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The Mafia refers to a group of people in the Southern Italian island of Sicily who partook in organized crimes. Today, Sicily serves as the main port in Italy and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. ‘Mafia’ is a word derived from the Arabic language which when translated means ‘refuge.’ The term was adopted by the Sicilians in the ninth century when Arabs occupied the island. The foreign rulers oppressed the natives, forcing them to labor on their estates. The same scene recurred when other invaders came after the Arabs. Some locals fled to the nearby hills in search of refuge and there, they formed their own society aimed at uniting the locals against their foreign rulers.
In the fifteenth century, the proper form of the Mafia emerged. Its members were armed persons that were supported and patronized by local landowners to safeguard their interests in the area. However, time saw the expansion of the group and the unification of various local groups at local levels. As evidenced in these groups mainly operated in rural areas and partook in anti-government activities including liquor trade, prostitution, kidnapping for ransom, murders, and gambling. The group preferred operating in rural areas because state authorities did not frequent rural regions. Members of the Mafia considered each other as family. They used physical force and illegal methods to achieve their goals. Members of the Mafia were bound by Omerta, an austere code of conduct that required all members to avoid cooperation and contact with the authorities. The members were collectively identified as “Mafioso.”
Because the Mafia was an organization ran in secret, all members were required to safeguard the secrets of the organization. The Mafia had an administrative structure which included Chiefs and Dons as the executive management. The Chefs headed towns and villages, and they were answerable to the Don of Dons. Before membership could be granted, members were required to take an oath. The oath Omerta required members to safeguard their fellow members as well as the secrets of the organization, even in cases of torture. Further, it required submission to the boss, no associations with government authorities, and help defending the Mafia. Throughout their lives, members were bound to obey the oath and cases of violations were met with death penalties.
Initially, the Mafia started out small, operation only at local levels. By the nineteenth century, it grew immensely and became a robust global association. Presently, the Mafia is a coalition of various local groups, each united by kinship and the Omerta code, which requires complete secrecy about Mafia activities and total submission to the hierarchical Mafia authority. According to , the Mafia manly targets the government and officials of the countries in which they operate. The Mafia functions as a parallel government, working under its own regulations and rules. Individuals within the Mafia intimidate the wealthy locals to gain monetary benefits. The intimidation involves handing Black Notes to the wealthy citizens as a respectful and sophisticated way to receive money in exchange for their safety. If the gesture is declined, it is followed by severe threats, acts of harassment, murder, kidnapping, and bombing.
Sometimes, individuals within the Mafia occupied governmental seats usually by forcing and terrorizing the public to vote for them. Member of the Mafia had connections in high places and had the authority to reorganize the political setup of an area whenever they pleased. This practice was instigated in 1876 by Don Raffaele Palizzolo when he wanted to occupy a position in government. He won because he intimidated voters by holding them at gunpoint, and once in office, he made arrangements for his partner Don Crispi to take up a parliamentary seat as Prime Minister of Sicily. After this act, director of the Bank of Sicily, Emanuel Notarbartolo, vowed to drive the Mafia out of the country. His vow saw his assassination in 1893, and Don Palizzolo assumed his seat. When Notarbartolo’s son sought justice for his father’s death, he succeeded in getting Palizzolo indicted; however, Palizzolo had a governmental control that was far-reaching, which guaranteed his freedom.
In the eighteenth century, the Mafia extended its reach to the United States and began its operations in America. The new operations facilitated the establishment of many local Mafias in different states. The twentieth century was a period that saw the establishment of a Mafia chapter in each American city. New York was run by two of the most powerful Mafia gangs, Salvatore Maranzano and Joe Masseria. They were popularly recognized as the “Mustache Petes.”
The modern-day Mafia is not restricted to Italy alone. Now, it is an international organization of criminals operating in several countries around the world including Japan, Russia, and the United States. These Mafias are still united by oath.
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