The term mafia describes an organized crime group that operates under criminal and illegal actions.
In some cases, it can also apply to groups that don’t relate to organized crime.
The term has now become popular to refer to any criminal group worldwide, but it originally referred only to the Sicilian mafia.
In fact, the word “mafia” first originated in Sicily; it may come from an Arabic word (Sicily had been under Islamic domination for centuries), but its etymology is uncertain.
Today’s post will introduce a few facts about the Italian mafia and depict its history throughout the centuries.
What is the Italian mafia?
In Italy, the term mafia refers to organized crime groups that control territory through intimidation, criminality, and extorsion.
Its main aim is to earn money through illegal activities.
All the small groups on a territory (usually, a town or a city’s neighborhood) are administered by a “clan”, which dictates each group’s honor code.
Each area is controlled by a different clan and holds various illegal activities.
As already said, the term mafia defined only one of the various organized crime groups in Italy, the Sicilian mafia.
Then, it became popular worldwide to refer to organized crime groups that perform illicit activities.
In Italy, there are different types of organized crime groups. In this post, we will talk about the main ones.
Sicilian mafia: Cosa Nostra
The Sicilian mafia is also called Cosa Nostra (literally: “our thing”). It originated in Sicily, an Italian island, at the end of the XIX century.
Sicily had been ruled for centuries by foreign invaders, so the people’s natural reaction was to group to protect themselves against conquerers.
The origin of the Sicilian mafia was also a natural consequence of the low attention that the institutions had put into the southern regions of Italy.
In fact, the central government was far away from the population, and some groups of people started to rule, mainly using violence and intimidation.
After the unification, the big landowners tried to control the small farmers. They used intermediaries to ask the farmers to pay money to get protection.
Intermediaries would eventually kill the animals and destroy the harvest if the farmers wouldn’t pay.
The Sicilian mafia rose until the 1920s when the fascist regime tried to suppress it using harsh methods.
After the war, it rose again. The conflict had destroyed many buildings and left several people homeless, so there was a huge need for new homes.
The Sicilian mafia played an important role in post-war reconstruction.
Then, it became an important player in smuggling and narcotics traffic.
At the end of the 1980s, the government took action against the mafia through the efforts of various magistrates, especially Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
It was one of the most significant trials against the Sicilian mafia, and it led to indicting hundreds of mafiosi for several crimes.
Sometime after the trial judges, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were murdered because of their fights against organized crime activities.
Their action, though, raised awareness in the population, and periodic commemorations have been established in their honor.
Mafia in the Campania region: camorra
The camorra is the mafia group that operates in Campania (Naples’ region).
The group is the oldest one in Italy: it had its roots in the XV century.
It originated from micro criminals who operated in Naples and controlled the population through extorsions and threats.
It was present in the Neapolitan society all over the centuries, including the unification of Italy, when it became more powerful: many historians agree that it had a prominent role in the revolts against the Neapolitan kings, the Borbone.
Its diffusion was also a consequence of the central government’s lack of interest in social problems.
Unlike what happened with the Sicilian mafia, the fascist regime didn’t oppress the members of camorra.
After the II World War, the Neapolitan camorra became more powerful. In the 1970s, smuggling cigarettes was its primary business.
In more recent years, it earned mainly from drug traffic and illegal dumping waste.
The government has taken action to combat the camorra‘s illegal activities, but it is more difficult to fight it than the Sicilian mafia because it has a less centralized structure.
Mafia in Calabria: history of ‘ndrangheta
‘Ndrangheta is one of the world’s most powerful organized crime groups.
It was formed in the 19th century in rural areas of Calabria, due to the small presence of institutions in civil life.
The criminal groups mainly performed extorsion to small farmers and controlled prostitution.
The organization grew between the end of the XIX century and the beginning of the XX century.
It vastly used kidnapping to control the territory: starting from the 1960s, members of the ‘ndrangheta kidnapped many people and hid them in the mountains around the regions.
Today, it has become of the richest crime groups globally and has a monopoly on the drug trade.
It is widespread worldwide, and there are international affiliates in other countries.
The structure of ‘ndrangheta is much more closed than camorra and Cosa Nostra: marriages are generally allowed only between existing families, and fewer members became police informants.
The American mafia
The mafia has become very popular worldwide also because of the high number of movies and TV series about the topic. Such movies originated in the United States due to the spreading of the American mafia.
The American mafia was formed in the United States after the immigration of Italian mafia members.
It started in big cities like New York, New Orleans, and Chicago; then, it spread throughout the country.
The American mafia and its bosses (like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano) had a massive presence in popular culture.
More facts about the Italian mafia
In general, the mafia makes money through illegal activities such as extortion (forcing people to pay money and threatening them) and smuggling.
Organized crime groups are divided into clans that control a territory (a village, a town, or a neighborhood in a bigger city).
Each clan has a hierarchy, where the boss is the leader.
To enter a clan, a person must pass an initiation ceremony to demonstrate he is a worthy and loyal member.
All the clan members must practice omertà, which means they cannot communicate the clan’s secrets.
The principle of omertà also applies to citizens, who must keep secret the activities.
In other words, a person should never seek justice or help the authorities to investigate the clan’s illegal activities.
In the latest years, the Italian mafia has been featured in movies, books, and TV shows.
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