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The residents of this island, which measures almost 10,000 square feet, formed groups to protect themselves from the often-hostile occupying forces, as well as from other regional groups of Sicilians.
These groups, which later became known as clans or families, developed their own system for justice and retribution, carrying out their actions in secret.
Like the Sicilian Mafia, American Mafia families were able to maintain their secrecy and success because of their code of omerta, as well as their ability to bribe and intimidate public officials, business leaders, witnesses and juries.
For these reasons, law-enforcement agencies were largely ineffective at stopping the Mafia during the first part of the 20th century.
Raab notes that until the 19th century, the word “mafioso” did not refer to someone who was a criminal, but rather a person who was suspicious of central authority.In the 1860s, a play called “I Mafiusi della Vicaria” (“Heroes of the Penitentiary”), about a group of inmates at a Sicilian prison who maintained their own hierarchy and rituals, toured Italy and helped popularize the term Mafia in the Italian language.In 1861, Sicily became a province of recently unified Italy.The American Mafia, which rose to power in the 1920s, is a separate entity from the Mafia in Italy, although they share such traditions as omerta, a code of conduct and loyalty.For centuries, Sicily, an island in the Mediterranean Sea between North Africa and the Italian mainland, was ruled by a long line of foreign invaders, including the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, French and Spanish.