Sworn Virgin

The term "Virgin" has come to refer to a traditional social role in the highlands of Albania and Montenegro. Among the highlander groups, a similar, cross-cultural clan-based orientation and highly marked sexual roles have created a situation where there has been a shortage of adult males. One suitable alternative is the sworn virgin (South Slavic tobelija or tybelí, ostajnica "she who stays" or muskobanja "man-like woman"; Albanian virgjineshtë), a female-born person who takes on the social (but not sexual) role of a man. They dress, work and live as men, but remain chaste and unmarried. The origins of the "Virgins" are disparate: some choose this role (as early as childhood and as late as just before their marriage ceremony) while others are raised or forced into it by circumstance. These societies have suffered a severe shortage of men due to inter-clan violence and Ottoman oppression; a clan without a patriarch might choose a female as an “ostajnica”, or female replacement, who would subsequently take on a male social role. National Geographic's Taboo estimated that there are fewer than 102 “sworn virgins” in the world.

Stana is known as the last "Sworn Virgin" in Montenegro. Her name means "stop" to prevent birth of another female child. That name was usually given to fifth female in family. I visited her for the first time after her last sister died, in February 2012. Her cousins live next to her in the same village and two female members, her peers never got married.

My intention was to perceive this "phenomena" from wider perspective; historically, sociologically, culturally. I tried to put, also, an accent on psychological aspect of this "phenomena", to express repetition of daily routines, hopelessness and absurdity, to embrace any kind of paradoxes and to reflect heaviness of provincial environment in which ancient laws are still not eradicated or even discussed on the higher level in any of institutions.