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Sicilian Mafia

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The Sicilian Mafia, also known as Cosa Nostra ("our thing"), is a criminal syndicate in Sicily, Italy. It is a loose association of criminal groups that share a common organisational structure and code of conduct. The basic group is known as a "family", "clan", or "cosca" or "cosche" in Sicilian.[1] Each family claims sovereignty over a territory, usually a town or village or a neighbourhood (borgata) of a larger city, in which it operates its rackets. Its members call themselves "men of honour", although the public often refers to them as "mafiosi". The Mafia's core activities are protection racketeering, the arbitration of disputes between criminals, and the organizing and oversight of illegal agreements and transactions.

Following waves of emigration, the Mafia has spread to other countries such as the United States, Canada, and Australia.

EtymologyEdit

The word "mafia" originated in Sicily, though its origins are uncertain. The Sicilian adjective mafiusu (in Italian: mafioso) roughly translates to mean "swagger," but can also be translated as "boldness, bravado". In reference to a man, mafiusu in 19th century Sicily was ambiguous, signifying a bully, arrogant but also fearless, enterprising and proud, according to scholar Diego Gambetta.[2] In reference to a woman, however, the feminine-form adjective "mafiusa" means beautiful and attractive. The Sicilian word mafie refers to the caves near Trapani and Marsala, which were often used as hiding places for refugees and criminals.

Sicily was once an Islamic emirate, therefore "mafia" might have Arabic roots. Possible Arabic roots of the word include:

  • mahyas (مهياص) = aggressive boasting, bragging
  • marfud (مرفوض) = rejected
  • mu'afa = safety, protection[3]
  • Ma àfir = the name of an Arab tribe[4] that ruled Palermo[5]

The public's association of the word with the criminal secret society was perhaps inspired by the 1863 play "I mafiusi di la Vicaria" ("The Mafiosi of the Vicaria") by Giuseppe Rizzotto and Gaetano Mosca. The words Mafia and mafiusi are never mentioned in the play; they were probably put in the title to add a local flair. The play is about a Palermo prison gang with traits similar to the Mafia: a boss, an initiation ritual, and talk of "umirtà" (omertà or code of silence) and "pizzu" (a codeword for extortion money).[6] The play had great success throughout Italy. Soon after, the use of the term "mafia" began appearing in the Italian state's early reports on the phenomenon. The word made its first official appearance in 1865 in a report by the prefect of Palermo Filippo Antonio Gualterio.[7]

The term "mafia" has become a generic term for any organized criminal network with similar structure, methods, and interests. Giovanni Falcone, the anti-Mafia judge murdered by the Mafia in 1992, however, objected to the conflation of the term "Mafia" with organized crime in general:

"Cosa Nostra" and other namesEdit

According to Mafia turncoats (pentiti), the real name of the Mafia is "Cosa Nostra" ("Our Thing"). Italian-American mafioso Joseph Valachi testified before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the U.S. Senate Committee on Government Operations in 1963 (known as the Valachi hearings). He revealed that American mafiosi referred to their organization by the term cosa nostra ("our thing" or "this thing of ours" or simply "our cause" / "our interest").

At the time, it was understood as a proper name, fostered by the FBI and disseminated by the media. The FBI even added the article la to the term, calling it La Cosa Nostra (in Italy, the article la is not used when referring to Cosa Nostra).

In 1984, Mafia turncoat Tommaso Buscetta revealed to anti-mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone that the term was used by the Sicilian Mafia, as well. Buscetta dismissed the word "mafia" as a mere literary creation. Other defectors such as Antonino Calderone and Salvatore Contorno confirmed the use of Cosa Nostra to describe the Mafia. Mafiosi introduce known members to each other as belonging to cosa nostra ("our thing") or la stessa cosa ("the same thing"), meaning "he is the same thing as you — a Mafioso."

The Sicilian Mafia has used other names to describe itself throughout its history, such as "The Honoured Society". Mafiosi are known among themselves as "men of honour" or "men of respect".

Cosa Nostra should not be confused with other mafia-type organisations in Italy, such as the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria, the Camorra in Campania, or the Sacra Corona Unita in Apulia.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Raab, Selwyn (May 13, 2014). Five Families: The Rise, Decline and Resurrection of America's Most power Mafia Empire (1at ed.). Thomas Dunne Books. p. 13. ISBN 978-0312361815. 
  2. This etymology is based on the books Mafioso by Gaia Servadio, The Sicilian Mafia by Diego Gambetta, and Cosa Nostra by John Dickie (see Books below).
  3. Gambetta, The Sicilian Mafia. pp. 259-261.
  4. John Follain (8 Jun 2009). The Last Godfathers. Hachette UK. ISBN 9781848942493. "Even the origin of the word 'mafia' remains obscure. Some believe its roots lie in the Arab domination of Sicily from 827 to 1061 and the Arabic word mahias (daring) or Ma àfir (the name of a Saracen tribe)." 
  5. Henner Hess (1998). Mafia & Mafiosi: Origin, Power and Myth. NYU Press. p. 1. ISBN 9781863331432. 
  6. Gambetta, The Sicilian Mafia, p. 136.
  7. Lupo, The History of the Mafia, p. 3.

External linksEdit

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