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Carabiniers advance through the orange groves; and thus reminded that he is indeed on the soil of United Italy, he asks his informant half indignantly, if there be no redress for such outrages, or justice capable of reaching their perpetrators. And the answer in the negative will probably be given-for here is the most disheartening part of Signor Franchetti's revelations--either with a fatalist acquiescence in the régime of violence as inevitable, or with an openly avowed satisfaction in its triumph.
The complicity of the bulk of the population in the existing order of things—the moral, not less than the material supremacy of organised iniquity—the sanction by the popular voice of rapine, extortion, and assassination-are what make the re-establishment of public order almost hopeless, and the position of the legal authorities in the island as desperate as that of a handful of invaders encamped in a hostile country. The utmost they can do is to hold their position, and the limit of their ambition is to save appearances by an occasional raid on some comparatively harmless stragglers from the main body of crime.
Many causes combine to make Palermo and its neighbourhood the principal focus of disturbance. The predominance of the Arab and African race in the north-western corner of Sicily has no doubt contributed to the absence in its inhabitants of all repugnance to the shedding of blood. Also the descendants of the numerous bravos whom the nobles resident at Palermo formerly kept in their train, preserve the family traditions of violence; while the numbers of that floating population without regular means of subsistence, to be found in every capital, were enormously increased at the Revolution of 1860, both by the removal of government offices and the closing of the convents—formerly a source of employment, as well as a fountain-head of alms. A metropolis is a sort of personification, in an intensified form, of the country whose tendencies it concentrates, and the spirit of the whole of Sicily is but too faithfully represented by the Mafia, the most characteristic institution of Palermo.
This term, of such formidable significance, deserves a few words of explanation.
The Mafia is the spontaneous organisation of those whose trade is crime, not a sect or secret society any more than the highwaymen of Hounslow in former days, or the pickpockets of St. Giles' and Whitechapel in our own.
Every one of the 360 communes of Sicily has its own Mafia, of which the character varies according to local tendencies and interests. 1o
VOL. CXLV. NO. CCXCVIII.
one place its energies are devoted to the conduct of the elections and the manipulation of the ballot-box; in another, to directing, by means of a camorra, the sale of church and crown lands; in a third, to the apportionment of contracts for public works. Where the legitimate authorities are amenable, as they commonly are, these objects are effected without scandal or violence; but the ultima ratio of bullets is well understood to be ready in the background. The Mafia of Palermo is, however, pre-eminent in numbers as well as in power. Those belonging to, or in immediate relations with it-the mafiosi as they are called—may be distinguished from the less dangerous part of the population by the swagger of their gait, the curt jargon of their speech, the rakish set of the hat, and the long lock of hair, which, after the manner of the old-fashioned bravo, they wear hanging over the left eye. Of them, with still more forcible truth than of the 'poor Egyptian '-Cleopatra's messenger-Cæsar might say,
“The business of these men looks out of them.' By a singular anomaly, the middle class—that very class, of which the absence is deplored in the rest of Sicily as the absence of an element of order-forms in Palermo the chief strength of the Mafia. Its proverbial virtues of prudence, industry, and foresight are here exercised in the calling of crime. The so-called Capi-mafia are men of substance and education. To them is due the consummate ability with which the affairs of their association are managed—the unity of direction, precision of purpose, and fatality of stroke. They determine with unerring tact all the nice points of their profession; in what cases life must be taken, and in what others the end in view can be attained by mere destruction of property ; when an important capture is to be effected, when a threatening letter sent, or a shot of persuasion 'fired; when it is advisable to suspend operations, and when to inspire terror by increased ferocity. By them relations are maintained with government offices through agents in Rome, whose intrigues are generally successful in obtaining the dismissal or removal of obnoxious officials ; so that complicity with crime is an almost necessary condition of permanence in any responsible position.
Although not itself a sect, the Mafia contains within its elastic bosom an indefinite number of illegal societies, in the strictest acceptation of the term-societies, criminal in aim, with regular constitutions, rules of admission, and penal statutes. Among those whose organisation has recently been
brought to light and attacked are those of the Mulini and of the Posa. The first is an association of millers, ostensibly for the legal purpose of collecting the grist-tax, but, in point of fact, with the illegal object of keeping the price of flour at an artificially high standard by means of a monopoly acquired and retained by violence. Strange to say, this society, which aims so directly at the vital interests of the people, is not unpopular in Palermo; and that populace, which had so often in times past risen in clamorous sedition because of the high price of bread, left the authorities unsupported in their recent efforts to reduce it to its natural level. The society of the Posa is closely connected with that of the Mulini, and has the ostensible form of an association for mutual assistance of the workmen employed in mills, and the carters occupied in transporting corn. Its real objects are manifold, and its members are the ready tools of the Capi-mafia. By means of a tax levied on master millers and corn brokers a regular income is secured to the society, which thus has its hands free to meddle in the affairs of others. It prescribes tenants for the olive and almond groves of the Golden Shell, and the vineyards on the last slopes of the mountains of Neptune ; it stands behind the auctioneer at public sales to fix the price and the purchaser of each lot; nay, it acts the grotesque part of peacemaker, composing differences in families, and procuring pensions for neglected scions and poor relations of rich houses. The recalcitrant well know what to expect. Thus, open crime is but an occasional manifestation of the tenebrous intrigues which riddle the whole substance of society, and all the relations of life are modified by the ever-ready threat of bloodshed, at the unscrupulous pleasure of assassins.
