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>Costume Studies
>>1861 Sicilian mafioso
Subjectmafioso gangster uomo d'onore 'man of honor'
Culture: Sicilian
Setting: La Cosa Nostra, western Sicily and Italian America mid-19th - early-20thc





Caveat

* Reppetto 2004 p1-5
"In America, the Mafia would sometimes be portrayed as an ancient organization. This, too, was essentially a myth. In one generally discounted legend it arose out of the Sicilian vespers in 1282 when the natives rose up and massacred French garrisons, supposedly shouting 'Morte alla Francia Italia anela (Death to the French is Italy's cry)' -- a chant whose words form the acronym MAFIA. Sicilians of the time would not have considered themselves Italians or spoken the dialect in which the phrase is couched. Although organized thievery and brigandage had existed for centuries, the Mafia groups of the late 1800s most likely originated in response to Bourbon rule. The term itself was applied loosely, to convey an attitude or way of life adopted by many Sicilians who had no ties to any criminal group. To be a 'mafioso,' one contemporary author wrote, meant to be a brave man.
    "Neither ancient nor vast, the actual Sicilian Mafia bore little resemblance to the image that Americans were forming."


Context

* Hooper 2015 p235
"The earliest mafiosi were thought to have been so-called campieri, toughs hired to protect the land and interests of an emergent class of tenant farmers, the gabelloti. But the early, rural mafiosi soon learned they could play a useful role.
    "Like the rest of Italy, Sicily at the time had a judicial system that was slow and frequently corrupt. What is more, the mistrust ... was at least as bad as on the mainland and probably worse. Which is where the /mafiosi came in. They could guarantee a contract with the implicit threat of violence. If a farmer who had promised to sell his neighbor a horse delivered a mule instead, the uomo d'onore and his confederates would pay the farmer a visit of a kind he would never forget."

* Reppetto 2004 p3-4
"In Sicily, as in southern Italy, people had long been taught not to rely on the law or government for assistance. ('The law courts are for fools,' the saying went.) To report a grievance to the authorities was considered bad form -- a violation of the code of omerta, which dictated that a real man maintains silence and secures his own justice, in his own way. If a life had been taken, the victim's kinsmen would 'wash blood with blood.')
    "In America, the Mafia would come to be seen as a vast and many tentacled organization whose power had reached across the ocean from the Old World to the New. But in Sicily the typical form of organization was the local band, or cosca, headed by a capo, a chief. (Not a don, which was a general term of respect in southern Italy.) The mafiosi of Sicily had much in common with the brigands of other depressed areas -- SpainIreland, the Balkans, the Ukraine -- where the struggle for existence was harsh and the government oppressive and corrupt. Sicily, described by Alexandre Dumas as 'a paradise populated by demons,' was especially violent, the western half of the island most of all. Eastern Sicily was comparatively peaceful. 'Palermo is dangerous, Messina is safe,' it was said. At the turn of the century, the homicide rate in Palermo was 29 per 100,000, and as high as 44 per 100,000 in some inland districts of the west. In Messina, the murder rate was only 8 per 100,000, not much higher than the contemporary New York City figure, which was about 5.
    "Buffetted by the sirocco, winds from the deserts of Africa, the climate of this violent western Sicily was hot and dusty. Mountains tended to isolate districts, and many dialects were spoken. Men from one area looked with suspicion on those from another, and even on members of other families living in the same village. The east had more industry and richer soil, and the landlords were more likely to live on their estates, or latifundas. In the west, upwards of two-thirds of the estates belongs to absentee owners. It was common practice for them to turn over the management of their land to a gabellotto, or overseer, who collected rents, keeping a portion for himself and forwarding the rest to the signor in Naples or Palermo. To enforce his orders and guard his estate, the gabellotto retained a crew of gunmen, many of them bandits on the side. A particularly ruthless gabellotto might even succeed in squeezing out the landlord and taking over an estate himself. Whether to maintain or resist control by the overseers, to avenge an insult or commit a crime, luparas and knives were used with great frequency."

