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Cosa Nostra: The Genesis and Culture of the Sicilian Mafia

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David Hicks

on 20 November 2012

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Transcript of Cosa Nostra: The Genesis and Culture of the Sicilian Mafia

Cosa Nostra: The Genesis and Culture of the Sicilian Mafia What is the "Mafia?" Not even the "experts" agree Various definitions have been offered from a variety of disciplines - anthropologists, historians, sociologists, criminologists, economists and various other social scientists have attempted to give a single definition. No single theory totally agrees or gives the complete picture. "The Mafia Spirit" An almost sentimental definition of "mafia" The mafia defined as a set of attributes deeply ingrained into the life and culture of Sicilians. Mafia as a worldview in which each individual provides for the care and protection of his own family, without any help from "outsiders." Giuseppe Pitrè Sicilian ethnographer, folklorist, professor "Mafia is neither a sect nor an association, it has no regulations or statutes. The mafioso is not a thief or a criminal. Mafia is the awareness of one's own being, an exaggerated notion of one's own individual strength...The mafioso is someone who always wants to give and receive respect. If someone offends him, he does not turn to the law." (1889) No recognition of the Mafia as a formally structured organization. Pitrè - Preferred by Mafiosi Became a "talisman" for Sicilian gangsters - even quoted in open court by those put on trial. Luciano Leggio Based on respect, self-reliance, and close-knit familial and community ties. Used by mafiosi to rationalize their actions and justify the existence of organizations. Jane C. Schneider & Peter T. Schneider Cultural and Political Economy in Western Sicily Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo Ph.D, Professor of Anthropology at CUNY Ph.D, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Fordham University Anton Blok Professor Emeritus of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam The Mafia of a Sicilian Village Methodology:
Two and a half years of fieldwork (June-November 1961 & April 1965-June 1967) in the western Sicilian village of "Genuardo"
Studied the village and its history - economically, agriculturally, politically - to get a full picture of the development of Genuardo.
Documented the stories of relatives of early mafiosi as well as collected information from lifelong residents of the village.
Combined with historical documents and police records to get a full picture of the development of the mafia. "Genuardo" Village of Contessa Entellina 50 miles south of Palermo
~2,500 inhabitants at the time, including 500 migrant laborers
Agriculture-based Gabelloti Unleashed For centuries, Sicilian estates were owned by absentee aristocracy
Wealthy landowners, controlling vast areas of land, lived in Palermo
Employed private armies, lead by gabelloti, to control the land
Cultivated, leased, and policed the estates Failure of the State 1860: Sicily annexed as part of the unified state of Italy
Unified Italian state remains fragile
State failed to monopolize the use of physical force in much of Sicily 1812: Bourbon and British abolition of feudalism - Absentee aristocracy release the large private armies they used to control land
New land becomes a valuable commodity
Gabelloti become landowners
Market develops for those in the business of offering "protection" to landowners
Gabelloti and former private armies fill this void as well