No institution is really formidable, unless backed by some kind of moral force, and the Mafia is guaranteed by the omertà. This omertà (a local corruption of the word umiltà) is a code of honour which condemns as infamous all recourse to public justice, and is recognised as binding, under the sanction of firearms, by all classes of the population. In obedience to this principle, many a poor workman of Palermo cures his wounds or perishes of them secretly, rather than reveal the circumstances of the fray in which he suffered; or, if taken to a hospital, dies in Spartan silence and obstinate complicity with his murderer. A typical case is that of a rich Sicilian noble, who, as he was driving one day in the environs of Palermo, received from behind a wall a volley of twelve or fourteen musket-shots, and, with unparalleled good fortune, escaped unhurt. No one of the would-be assassins was discovered or brought to justice,
but all are believed to have perished within a few months. This code of private justice has all the force lent by a universal sentiment. Public opinion recognises but one crime, that of appealing to the law for protection or redress-public feeling condemns but one form of retaliation, that of carrying a wrong before a regularly constituted tribunal. Self-defence is justifiable, but it must be by private violence; vengeance praiseworthy, but only if executed by the hands of hired assassins; and a Sicilian proprietor would think himself as much dishonoured by denouncing to public justice the brigand who writes him a threatening letter, as an English gentleman would have felt, fifty years ago, by denouncing a challenge to the police. No Sicilian (unless by a rare exception) will give information to lead to the capture of a delinquent; juries can with difficulty be got to convict, witnesses can hardly be induced to testify; the assassin seems the next instant a harmless wayfarer, the brigands are transformed in a moment into peaceable peasants, the weapons reeking with the blood of the victim are buried or hidden away as soon as the authorities appear upon the scene, and no human being will acknowledge to having seen or heard what passed within a few
paces. The difficulty of Ireland fifty years ago, only with a hundred aggravating circumstances, is the difficulty of Sicily today ; for the differences which seem to make the case of Sicily less complex, serve in reality to render it more hopeless. Here are no distinctions of language, religion, or race; no line of demarcation can be drawn between the descendants of Roman and Carthaginian, Greek and Arab, Norman and Spaniard. Class wrongs and class hatreds there are indeed, in abundance; but all classes are unanimous in looking to a force outside the law—the proprietor for the enforcement of his tyranny, the peasant for relief from oppression, and vengeance for many a burning wrong
No more striking contrast can be imagined than that between the interior of Sicily and the maritime zone stretching from Palermo to Messina. From a region of admirable cultivation, where a lemon-grove of an acre and a half will yield a yearly profit of a hundred pounds sterling; where Indian figs, cool as a mouthful of snow in July, hang like berries on the hedge-rows; where the black twigs of the almond-trees whiten, in January, into blossoming sprays, like St. Joseph's rod in the Sanctuary; and the olive, in the words of Lorenzo de' Medici,
• In qualche dolce piaggia aprica,
Secondo il vento, par', or' verde, or bianca from blue glimpses of a shining sea, caught through the shining
foliage which shelters the perennial sweetness of the orangeblossom, we pass to a vast solitude, unvaried by a single tree, unbroken for leagues by one isolated homestead. Not even the broken arch of an aqueduct tells at least of man's former presence; only here and there a straw hut, more like a kennel or a pig-stye than a human habitation, serves to shelter at night the peasant who comes from afar to till the soil. His system of agriculture is primitive enough to have been in use among his Siculan ancestors. Pasture, grain, and tillage form the simple rotation of crops; the sun is the only fertilizer; a rude plough which scrapes through a palm's depth of soil is the principal implement; and thus the land of Ceres---the granary of the Roman Empire—now scantily nourishes its own population.
The whole of the interior of Sicily is divided into vast domains—the latifondi, or empty lands, held by the Barons or great proprietors, representatives of the ancient feudatories. Under them is a class of middle-men, called gabellotti, from the Arab word kabâla or gabâla, a promise or engagement, used in the sense of tax or impost; and these intermediaries parcel out their large holdings in minute lots amongst peasants--serfs in all but name, of the soil they cultivate. Life presents itself to these poor people under a very sombre aspect. The law seems to exist but to wrong them; taxes are levied only to oppress them; their landlords' sole care for them is to exact the last farthing from their necessities; and usury—the canker of Sicilian society--commonly represented by the landlord himself, lies in wait for their misery with a loan at 100 per cent. One characteristic instance of the spirit of the rich towards the poor is worth pages of declamation on the subject. At Modica, in the district of Syracuse, an old custom prescribed the payment of labourers' wages in corn.
But when, owing to a scarcity, the price of grain rose, three years ago, to an exorbitant height, the proprietors, by tacit or express agreement, arbitrarily changed the old system, and paid a money equivalent calculated at the former low value of corn. At the same time they drained the markets of which they practically monopolised the supply, by mercilessly closing their granaries until prices had risen to a still more extravagant standard. (Vol. ii. p. 177.)
What wonder if the brigand finds everywhere in the island adherents and allies ? Social obligations cannot be expected to weigh heavily with the Sicilian peasant, who, himself
sober, industrious, and relatively moral, is confronted by society in the guise of a rapacious master, and an exacting tax-gatherer,