THE name Montenegro is a translation of the Servian Tsrnagora, black mountains.” It is a curious designation for a country of white or greyish calcareous mountains, whose colour even strikes the voyager on the Adriatic. The name, according to some, is to be taken figuratively, and is to be understood as designating a country of ” bad ” or ” black ” men ; others are of opinion that it refers to ancient pine forests which have now disappeared.
The Turks have never succeeded in subjugating the Montenegrins, who found safety in their mountain fastnesses. Occasionally the Montenegrins placed themselves under the protection of a foreign power, such as that of Venice, but they never acknowledged the Sultan as their sovereign. The mountains, how-ever, to which they owe their independence, are at the same time their weakness, for they isolate them from the rest of the world. A high range of mountains, as well as a strip of Turkish territory, separates them from their Servian kinsmen ; another range, held by the Austrians, cuts them off from the Gulf of Cattaro and the Adriatic Sea. The small Lake of Scutari (Skodra) is their sea; the Zeta and Moracha, which feed it, are their national rivers. If the Montenegrins were permitted to descend into the plains without sacrificing their independence, the arid plateaux now inhabited by them would soon be deserted by all but shepherds.
The eastern portion of Montenegro, which is known as the Berda, and drained by the Moracha and its tributaries, is comparatively of easy access. The mighty dolomitic pyramids of the Dormitor (8,550 feet) command its valleys in the north, whilst the rounded heights of Korn (9,000 feet) bound it on the east. The Berda differs in no respect from most other mountain countries. It is only in the western portion of the country, in Montenegro proper, that we meet with features altogether distinct. We there find ourselves in a labyrinth of cavities, valleys, and depressions, separated by craggy calcareous ridges, abounding in narrow fissures, the hiding-places of adders. Only the mountaineers are able to find their way in this inextricable labyrinth. ” When God created the world,” they tell you laughing, he held in his hand a sack full of mountains. Right above Montenegro the sack burst, and hence the fearful chaos of rocks which you see before you.”
Seen from an immense height, Montenegro resembles a vast honeycomb with thousands of cells, and this appearance is due to aqueous agencies. The water at one spot has scooped out wide valleys, whilst elsewhere its long-continued action has merely succeeded in producing narrow radinas, or sink-holes. After heavy rains the waters accumulate into lakes, covering fields and pastures, but ordinarily they run off rapidly through sink-holes concealed by brambles, only to reappear again near the seashore as abundant springs of bluish water. The Zeta, the principal river of Montenegro, is fed by rivulets which are swallowed up in the valley of Niksich to the north, and find their way to it through subterranean channels. Similar phenomena have already been noticed in connection with Bosnia (p. 127). The capital of Montenegro, Tsetinye (Cetinje), lies in the very midst of the mountains, in the centre of an ancient lake basin. Formerly it was accessible only by a most difficult mountain path, for the Montenegrins took care not to construct roads, which would open their country to the guns of their enemies. The requirements of commerce, however, have recently induced them to connect it with Cattaro by means of a carriage road.
The Montenegrins are the kinsmen of the Servians of the Danube, but their life of almost incessant warfare, the elevation and sterility of their country, as well as the vicinity of the Albanians, have developed special features amongst them. The quiet life of the plains is unknown to the Montenegrin ; he is violent, and ready at all times to take up arms ; in his belt he carries a whole arsenal of pistols and knives, and even when working in the fields he has a carbine by his side. Until recently the price of blood was still enacted, and a scratch even had to be paid for. This blood vengeance was transmitted from generation to generation, until the number of victims was equal on both sides, or a monetary compensation, usually fixed at ten sequins, had been accepted. Cases of hereditary vengeance are rare now, but the ancient custom ” could be suppressed only by a law of terrible severity, which punishes murderers, traitors, rebels, thieves twice convicted, incendiaries, and scoffers at religion alike with death. Compared with the Servian of the Danube, the Montenegrin is a barbarian. Nor is his personal appearance equally prepossessing. The women, however, have regular features, and, though less dignified in their carriage than their kinswomen of Servia, they possess, as a rule, more grace and elasticity of movement. They are very prolific, and if a family increases too rapidly it is customary for a friend to adopt one or more of the children.
Up to the invasion of the Osmanli the upper alleys of Montenegro were the home merely of herdsmen and brigands. But the inhabitants of the lower valleys were forced to retire to these austere heights in order to escape slavery. They cultivated the soil, bred cattle and sheep, and sometimes robbed their neighbours. But the sterile soil yielded only a scanty harvest, and famines were by no means unfrequent. Bosnian t Uskoches, who fled to the mountains in order to escape Mussulman oppression, only added to the misery by reducing to a minimum the share of cultivable soil which fell to the lot of each family. The pastures are still held in common, in accordance with the ancient customs of the Servians. According to a recent census, Montenegro is said to have a population of nearly 200,000 souls. This may be an exaggeration, but the country is not even able to support 120,000 inhabitants without drawing supplies from beyond, and the armed incursions into neighbouring districts might thus be excused as an ” economical necessity.” Death from hunger or on the field of battle was often the only alternative. The Montenegrin always prefers the latter, for he does not fear death, and ” May you never die in bed ! ” is a wish universally expressed at the cradle of a new-born infant. If a man is unfortunate enough to die of disease, or from old age, his friends excuse him euphemistically by charging the ” Old Murderer ” with his death.
The warlike incursions of former days have ceased now, for the boundaries of Montenegro have been defined by an international commission, and the mountaineers have established friendly relations with their neighbours, from whom they are able now to purchase what they require. In summer they permit the inhabitants of the coast to take their cattle into the hills, whilst in winter they themselves descend to the seaboard, where they are sure now of a friendly reception.
The Montenegrins have always been anxious to possess a port on the Adriatic, which would enable them to import freely, and without the intervention of the merchants of Cattaro, the powder, salt, and other articles they require, and to export their own produce. Their commerce, even now, is of some importance. They export smoked mutton, sheep and goats, skins, tallow, salt fish, cheese, honey, sumach, insect powder, &c., of an estimated value of £40,000 annually.
The Montenegrins, like their neighbours the Albanians, frequently leave their country for a time in order to seek work in the great cities of the East. Thousands of them are to be met in Constantinople, where they manage to live on friendly terms with the Turks, their ” hereditary enemies.” They are even to be found in Egypt.
The Tsigani are the only strangers met with in the country. They resemble the Servians in language, dress, religion, and customs, and only differ from them by working at a useful trade, that of smiths. Their industry, however, causes them to be objects of disdain, and they are not permitted to intermarry with Servians.
The government of Montenegro is a curious mixture of democratic, feudal, and despotic institutions. The citizens fancy that they are equals, but they are not, for certain families exercise a powerful influence. The sovereign, who appropriates about half the revenue of the country, and receives 8,000 ducats annually from Russia in addition, appoints the members of the Senate, or Soryet. The Skupshtina includes the glavars, or chiefs, of the thirty-nine tribes (plemena), but has hitherto limited itself to applauding the ” speech from the throne.” There is a body- guard of a hundred men, and the whole of the male population is bound to take the field under the leadership of Serdars. The country is divided into eight nahiés, or districts, of which four (Bielopavlichka, Uskochka, Morachka, and Yasoyevichka, with the country of the Kuchi), constitute the Berda, and four (Katunska, Liesanska, Riechka, and Tscrmnichka) belong to Montenegro proper. Each of these districts is placed under a kniaz. The families and associations of families (brastcos) are governed by hospodars and starshinas, dependent upon the tribal chiefs, or glavars.