“Quite unintentionally, Bourbon legislation aided the rise of a new and powerful landed gentry rather than promoting the emergence of a class of smallholders engaged in efficient cultivation.”
“Those who did not move to Palermo permanently became the dominant figures in the local power structure.” Mafia steps in and exploits through its own use of violence
"...made successful incursions into the still fragile framework of the State, and thus forced formal authority to come to terms with them pragmatically. This collusion provided the large landowners with increasing leverage, especially on the local level." “For it is only in the context of the advent and impact of the State that we can understand and appropriately speak of mafia.” “Mafiosi disregard both and act in connivance with those who represent formal law, thus validating their private control of the community’s public life.” "Violent Peasant Entrepreneurs" Local cliques formed with the goal of gaining access to and control over local resources - obtained via violent means Developed as the result of centuries of misrule and neglect at the hands of foreign conquerors - Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, French, British Based on familial and, even more importantly, local friendship ties
"friends of friends"
Blok observed how important local friendship ties were in Genuardo
Friendship in Sicily is "instrumental rather than emotional"
Anyone doing a favor for another is referred to as a "friend" Structured use of Violence
State does not have a monopoly on use of violence, so they fill the void
Blok observed the use of violence and intimidation as part of the regional culture
Those with the capacity to coerce and use violence were respected
"Men of respect" Mafiosi as political brokers/middlemen
Through private use of violence, controlled the links between the local village and the outside world
Assume many state-like functions "Despite the century-long debate about what really defines the Mafia, the only commonly agreed upon identifying characteristic is that the Mafia exists to make profits illegally." - Raimondo Catanzaro Modern Conception All of the above definitions have some degree of applicability. Mafia Defined - Today An association of criminal groups sharing a common history, structure, and code of conduct Named Cosa Nostra
Translated as "our thing" or "this thing of ours" Individual groups are known as families/clans/cosca Each cosca maintains sovereignty over their own territory - usually the village, neighborhood, or city from which its members hail
Sometimes have sovereignty over individual rackets All coscas are a part of Cosa Nostra as a whole
Sometimes come together to form superordinate bodies to resolve disputes and encourage cooperation
The Cupola (Commission) "The word 'mafia' is a literary creation, while the true mafiosi are simply called men of honor. Each of them belongs to a borgata [neighborhood] and he is a member of a family...As a whole this association is called Cosa Nostra." - Tommaso Buscetta Initiation Ceremony Accounts of mafia initiation rituals date back to 1877 Rural phenomenon - only later moved to the cities All aspiring members must undergo the initiation ritual to become full members of Cosa Nostra. Many local variants, but testimony from informers confirm the similarities among rituals Three Main Stages:
1) Presentation of the candidate by a member to the whole group
2) Description of the Cosa Nostra and its basic rules
3) Swearing of the oath by the aspiring member Referred to as being "made," "baptized," "inducted" Being Made Highly Symbolic:
Pricking of the finger represents a blood oath
Only through blood can one enter or leave Cosa Nostra
Burning of the saint lends religious symbolism
Many ceremonies have a gun and knife in the room
"You live by the gun and knife and you die by the gun and knife." Described by those who underwent the initiation as momentous
Antonino Calderone: "One of the most important events in my life" Omertà Cultural attitude and code of honor centered on a "code of silence" Size of Cosa Nostra According to Chief Prosecutor of Palermo:
~95 Cosa Nostra families in Sicily
3,500-4,000 full ("made") members Prohibits cooperation with state authorities Avoid interference in other people's business No informing of criminal activity to the authorities concerning crimes witness, committed, or a victim of All members of Cosa Nostra vow to obey omertà during their initiation
Code of Silence - never reveal any of the secrets of Cosa Nostra
No cooperation with police/authorities
Violation of omertà is punishable by death Expectation that one will handle their own problems, without reliance on the authorities or outside assistance Omertà Blok: Omertà in Genuardo Experienced omertà as a person being respected for keeping silent of "crimes" witnessed, suffered, or committed
Men of the village who followed omertà were denoted as "honorable" and "respectable"
Mafiosi = "Men of Respect" Schneider & Schneider: Omertà in Villamura Found the code was prevalent in the village as a whole
Sign of weakness and cowardice to obtain satisfaction for a wrong via courts of law
Mafia exploited this common attitude - "...it dulled the sharp edge of naked power and legitimated their demands."
Made it seem honorable to victims/unwilling accomplices to remain silent, rather than cooperate with authorities Pitrè: Anyone who "grassed on" others was not only "materially lost" but also "morally lost." Secrecy Tied to omertà
Cosa Nostra is a secret society - no revealing any information, even its existence
No mention of Cosa Nostra matters, even to true family members Defense Strategy
Less public attention concerning actions means less public outcry and police inquiries
"Mafia Association" is a crime in Italy
