Island Tanzania in Indian Ocean S of Zanzibar area 170 square miles (442 square kilometers).
(Informal) Any tightly knit group of trusted associates; SYN. maffia.
1. A crime syndicate in the United States; organized in families; believed to have important relations to the Sicilian Mafia; Also called: Maffia, Cosa Nostra.
2. A secret terrorist group in Sicily; originally opposed tyranny but evolved into a criminal organization in the middle of the 19th century; Also called: Maffia, Sicilian Mafia.
Secret society reputed to control organized crime such as gambling, loansharking, drug traffic, prostitution, and protection; connected with the Camorra of Naples. It originated in Sicily in the late Middle Ages and now operates chiefly there and in countries to which Italians have emigrated, such as the US and Australia. During the early 1990s many center and right-wing Italian politicians, such as the former Christian Democrat prime minister Giulio Andreotti, became discredited when it emerged that they had had dealings with the Mafia.
It began as a society that avenged wrongs against Sicilian peasants by means of terror and vendetta. In 19th-century Sicily the Mafia was employed by absentee landlords to manage their latifundia (landed estates), and through intimidation it soon became the unofficial ruling group. Despite the expropriation and division of the latifundia after World War II, the Mafia remains powerful in Sicily. The Italian government has waged periodic campaigns of suppression, notably 1927, when the Fascist leader Mussolini appointed Cesare Mori (1872–?) as prefect of Palermo. Mori’s methods were, however, as suspect as those of the people he was arresting, and he was fired 1929. A further campaign was waged 1963–64. The Calabrian mafia (known as the ’Ndrangeta) and the Camorra allegedly worked together in attempting to assassinate lawyers investigating the Mafia 1993–94. It was calculated 1992 that the Mafia was Italy’s biggest business, earning one out of every eight lire and accounting for 12% of national product.
The Mafia grew during Prohibition in the US. Main centers are New York, Las Vegas, Miami, Atlantic City, and Chicago. Organization is in “families”, each with its own boss, or capo. A code of loyalty and secrecy, combined with intimidation of witnesses, makes it difficult to bring criminal charges against its members. However, Al Capone was sentenced for federal tax evasion and Lucky Luciano was deported. Recent cases of the US government versus the Mafia implicated Sicilian-based operators in the drug traffic that plagues much of the Western world (the “pizza connection”). In 1992 John Gotti, reputedly head of the Gambino “family” of the Mafia, was convicted.
The Mafia, also known in the US as La Cosa Nostra (“our affair”) or the Mob, features frequently in fiction; for example, in the Godfather films from 1972 based on a book by Mario Puzo.