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This article is about criminal organizations commonly

and as a result the tribes name entered the popular
referred to as maas. For the criminal society in Sicily
lexicon. The word maa was used to refer to the
to which the name Maa was rst ascribed, see Sicilian
defenders of Palermo during the Sicilian Vespers.[6]
Maa. For the Italian American criminal organization
often referred to as simply the Maa, see American
Maa. For other uses, see Maa (disambiguation).
The publics association of the word with the criminal
secret society was perhaps inspired by the 1863 play I
A maa is a type of organized crime syndicate whose mausi di la Vicaria (The Maosi of the Vicaria) by
primary activities are protection racketeering, the arbi- Giuseppe Rizzotto and Gaetano Mosca. The words Maa
tration of disputes between criminals, and the organizing and mausi are never mentioned in the play; they were
and oversight of illegal agreements and transactions.[1] probably put in the title to add a local air. The play
Secondary activities may be practiced such as drug- is about a Palermo prison gang with traits similar to the
Maa: a boss, an initiation ritual, and talk of umirt"
tracking, loan sharking and fraud.
(omert or code of silence) and "pizzu" (a codeword for
The term was originally applied to the Sicilian Maa, but
extortion money).[7] The play had great success throughhas since expanded to encompass other organizations of
out Italy. Soon after, the use of the term maa began
similar methods and purpose, e.g. the Russian Maa,
appearing in the Italian states early reports on the phethe Japanese Maa, the Albanian Maa or Maltese
nomenon. The word made its rst ocial appearance in
Maa. The term is applied informally by the press and
1865 in a report by the prefect of Palermo, Filippo Anpublic; the criminal organizations themselves have their
tonio Gualterio.[8]
own terms (e.g. the Sicilian and American Maa call
themselves Cosa Nostra, the Mexican Maa calls itself
La Eme and the Japanese Maa calls itself yakuza).
When used alone and without any qualier, Maa typically refers to either the Sicilian Maa or the ItalianAmerican Maa.

2 Denitions
A formal denition of maa can be hard to come by.
The term was never ocially used by Sicilian maosi,
who prefer to refer to their organization as "Cosa Nostra".
Nevertheless, it is typically by comparison to the Sicilian
Maa that other criminal groups earn the label. The expansion of the term has not been welcomed by all scholars. Giovanni Falcone, an anti-Maa judge murdered by
the Sicilian Maa in 1992, objected to the conation of
the term Maa with organized crime in general:


The word maa originated in Sicily, though its origins

are uncertain. The Sicilian adjective mausu (in Italian:
maoso), roughly translated, means "swagger, but can
also be translated as boldness, bravado". In reference
to a man, mausu in 19th century Sicily was ambiguous,
signifying a bully, arrogant but also fearless, enterprising,
and proud, according to scholar Diego Gambetta.[2] In
reference to a woman, however, the feminine-form adjective mausa means beautiful and attractive.

While there was a time when people were

reluctant to pronounce the word Maa ...
nowadays people have gone so far in the opposite direction that it has become an overused
term ... I am no longer willing to accept the
habit of speaking of the Maa in descriptive
and all-inclusive terms that make it possible to
stack up phenomena that are indeed related to
the eld of organized crime but that have little
or nothing in common with the Maa.[9]
Giovanni Falcone, 1990

Sicily was once an Islamic emirate, therefore maa

might have Arabic roots. Possible Arabic roots of the
word include:
mahyas ( = )aggressive boasting, bragging
marfud ( = )rejected
mu'afa = safety, protection[3]
Ma r = the name of an Arab tribe[4] that ruled
Palermo.[5] The local peasants imitated these Arabs



Maas as private protection rms

American Maa

Sicilian Maa
Scholars such as Diego Gambetta[10] and Leopoldo
Franchetti have characterized the Sicilian Maa as a cartel of private protection rms, whose primary business
3.1 Italy
is protection racketeering: they use their fearsome reputation for violence to deter people from swindling, robOther Italian criminal organizations include:
bing, or competing with those who pay them for protection. For many businessmen in Sicily, they provide an
Camorra, operating in the region of Campania
essential service when they cannot rely on the police and
judiciary to enforce their contracts and protect their prop 'Ndrangheta in Calabria
erties from thieves (this is often because they are engaged
in black market deals). Scholars have observed that many
Sacra Corona Unita in Apulia
other societies around the world have criminal organiza Stidda and Cosa Nostra in Sicily
tions of their own that provide essentially the same protection service through similar methods.
For instance, in Russia after the collapse of Communism, 3.2 Other countries
the state security system had all but collapsed, forcing
businessmen to hire criminal gangs to enforce their con Aboriginal-based organized crime
tracts and protect their properties from thieves. These
African-American gangs, including
gangs are popularly called the Russian Maa by foreigners, but they prefer to go by the term "krysha".
Gangster Disciples
With the [Russian] state in collapse and
the security forces overwhelmed and unable to
police contract law, [...] cooperating with the
criminal culture was the only option. [...] most
businessmen had to nd themselves a reliable
krysha under the leadership of an eective
excerpt from McMaa by Misha Glenny.[11]

Albanian maa
Armenian maa
Aryan Brotherhood
Asian-American gangs, including


Maa-type organizations under Italian


In Italy, the term associazione di tipo Maoso (Maatype organisation) is used to clearly distinguish the
uniquely Sicilian Maa from other criminal organisations that are structured like the Sicilian Maa, such
as the Camorra, the 'Ndrangheta and the Sacra Corona
Unita.[12] Article 416-bis of the Italian Penal Code, under
which all criminal organisations are prosecuted, denes
an association as being of Maa-type nature when those
belonging to the association exploit the potential for intimidation which their membership gives them, and the
compliance and omert which membership entails and
which lead to the committing of crimes, the direct or indirect assumption of management or control of nancial
activities, concessions, permissions, enterprises and public services for the purpose of deriving prot or wrongful
advantages for themselves or others.[13][14]


