The Sicilian Mafia’s origins together with its Code Of Omertà (Code Of Silence) lie in the chaos that followed land reforms in late 19th Century Italy when the Nationalist Government transferred individual plots of land on the Island of Sicily to Private Citizens from the hands of the Nobility and Catholic Church.
Referred to by its own members as Cosa Nostra or, “our thing”, the Mafia is a collection of Criminal syndicates involved in racketeering, drug smuggling, and other organized Crime activity across Italy, the United States and the world.
Whilst land redistribution was meant to be a progressive development, unlike the previous Landlords who were fantastically wealthy, the new Landlords lacked the resources to protect their new land acquisitions. In addition, the Government lacked sufficient resources to effectively Police the Sicilian Island and provide protection to the new Landlords.
As a result, Sicilian landowners were forced to turn to private thugs to protect their property. These hired gunmen soon began extorting the Landlords after realising that the new Sicilian Landlords were powerless and had nowhere else to turn.
Protection rackets soon flourished as Landowners were forced to either pay for the protection of their estate or suffer violent retribution. From the 1860s onward, this was the manner in which the Citizens of Sicily were governed.
By 1865, the Mafia had accumulated enormous influence in Sicily, controlling much of its farms and ranches, especially in the western regions surrounding Palermo.
The 1870s also saw the increase of Mafia power, coupled with the introduction of many of the initiation rituals which are still practiced today.
The Origins Of The Sicilian Mafia’s Code Of Omerta
New members of the Sicilian Mafia were initiated by pricking the finger and smearing its blood over the image of a Christian Saint, after which the bloodied image was burned.
Omerta was a Law that required all Mafioso to never talk about their affiliation with the Mafia except with other Members.
The origins of the Mafia’s Code Of Omertà can be traced to 16th Century Sicily.
Before the land reforms, the Sicilian Government had been unable to protect its Citizens from foreign Invaders like the Spanish since the 16th Century.
As a result, Sicilians harboured a long tradition of distrust and anger towards the Government.
The Mafia’s golden rule of Omerta was thus born in this era of distrust and so it became customary for Sicilians to not rely on the Government in the resolution of their personal matters which allowed the protection rackets to flourish after the Land Reforms of the late 19th Century.
In this time Crimes were taken personally, and Sicilian justice was dispensed through personal vengeance or Vendetta.
The State was thus not involved the carrying out of Vendettas and so the Ormeta Code of Silence ensured that the system of Personal Justice practiced by Sicilians due to the inefficiancy of the State could continue unhindered.
The Sicilian Mafia In The United States
A new Chapter began for the Mafia between the 1880s and 1930s when One Million Sicilians including members of the Mafia migrated to the United States.
The Prohibition-era of the 1920s in America saw the Mafia make a fortune from bootleg liquor, prostitution and drugs. While the American Mob operated independently from the Sicilian Mafia, the American Mafia still shared the same initiation rituals and Ormeta Law with the Sicilian Mafia.
The Sicilian Mafia would continue to control Sicily until the Maxi Trials of 1986 to 1992, when 475 high ranking Mafioso were tried and jailed by the Italian government. The Maxi Trials were so effective they can be credited with doing the most to end over 150 years of Cosa Nostra rule in Sicily.
Nevertheless, the victory came at a steep price as the Sicilian Mafia violently resisted employing terrorist tactics including Bombings and Shootings that led to the deaths of innocent Citizens and Civil Servants such as famed brave Prosecutors Giovanne Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
The Mafia’s reign of terror only ended after the capture of the Sicilian Mafia’s Boss of all Bosses, Toto Riina.
In time, the United States faction of the Mafia would become more prominent than its Sicilian counterpart, nevertheless, the true roots and culture of Cosa Nostra will always lie in the orange groves of Sicily.
Today, the Mafia and its Code of Omertà have been both glamourised and immortalised in Pop Culture through films like The Godfather, Goodfellas and Casino.