Once upon a time, a custom allowed houses with no male heirs to name one daughter as a son, and this custom found its way all to 21st century, mostly in patriarchal and isolated environments. Known as virginas, these women swore to never marry.
Aside from wearing men’s clothes, virginas had the right to sit in cafes with men, to smoke in public and to carry guns. These male “privileges” given to a woman had a prie. Virgina did heavy work, took care of the family, and had to remain faithful to her vow – not to have her own family. This used to be condition for a female child to inherit family fortune.
The last Montenegrin virgina was recently forced to leave her native village Tušina in Šavnik municipality and accept help in old people’s home in Risan, near Kotor.
Stana Cerović was born in 1936 as the youngest daughter in a family of 5 daughters and two sons. Boys soon died and the family was left without heirs. Stana promised to never marry and be the head of the family. In one of many interviews, she said that she was smoking since she was five, and that she was helping her father plow land since she was 7. He taught her how to use a gun.
She never dressed herself as a woman, and traditional female jobs, such as laundry and cooking, were done by her sister. Stana was a son.
There was no place in her life to wonder what was she missing out on in not experiencing womanhood. In her world, it was an honor that she can lead a man’s life.
Stana received journalists, anthropologists, ethnologists and others that were interested in her experience. When she was approaching her 80s, she found herself unable to fulfil her duties. She was forced to sell everything but one cow, that hurt her a year ago.
Recently done reportage about Stana on national television touched the hearts of many. Help was offered in many ways.
“It is our duty to take care of Stana”, one official of Šavnik municipality said. Few institutions offered her lodging and care, but the social worker in Šavnika sent her to Risan.
Portrait of a virgina
This practice dates from 15th century, and it lasted the longest in northern Albania, Kosovo, northern Montenegro and dalmatian Zagora. Aside from wearing men’s clothes, virginas had men’s hairstyles, changed their female names to male, and adjusted their behaviour to their new role.
A few years ago American reporter Jill Peters visited parts of northern Albania and create a unique collection of photographs – portraits of virginas.
It is believed that there are less than 100 virginas alive today. Albanian writer Elvira Dones published a book titled “Virgina” in 2007, that follows the story of a girl named Hana. She spent a part of her life as a virgina, but since her parents died, she moved to Italy with her sister.
Through many internal struggles she was helped by her sister and her daughter, and Hana returned to her feminine nature. Italian film maker Laura Bispuri made a recognized film in 2015 based on this book.
In contrast to the heroine of Elvira Dones’ book, Stana Cerović wants to be remembered as the only surviving son of her father.
Source: Cafe Del Montenegro