A Lost Family of Honor

The True Story
In 1282, the French Angevins "held a tight grip on Sicily," and a secret society arose to defeat this oppressive organization. The battle cry of this rebellious group was:  
"morte alla Francia Italia anelia!" (Italian for "death to the French is Italy's cry!"),  
and if the first letters of the verse are taken, the anagram MAFIA is deciphered.  

The word  Mafia was first published in 1862 in a play by Giuseppe Rizzuto, called "I Mafiosi della Vicaria"  (The Mafia in the Vicarage") about a secret criminal group in the prisons of Palermo.  
In Sicily, the word mafia tends to mean "manly", and is often applied to someone without necessarily meaning they were a criminal. Sicily has had to adapt to numerous invasions: Arabs in the ninth century, Norman's in the 11th century, French in the 12th, Spanish in the 15th, as well as invasions by the Germans, Austrians and Greeks.  

Secret societies in the hills were needed to resist foreign rulers. These societies were formed not only to try and defeat the French rulers but also to protect and feed the Italian families in the villages of Palermo and surrounding areas. Since most of the villagers were related, each village picked a member to head their family.  These heads of families were called (capodecina or capos for short). The capodecina would pick men from the village to take with him to the hills.  Before the men left for the hills they would have to pledge their loyalty, support and Omertá . The oath in English sounded like this:  

"I (NAME GIVEN) want to enter into this secret organization to protect my family and to protect my brothers. ""morte alla Francia Italia anelia!" With my blood. (A knife is used to place a cut on the right index finger or hand) and the blood of all the saints, and the souls of my children.  
(The sign of the cross is made) I swear not to divulge this secret and to obey with love and omerta. I enter alive into this organization and leave it only in death."  

Once safe in the hills, all the capodecina's would get together and pick someone to be in charge of all the members of this secret society. The head of all the members was called (Capo di tutti capi) the boss of all the families.  Food was scarce, conditions deplorable, the French controlled everything and if you didn't do what the French Angevins wanted, they would torture and kill you. The members of the society would raid supplies and weapons from the French and distribute their wares throughout the villages. They had to operate in complete secrecy. This was necessary to protect the members and their families from torture. This was an honorable society in the fact that you had to believe totally in the cause and be willing to die to protect the members. The villagers also respected and honored the soldiers from the hills. They knew there was a chance for freedom from the French but only if they remained silent about their fellow Italians in the hills.  
Joining the society is like joining a religion. It is a lifetime commitment, stronger than any ties to other religions, state or even family. You cannot retire from it. This society has survived through centuries, it is secret and only members know other members. No one would ever admit to being a member nor tell you who other members are. That would violate Omertá and be punishable by death.  
Throughout the centuries the leaders and soldiers have changed the society, some for the better, some for the worst. The men from the hills once stole to feed and protect their families and friends. They were very good at it. So good, they ended up with more food and supplies then they could ever use. In order to get things that they could not steal; they traded with mainland Italy and other countries. This was the start of the black market. The society has always been a powerful force in Italy.  
Not everyone in the society is a criminal nor are all Italians in the society.  

What Americans call Mafia in this country, is believed to be started by Don Vito Cascio Ferro, who fled to New York following the murder of banker Emanuele Notarbartolo in Sicily, in 1893. More society members fled to America during the 1920's, when Mussolini attempted to eradicate the Mafia in Sicily. When the Allies liberated Italy in World War II, they freed anti Mussolini prisoners, including many society members. Some were installed in positions of power, and thus began to interweave politics and organized crime in Italy. The society moved from the rural hills to the cities of Sicily.  The Sicilians have developed co-operative agreements with other secret Italian societies, the Camorra and Ndrangheta, but remain the controlling organization. The Sicilians are flexible and can work with many nationalities. The major threat to the Sicilians and the society is their own periodic bloodletting feuds. If the society that was called Mafia in the 12th century was alive and well today; there would not be a need for government programs. All would prosper. Italians need to look close at their families and friends. There is no Mafia, it does not exist anymore, but there is a chance for Italians to work together with their families and friends to make life better and more prosperous.  

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