The Mafia has been both glamourised and immortalised in Pop Culture through films like The Godfather, Goodfellas and Casino.
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.
The Mafia’s origins 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.
Whilst this 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, the island’s landowners were forced to turn to private thugs to protect their property. These hired gunmen soon began extorting the Landlords after realising that the Lanlords 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.
New members were initiated by pricking the finger and smearing its blood over the image of a Christian Saint, after which the bloodied image was burned. Another important ritual was Omerta, a Law that required all Mafioso to never talk about their affiliation with the Mafia except with other Members.
In each case, the rituals symbolised Loyalty to the Mafia and death to all Traitors who broke the Code with the result that by the 1880s, Cosa Nostra’s level of power, secrecy and organisation was compared with that of the Jesuits and Freemasons.
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.