must build a little wall round them of stones. Then hide and await the mother tortoise. She will be very angry and strive to butt down the wall with her head, lest her children should hatch inside it and be starved. Failing to butt it down she will go and fetch a leaf of the plant, touch the wall with it, and at once down goes the wall!
You can then take the leaf from her, and use it for burglary and other household purposes. Where she finds it none knows, and she will not fetch it if followed.
Knowing that the Montenegrin native surgeons were well known for trephining, I asked the old man what he could do for a badly broken head. “Ah,” said he, “the head is very difficult. It is like an egg. First there is the shell, then the skin, then the brain. If that skin is broken you can do nothing–the man must die. But if the broken bone only presses on it you can save him. You cut like this”–he indicated a triangular flap on the head of the man next him–”and turn it back. Then you pick out the broken pieces very carefully and raise the bone from the brain. But you cannot leave the brain unprotected. You must cut a piece of dried hard bottle-gourd to fit the place–it is round like a man’s head. You can find a piece that fits exactly. It must be quite hard. Then you replace the flap over it and sew if necessary and dress with the salve, and his head will be as good as ever.”
The kirijee at once said, with enthusiasm, that he had been so treated at the age of sixteen; had been knocked on the head in a bazar riot, brought home unconscious, and only recovered when the bashed-in bone was removed. Had had a large piece of gourd in his head ever since. It made no difference, except that he had to scratch his head oftener that side than the other.