Can be sentenced to prison without proof of any other crime Subsequent police investigations and judicial inquiries have provided further information supplement definitions. Reformed Cosa Nostra members (pentito) have testified as to the structure, makeup, and activities of the organization. Members required to act with self-control and self-discipline
Prohibitions on drunkenness and drug-use - concerned that drugs may lead one to talk too much Members taught to downplay their own status as "men of honor" to avoid drawing attention Introductions Elaborate recognition system noted as early as 1875
"Toothache" conversation Modern: Third-Party Introductions
A mafioso is prohibited from introducing himself to another mafioso, even if both men know of each other by reputation.
A third party, who is also made, that personally knows the two must introduce them to each other as "friends of ours" or "he is the same as us"
A non-member is simply referred to as "friend of mine" Another defense strategy
Keeps others from masquerading as members
Undercover law enforcement cannot penetrate the organization Etymology In early Sicilian dialect, "mafioso" roughly translated as "bold" or "cool" "Mafioso" did not gain criminal connotations until the 1863 production of a play in the Sicilian dialect
I mafiusi di la Vicaria ("The Mafiosi of Vicaria Prison")
Myth of a "good mafia" Mythical Origins: Sicilian Vespers
"Morte Alla Francia, Italia Avanti" ("Death to France, Italy Forward!")
Discarded by historians - still perpetuated by mafiosi First found in Palermo police report in 1865 - thereafter was in common usage
Much debate on what the term actually meant/means Culture and Political Economy in Western Sicily Field work in western Sicily from 1965-1967 and summers of 1968 and 1971. Village of "Villamaura"
In the province of Agrigento, near the southwest corner of the island
Population ~7,500
Densely settled urban center of shops, houses public buildings
Surrounded virtually uninhabited countryside that is a source of work The Rise of the Mafia Identify the same land distribution factors as Blok Point to the unification of Italy as momentous in the rise of the Mafia
Controlled by "northern Italian bourgeoisie," who had to mobilize resources to fuel northern industrial growth
Thus, chose to simply come to terms with vested power interests in Sicily and southern Italy rather than challenge them The vested power interests were the "rural entrepreneurs" that controlled land and protection in Sicily
Mafia originated as an organizational and ideological response to these conditions
Actually favored by the state because their support was needed Rural Entrepreneurs Rural entrepreneurs with vested economic interests that arose from agricultural exports
Creature of broker capitalism
"Most, if not all, of the first mafiosi were rural entrepreneurs." Differ from Blok:
Political role is secondary - only involved in politics to protect economic interests Point out that the Mafia was originally a phenomenon of western Sicily
Eastern of half the island had less absentee aristocracy
Retained more direct control over land after feudalism
EX: Mafia did not reach eastern port city of Catania until 1925
Still today heavily concentrated in provinces of Palermo, Trapani and Agrigento "Violent and parasitic 'businessman's fraternity'" Note a pastoral, arms-bearing subculture in western Sicily Sicilian commitment to hospitality and friendship as instruments of commerce are co-opted by the Mafia
Friendship is the most important tie between members
Call each other "glie amici" (the friends) or "amici degli amici" (friends of the friends) Heavy on kinship ties among members
Create fictive kinship ties between members - coparenthood
Refer to each other as "compare" and "godfather" Schneider v. Blok Agree with Blok:
Identify same forces of land reform and unification as propelling Mafia development Also serve as an "act of institution" (Pierre Bourdieu) where a new member is granted a new identity
Now called a "man of honor" and assumes all the rights and duties associated with this new status Absolute Subordination All aspects of a mafioso's life are automatically subordinated to his Cosa Nostra membership
Even intimate details/relationships (e.g., marriage) Blood kinship is secondary to duties to the cosca
If a cosca decides to kill the relative of a member, that member must accept the decision without any resentment
Close relative may even be entrusted with carrying out The word of superiors in the cosca is supreme
Any orders that are given are to be obeyed without any consideration for personal physical security or possible imprisonment Disobeying orders of superiors can lead to death and/or other punishment Initiates agree to this during the induction ceremony
Antonino Calderone: "One cannot abandon, cannot betray, the Cosa Nostra, because it's above everything. It comes before your father and your mother. And before your wife and your children." Calogero Ganci Filippo La Rosa Violence "In fact the practice of violence is rewarded by the attainment of greater economic fortune, and in the culture this relationship between violence and the accumulation of wealth is socially accepted." - Raimondo Catanzaro Accepted by members as the only way to maintain discipline/order Blok: Found a society in which private recourse to violence was not only accepted, but encouraged
"...violence was prescribed in those situations where people sought to get their claims to honor and power ultimately recognized."
Again, blames lack of central authority controlling the use of violence Reputation for Violence
Often enough to force compliance Activities Narcotics Trafficking Gambling Loan Sharking Construction/Big Rigging Smuggling (clothes, cigarettes, weapons, food) Politics/Influence Peddling FORBIDDEN: Prostitution, Kidnapping (usually) The glue that holds the whole structure together Completely independent/separate organization from the American Mafia/Cosa Nostra
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