* Porrello 1995 p23-24
"Thus the Mafia was born, a secret society that provided the poor, oppressed Sicilians with protection, stability and pride.  The Mafia 'vendetta' was the Sicilian form of justice. The victimized could be quiet and patient so long as vengeance was saved for a future time.
    "Consequently the Mafia golden rule of omerta (translated as honor) was born. Because of the inherent instability of being conquered by so many different peoples, the Sicilians came to distrust all forms of government. It became an unwritten rule to leave the government out of private affairs. Crimes were considered to be personal issues, with rough justice to be served by the vendetta.
    "The code of omerta, if put into words, might say: 'Whoever appeals to the law against his fellow man is either a fool or a coward. Whoever cannot take care of himself without police protection is both. It is as cowardly to betray an offender to justice, even though is offenses be against yourself, as it is not to avenge an injury by violence. It is dastardly and contemptible in a wounded man to betray the name of his assailant, because if he recovers, he must naturally expect to take vengeance himself. A wounded man shall say to his assailant: 'If I live, I will kill you -- if I die you are forgiven.'
    "As the Mafia grew in power, its mission degenerated. The leaders had become greedy and hungry for power and viewed themselves as the government of the people. And for many practical purposes, they were. By the time Sicily became a part of the newly unified Italy in 1861, the island had seen seven governments in one century. For the Sicilians, the Mafia, with all its sins, meant stability and patriotism."

* Privitera 2002 p125-126
"The mafia ... flourished after 1861 as never before.  It was used by landowners to collect rents and intimidate laborers.  Meanwhile, the old ruling elite cynically adopted the techniques of liberal government and became stronger than ever.  With an electorate of little more than one percent, the landlords and their friends and employees were often the only voters.  Anyone brave enough to challenge this conspiracy of the mafia and the ruling class was quickly brought to heel.  The attempt to arrest Crispi in January 1861; the brutal assassination of General Corrao in 1863, in which the government was almost certainly implicated; and the imprisonment of Giuseppe Badia in 1865 were the ways the Sicilian aristocracy and the Piedmontese dealt with Garibaldi's main Sicilian lieutenants."

* Smith 2003 p21-24
"Liberalism, though it was the enemy of their aristocratic sponsors, was in the end, however, to be the friend of the Mafiosi.  When Garibaldi arrived to start the unification of Italy, he found the gangs useful, if unreliable, allies.  And when unification finally arrived, the Mafiosi -- as they were later to do in Russia -- found it all too easy to subvert the liberal institutions he instituted.  The first national election gave them a new tool: the manipulation and delivery of votes.  Trial by jury virtually guaranteed them impunity, since few individuals were brave enough or rich enough to want to stand up to them publicly with a verdict of 'guilty'.  Charities and credit institutions became grist to their mill, and even the new Bank of Sicily was not immune.  They used it to channel funds to their political allies.  An early director of the Bank was first kidnapped and then murdered after irregularities were found.
    "Neither liberalism nor unification, though, did anything at all to improve the ordinary peasant's lot.  Nor did it do anything for Sicily as a going economic concern.  Taxes went up and so did food prices.  The local silk and textile industries collapsed.  Hostility against the mainland, the national government and its institutions everywhere grew -- amongst churchmen, aristocrats, lawyers, peasants.  Everyone, whenever necessary, now used the good offices of the Mafia, even though its stocks-in-trade were violence and fear.  In the 1860s, the British consul in Palermo wrote:
    "'Secret societies are all-powerful.  Camorre and maffie [sic], self-elected juntas, share the earnings of the workmen, keep up intercourse with outcasts and take malefactors under their wing and protection.'
    "A decade later, an Italian government report stated bluntly:
    '"Violence is the only prosperous industry in Sicily.'
    "The degree to which even the Church and the landowning aristocrats grew into collusion with the Mafia at such an early date seems now extraordinary.  Palaces were opened up to assassins, and the local Catholic Church hierarchy -- which regarded the north and its governnment as godless -- at best turned a very blind eye.  At worst, in the words of a report written by a northern MP in the 1870s: 'There is a story about a former priest who became the crime leader in a town near Palermo and administered the last rites to some of his own victims.  After a certain number of these stories the perfume of orange and lemon blossoms starts to smell of corpses.'"


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