The Origin and Expansion of the Italian Mafia
Mafia. The word that continues to make many quake in fear at the mere mention of it. The Mafia is the longest lasting structured crime organization, it’s origins dating back to the 1200’s. In those early years the Mafia had just consisted of a few strong men trying to make a buck. Since its initial introduction to Italy, and particularly in Sicily, the Mafia has since fostered and grown into a worldwide crime organization.
The origin of the word “mafia” is quite vague. Some experts claim that it came into existence as early as the ninth century, when Arab forces invaded and conquered Sicily. Their Arab rulers oppressed the peasants and many fled to the hills. In Arabic the word “mafia” means refuge. Sicily was subsequently invaded by the Normans in the eleventh century, the French in the twelfth century, the Spanish in the thirteenth century, and suffered from invasions by other nationalities as well. To combat these oppressive invaders, the refugees formed a secret society based on the Sicilian heritage of a sense of family. The organization had a strong hierarchical structure, led by the family heads called “dons.” They in turn reported to the “don of dons”, who lived in Palermo, the capital of Sicily. All Mafia members, from the lowest ranking informant to the most powerful don obeyed the rule of “Omerta”, not revealing any Mafia dealings to the authorities, even about the enemy. Anyone who violated Omerta was killed. (History of the Mafia, www.wallwin.org)
Others maintain that the word originated during the French invasion when the natives took up the cry, “Morte Alla Francia Italia Anela” (Death to the French is Italy’s Cry), or MAFIA, (History of the Mafia, www.wallwin.org) while still others claim the word developed during Sicily’s feudal period, when local strongmen were sent to collect the landlord’s rents from his tenants (Sicily: Italy Apart…