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Sicily: Customs and Lifestyle

Sicily: Customs and Lifestyle

Besides their love for food, their exaggerated movements, their wild driving, thought to be common to all Italians,  the Sicilians have some other traits of their own.


The various hands which this fabulous island has passed through over the centuries could not  but leave their indelible mark.
Sticking to traditions like the Palermitans, or tending to follow the changes in the world, like the Catanians, are two counterparts of the same islander. According to the Italians from the peninsula, Sicilians are traditional, distrustful, impassive, god-fearing, self-assured, sociable and thoughtful..and have a wicked sense of humour.
It could be said that university cities gather a population leading liberal lives more open to changes than those in the countryside.

Public arena and behind the curtains

Family and friends are a core part of a Sicilian life… being faithful to them and respected is of real importance.
Good dress sense, appearance and sticking to social and religious conventions are also vital aspects.
A man’s main interest is to show he can support his family, move the family upwards in the echelons of society, help them obtain jobs, and any other opportunities by means of his connections to Mafia in a social mechanism known as social patronage.

Expectations of women

Women are expected to lead lives accepting being protected and let their lives be guided by her male relatives. This opinion of what a woman should be like has finally started to change in the last two decades of the 20th century. Nowadays Sicilian women have more opportunity to get a complete education, even at university level.
Women’s rights have been promoted and defended by Archidonna since the 80s, including women in business and politics. Also, in the last two decades rape became an official crime written into the law.
Many books and films depict the conditions women in Sicily have lived in. If you want a greater insight try:

Malèna by Giuseppe Tornatore
Divorzio all’’italiana staring Marcello Mastroianni
On Persephone’s Island by Mary Taylor Simeti
Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb

Religious code

There is a strong following of the Roman Catholic Church in Sicily, contrasting with peninsular Italy. A treaty originally made Catholicism the official religion of Italy. It was changed when in the 80s the treaty was revoked and religious education became optional. Two sanctuaries on the island are big draws for the Sicilians: Santuario della Madonna at Tyndaris, and the one at Gibilmanna.
In inland villages faith and superstition combine, in contrast to young city dwellers who rarely follow their ancestors’ religious codes.
Entering a Sicilian church has its restrictions: bare shoulders are prohibited, as well as short skirts and shorts.

Native population drain and immigration

The real rate of unemployment reaches in Sicily 28 %. African, Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigration taking the lowest paid jobs and the need for young people to have the best “entry form” to open the door to a job account for so much emigration every year (around 10,000 a year).

Cosa Nostra

Maybe originated in mu’afah (from Arabic “place of refuge”), or mahjas (boasting), what is certain is that mafiosi referred to an icon of elegance, pride and independence. In the 1400s when even the nobles had had little chance to make profits, they had to introduce modifications in their estates by pushing rural population into town to improve the effectiveness of crop growth. Nobles left their properties to live in cities and their bailiffs were in charge of rent collection. They had the help of some peasants who hold guns and erased any kind of problem,…called mafiosi.
These mafiosi turned to robbery and authorities did not control them for fear.
In the meanwhile peasants feared yet looked up to them as mafiosi represented their way of fighting the feudal nobility. Peasants thereby  kept quiet …the Cosa Nostra.
Only in 1982 did the Mafia become a legal term.
To say that the Mafia organization is  devotedly religious sounds fairly impossible to believe. Yet it is now known that there are basic rules that a mafiosi has to fulfill to belong, such as being respectful of wives, being truthful, and keeping hands away from other families’ money.

Post war Mafia

After the Second World War the Mafia laid its hands on towns. It immediately took over the building industry. In the 50s there was an agreement between the American and Sicilian Mafia to start on the drug business.
In the 60s and 70s drug trafficking was so lucrative that many members of the families died while fighting for their area to earn more than others.
In 1982 when General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa was sent by the Italian government to head the anti-Mafia organization he was assassinated. It open new strength against the force of the Mafia.
In the super trial of 1986 347 main mafiosi were convicted. In the meanwhile even ordinary people started to talk about the Mafia and reveal the secrets of the organization´s functioning.
When Totò Riina, the top mafiosi, was captured in 1993, he was charged with the magistrates Giovanni and Paolo Borsellino’s death.

The daring ones against the Mafia

The first activities against the Mafia were carried out in the last decades of the 19th century.
Left wing members drifting from the Socialist and Communist parties became main activists in the anti-Mafia organization. In this decade Giuseppe Impastato who had a radio show in which he ridiculed the mafiosi was murdered, even though he himself was the son of a mafiosi. Later on came General Carlo Alberto dalla Chiesa’s assassination. Educators, politicians and priests also became crusaders of this movement.
In the 80s Leoluca Orlando, mayor of Palermo, encouraged the arrest of Mafia members and agreements to prevent public contracts from being given to the Mafia families. After his office he continued with an organization against Mafia, “the Network”.
Even ordinary people helped this movement by putting up posters with slogans and anti mafia phrases, shopkeepers made a league to face extortions. The organization Libera strived and got the Italian government to give it the land taken by the mafiosi to create legal agricultural entrepreneurs. The Catholic church became involved in the issue and some of its members helped the crusade.
At administration level in Gela there was a dismissal of people related to Mafia.

Contemporary Mafia

Beginning with the arrest of Riina in 1993, new convictions have taken top mafiosi to jail. Members such a s Leoluca Bagarella, Giovanni Brusca, Vito Vitale, Mariano Troia, Salvatore Sciarabba, Bernardo Provenzano and Salvatore lo Piccolo ended up in jail. From this, it is impossible to conclude that the Mafia has been finally erased …but important steps to undermine its organization have certainly been made.
There is still some fear of the members who left Sicily in the wars between bands in the 80s returning and realizing the much feared threat.
At present, Mafia members even belong to the most respected echelons of society with positions of power and a kind of Mafia ha appeared which is even more deeply hidden. Even though a Sicilian can get a legal contract, the mafiosi will tell him where and how to operate and push for payment of a pizzo (money in exchange for protection). It has been established that the Mafia earns annually about 10 % of national GDP, part of which is amassed thanks to the pizzo. Addiopizzo is a campaign to unite businesses who have agreed not to pay pizzo anymore.
Small but secure steps in the battle against the organization which has lasted centuries on the island have been made. There is much to be done yet the achievements are valuable.