The Dordolec: Albanian House Dolls and the Evil Eye

Kristin Peterson, Union College

This paper proposes to offer a new perspective on contemporary Albanian customs connected with the evil eye. Specifically, I will discuss research, conducted during the summer of 2002 in the Albanian countryside, on the placement of elaborately dressed dolls (dordolece) on top of newly built homes. Each of the forty people interviewed indicated that the dordolec, scarecrow, is used to protect the home and its inhabitants against the syri i keq, the evil eye.

While general documentation of worldwide belief in the evil eye exists (see for example, Conrad Arensberg, Alan Dundes, Vivian Garrison, Edward Gifford, John Roberts, Brian Spooner), there is lack of research on the tradition in Albania, especially among southern Albanians. G.P. Murdock and D.R. White's Standard Cross-Cultural Sample (1969) of belief in the evil eye around the world, for example, documents the belief among the Gheg Albanians, but makes no mention of the Tosks.

The basis of my research on the sudden reemergence of the Albanian dordolec is derived from John Roberts' theory that the evil eye becomes prominent in a culture when the society produces goods that can be envied and when there is an unequal distribution of these goods in the presence of social inequality (Roberts, The Evil Eye). The shifting economic and social conditions in Albania provide ripe material for a closer understanding of the reemergence of the belief in the evil eye. This study will offer the following observations: (1) the ethnographic investigation of the Gheg (northern Albanian) and Tosk (southern Albanian) contemporary understanding of the concept of the evil eye; (2) a consideration of other customs related to the building of new homes, specifically, sacrificial offerings and the burial of domestic objects in the foundation of the home; (3) an examination of the social and economic factors that may contribute to the reemergence of the dordolec; and (4) a consideration of the interaction of sacred and secular beliefs related to the evil eye (many Muslims, for instance, believe that a nuska, a note written in Arabic by a hoxha, priest, contains special powers against the evil eye).

In conclusion, it appears that neither the threat of the evil eye nor the display of protection against the evil eye is symbolic for contemporary Albanian farmers. Designed to avert the evil of the gaze, the dordolec is ultimately an appeal against real sudden damage to possessions of concern including the home, livestock, and even children.