The mafia, internationally known for their cloak and dagger activities and reputation for secretive crime, has a more in depth and surprising history than the average onlooker would think. Although no exact history can be traced to the mafia and their crimes, throughout the years people have come forward and recounted the tales of horror that the mafia brings to the surrounding areas. Through these stories and encounters, we are able to piece together a rough outline of the actual terror that has occured. The public has now become aware of how the mafia got started, how they maintained power, the control they have within society, and much more.
The mafia originated in Sicily, Italy at the time of the shift away from feudalism, where a portion (approximately 20%) of the land was taken from the wealthy and elite and given back to the poor of the country. From this drastic change in the economy and power, it left many unstable in all facets of their life. Since the previous owners of the land were those who had money and power, they were able to afford private protection of their properties, and a drastic need for safety from the government wasn’t overly needed. After the shift from feudalism, many, including the poor who had just obtained land, were not able to provide the security they needed to protect themselves and their goods. The rise of theft and chaos pursued and began the start of one of the largest criminal organizations, which has come to be known as the mafia.
Although the term mafia was used for the “cultural attitude and form of power” (John Dickie – Cosa Nostra_ A History of the Sicilian Mafia (2005).pdf) tied to sicilian gangs it has now become something much more. The term has blossomed into all gangs and organized groups that produce similar trades. What the Sicilian mafia excelled in, was the areas the government lacked and therefore paved the way into the group that we all now know and talk about. Instead of having the necessary protection for people through the government, such as police and law, Sicily went amuck with corruption. The token which made the Sicilian mafia so powerful, and solidified their position in the economy, was their influence in the classes by gaining power and money through murder. The mafia was able to work for both sides of the coin, both the good – the honest people, and the bad – the thieves and crooks of the area. For example “the mafia was protecting the both the thieves of cars and the car owners.”(John Dickie – Cosa Nostra_ A History of the Sicilian Mafia (2005). The mafia soon became a necessity of life. If you weren’t in connection with the mafia in some sort, you, more often times than not, struggled and were targeted – both from those trying to hurt you and those in the mafia who wanted you to cooperate with them. They had become the new governing body in a sense.
The fast growth of the organization was due to smart tactics of entering different markets. “The more violent and profitable the market, the more likely the mafia will enter since they have imitation behind them.” (John Dickie – Cosa Nostra_ A History of the Sicilian Mafia (2005). This included, but is by no means limited to construction fraud, tobacco smuggling, dealing with counterfeits, robbery, drugs, government, and any way they could profit off of those below them – the population of sicily .
From the total population, roughly 70% of people pay towards the mafia ( ‘Le mani della criminalità sulle imprese (The grip of criminality on enterprises). confesercenti.it. November 2008. p. 17. Arcjust for protection alone. This includes different ways of doing so: protection from theft, from competition, of their territories, and of their relations to the mafia. This form of work through the mafia is extremely common, especially with the current economy, and the struggle for those to find work.
Another area of expertise the mafia exhibits is through their underground work of rigging. This usually gets the most publicity because it ties in with public officials and the police who are commonly in the spotlight for their role in society. The mafia works within governments, helps with smugglings, rigs votes and bids, and works with loans. From the outside, looking into Sicily or the neighboring countries, one would not expect to find ties to corruption until they found themselves centered in the corruption. It is difficult for those who have never experienced this firsthand to consider the impact that this has on day-to-day life, but those living within the Mafia’s zone of influence are all to familiar.
Take for example the 2008 Italian Crime-Drama film Gomorrah which highlights the Mafia’s influence in the daily life of everyday people. In the film, the audience is exposed to a number of dealings within a smaller familial sect of the Mafia. An excellent example from the film regarding the influence on the Mafia’s dealings in daily life is their control over a local waste processing plant. The audience finds a farmer and his family that are at their wit’s end to clear themselves of a deep debt. In an effort to do so, they accept money from the Mafia for the right to dump toxic waste illegally on their land. Clearly, this is a fictional example presented in a film but provides a more realistic taste of the criminal undertakings of the Mafia as opposed to the flashy gunslinging depictions in pop culture.
In a similar sense, it would not be impossible to associate certain political policies to the Mafia’s influence. Limiting restrictions on certain industries that prove profitable to the Mafia or using political power to strangle businesses that do not provide a certain cash flow to these criminal organizations allows the mafia to operate in a more “hands off” matter, thereby freeing up manpower for the group and allowing them to focus time and energy on other things that they are unable to change through government policy alone.
Although the group has been tied to many areas of profit and cash flow, they still don’t gain much through direct trade. Much of the money the group and clans make easily gets spent through a number of bumps that might occur. These include, but are not limited to, the of persuasion of lawyers, judges, police, politicians, labor, journalists, or anyone who can truly help the group from crumbling within society, as evidenced within this study. From the constant need of supporting a personal family, to the clan family, to paying off the surrounding society, a life within the mafia society becomes a slippery slope — one oftentimes people feel they cannot leave.
“The Mafia hasn’t changed from their roots, it has only adapted to the new ways of living.”(John Dickie – 14) mafia has become ingrained in our society – both the ones locally and abroad. We no longer seem phased at the horrors that happen, or how some people and their businesses need the crutch of the mafia to even survive their daily lives.
From television and movies, we are given an idea of what the mafia is. It is an organization that has control of a territory where they come in and run businesses, sell drugs, and help those looking to stay out of trouble. Our perspective on the group is close to fictional as we tie them to those of characters from popular film. It is, in truth, a much deeper and darker web of crime tied so closely to things that affect everyday people in almost every facet of their lives.
- Dickie, John. Cosa Nostra: a History of the Sicilian Mafia. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
- ‘Le mani della criminalità sulle imprese (The grip of criminality on enterprises)’ (PDF) (in Italian). confesercenti.it. November 2008. p. 17. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-03-04.^) ju