MAFIA (MAFFIA), a secret society of Sicily. Its organization and purposes much resemble those of the Camorra.
Various derivations are found for the name. Some hold it to be a Tuscan synonym for miseria; others, a corruption of Fr. mauvais (bad). Others connect it with the name of an alleged Arab tribe, Ma-afir, once settled at Palermo. Giuseppe Pitre asserts that the word is peculiar to western Sicily and that, with its derivatives, it formerly meant, in 11 Borgo, a district of Palermo, beauty or excellence. Thus, a handsome woman showily dressed was said "to have mafia," or to be mafiusa. Often in Palermo the street merchants call arance-mafiuse (fine oranges). Thus, Pitre argues, mafia, applied to a man to express manly carriage and bravery, would naturally become the title of a society the members of which were all "bravos." A less credible explanation of the term is connected with Mazzini, who is said to have formed a secret society the members of which were called Mafiusi, from Mafia, a word composed of the initial letters of five Italian words, Mazzini autorizzafurti, incendi, avvelenamenti, " Mazzini authorizes theft, arson and poisoning." This theory suggests that the word was unknown before 1859 or 1860.
The Mafia, however named, existed long before Mazzini's day. In its crudest form it was co-operative brigandage, blended with the Vendetta. The more strictly organized Mafia was the result of the disorders consequent upon the expulsion of the king of Naples by Napoleon. When the Bourbon court took refuge in Sicily there were a large number of armed retainers in the service of the Sicilian feudal nobility. Ferdinand IV., at the bidding of England, granted a constitution to the island in 1812, and with the destruction of feudalism most of the feudal troops became brigands. Powerless to suppress them, Ferdinand organized the bandits into a rural gendarmerie, and they soon established a reign of terror. The abject poverty of the poorer classes, unable to eke out existence by work in the sulphur mines or on the fields, fostered the growth of two classes of mafiusi - the vast majority of the inhabitants who were glad to put themselves as passive members under the protection of the Mafia, while the active members shared in the plunder. The Mafia thus became a loosely organized society under -an unwritten code of laws or ethics known as Omertd, i.e., manliness (from Sicil. omu, Ital. uomo, a man), which embodied the rules of the Vendetta. Candidates were admitted after trial by duel, and were sworn to resist law and defeat justice. Like the Camorra, the Mafia was soon powerful in all classes, and even the commander of the royal troops acted in collusion with it. The real home of Mafia was in and around Palermo, where no traveller was safe from robbery and the knife. In an organized form the Mafia survives only in isolated districts. Generally speaking, it is to-day not a compact criminal association but a complex social phenomenon, the consequence of centuries of misgovernment. The Mafiuso is governed by a sentiment akin to arrogance which imposes a special line of conduct upon him. He considers it dishonourable to have recourse to lawful authority to obtain redress for a wrong or a crime committed against him. He therefore hides the identity of the offender from the police, reserving vengeance to himself or to his friends and dependants. This sentiment, still widely diffused among the lower classes of many districts, and not entirely unknown to the upper classes, renders difficult legal proof of culpability for acts of violence, and multiplies sanguinary private reprisals. In September 1892 about i 50 Mafiusi were arrested at Catania, but all repressive measures proved useless. The only result was to drive some of the members abroad, with disastrous results to other countries. In October 1890 David Hennessy, chief of police in New Orleans, was murdered. Subsequent legal inquiry proved the crime to be the work of the Mafia, which had been introduced into the United States thirty years before. In May 1890 a band of Italians living in New Orleans had ambushed another gang of their fellow-countrymen belonging to a society called Stoppaghera. The severe police measures taken brought the vengeance of the society upon Hennessy. Eleven Italians were indicted on suspicion of being implicated in his murder; but the jury was terrorized and acquitted six. On the 14th of March 1891 a mob led by well-known New Orleans citizens broke into the gaol where nineteen Italians were imprisoned and lynched eleven of them.
See W. Agnew Paton, Picturesque Sicily (1898); C. W. Heckethorn, Secret Societies of all Ages (1897); Alongi, La Maffia (Turin, 1887); Le Faure, La Maffia (Paris, 1892).
- Please bookmark this page (add it to your favorites)
- If you wish to link to this page, you can do so by referring to the URL address below.
This page was last modified 29-SEP-18
Copyright © 2018 ITA all rights reserved.