Maa-proper can refer to either:

Born To Kill
Tiny Rascal gang
Menace of Destruction
Sons of Samoa
Azeri maa
Brazilian criminal organizations, including
Primeiro Comando da Capital
Comando Vermelho
British crime rms, including
Liverpool maa
Clerkenwell crime syndicate
Arif crime family
Thompson crime family
Bulgarian maa
Cape Verdean organized crime
Chaldean maa
Chechen maa

Colombian neo-paramilitary organized crime, including
The Oce of Envigado
Los Rastrojos
Los Urabenos
Corsican maa

Texas Syndicate
Barrio Azteca
Nigerian maa
No Limit Soldiers
Outlaw motorcycle gangs, including

Cuban maa

Hells Angels MC

Dixie Maa

Outlaws MC

Dutch Penose, including

Delta crime syndicate
Dutch-Moroccan organized crime
Moluccan Kajahatan
French Milieu, such as
Hornec gang

Bandidos MC
Pagans MC
Mongols MC
Satudarah MC
Pakistani maa
Russian maa, including

Georgian maa

Solntsevskaya Bratva

Greek maa

Tambov Gang

Hispanic-American gangs, including

Latin Kings
Mara Salvatrucha
Indian maa
Irish Mob
Israeli maa, including
Abergil crime family
Odessa maa

Serbian maa
The Company
Triads,[15] including
14K Triad
Sun Yee On
Bamboo Union
Turkish and Kurdish maa

North Koreas illicit activities




Lebanese crime families, including

Zoe Pound

Al-Zein Clan
Mexican cartels, including
Sinaloa Cartel
Los Zetas
Jurez Cartel
Gulf Cartel
Mexican-American prison gangs, including
Mexican Maa
Nuestra Familia

Swedish Maa
Original Gangsters

4 References
[1] Gambetta 2009
[2] This etymology is based on the books Maoso by Gaia
Servadio; The Sicilian Maa by Diego Gambetta; and
Cosa Nostra by John Dickie (see Books below).
[3] Gambetta, The Sicilian Maa. pp. 259-261.

[4] John Follain (8 Jun 2009). The Last Godfathers. Hachette UK. ISBN 9781848942493. Even the origin of the
word 'maa' remains obscure. Some believe its roots lie
in the Arab domination of Sicily from 827 to 1061 and
the Arabic word mahias (daring) or Ma r (the name of
a Saracen tribe).
[5] Henner Hess (1998). Maa & Maosi: Origin, Power and
Myth. NYU Press. p. 1. ISBN 9781863331432.
[6] Richard Lindberg (1 Aug 1998). To Serve and Collect:
Chicago Politics and Police Corruption from the Lager Beer
Riot to the Summerdale Scandal, 1855-1960 (illustrated
ed.). SIU Press. p. 161. ISBN 9780809322237. The
word Maa is a derivative of the Arabic maar, the
name of a tribe of Arabs who settled in Palermo, Sicily
before the Middle Ages. The Sicilian peasants adopted
the customs of the nomadic tribe, integrating the name
into everyday language. When the French were massacred in Palermo on Easter Sunday, 1282, the townsmen
described their brave defenders as the Maa. In 1417
this secret band of guerrillas absorbed another society of
local origin, the Camorra.
[7] Gambetta, The Sicilian Maa, p. 136.
[8] Lupo, The History of the Maa, p. 3.
[9] Lupo, History of the Maa, pp. 12
[10] Diego Gambetta (1993). The Sicilian Maa: The Business
of Private Protection
[11] Glenny 2008
[12] Maa and Maa-type organizations in Italy, by Umberto
Santino, in: Albanese, Das & Verma, Organized Crime.
World Perspectives, pp. 82-100
[13] Seindal, Maa: money and politics in Sicily, p. 20
[14] Art. 416-bis, codice penale - Associazione di tipo maoso
[15] Wang, Peng (2013). The rise of the Red Maa in
China: a case study of organised crime and corruption in
Chongqing. Trends in Organized Crime 16 (1): 4973.



Albanese, Jay S., Dilip K. Das & Arvind Verma,

(eds.) (2003). Organized Crime. World Perspectives,
Prentice-Hall, ISBN 9780130481993
Dickie, John (2007). Cosa Nostra: A History of the
Sicilian Maa. Hodder. ISBN 978-0-340-93526-2.
Gambetta, Diego (1993). The Sicilian Maa: The
Business of Private Protection. Princeton University
Press. ISBN 0-674-80742-1.
Gambetta, Diego (2009). Codes of the Underworld.
Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691119373.
Glenny, Misha (2008). McMaa. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-1400095124.


Hess, Henner (1998). Maa & Maosi: Origin,

Power, and Myth, London: Hurst & Co Publishers,
ISBN 1-85065-500-6
Mosca, Gaetano (2014). What is Maa. M&J,
2014. Translation of the book Cosa la Maa,
Giornale degli Economisti, Luglio 1901, pp. 236
62. ISBN 979-11-85666-00-6
Paoli, Letizia (2003). Maa Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style, Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-515724-9
Seindal, Ren (1998). Maa: money and politics
in Sicily, 1950-1997, Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, ISBN 87-7289-455-5
Servadio, Gaia (1976), Maoso. A history of the
Maa from its origins to the present day, London:
Secker & Warburg ISBN 0-436-44700-2

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