Three events in our eight-day Sardinian adventure prompt today’s theme:
– In San Vito, we meet an Englishwoman who shares with us her despair about having her car broken into while she was on a beach and had stuff stolen from her.
Our B & B operator, Cristano Porcu, assures us that this kind of thing “never happens in San Vito”.
(The most common forms of banditry today in Sardinian crime is assault on transport vehicles, ATM destruction and drug trafficking.)
– Outside Olienda, Ute accidentally cuts off the path of a BMW driver.
He drives around us, deliberately plants his car in our path and storms out of his car prepared to beat the stuffing out of us.
We respond with quick apologies and a quicker getaway.
(In 1773, with regard to the fury of revenge, German traveler Joseph Fuos wrote:
“If a Sardinian vowed to another deadly hatred, there is no way to escape the fulfillment of this curse, than to go out of the country or to slay the opponent….
A Sardinian followed his enemy to Naples where he had taken refuge.
The Sardinian appeared to reconcile with his enemy, led him to a tavern and then a brothel, then stabbed his enemy in the act…
A Sardinian’s thirst for revenge goes to the most extreme limits that a man can go.
It is not uncommon for a Sardinian to be not content with simply killing his enemy, but he also abuses the body with bites, cuts and dismemberment…How different is the way of thinking of men!
If I say to a Sardinian in my homeland a murderer must die, without hope or grace, at the hands of justice, he makes the sign of the cross and says that I was born to a cruel people.
But if this same Sardinian killed half a dozen men because of miserable disputes and sworn death to another half dozen, he will not find anything cruel.”)
– We visit Orgosolo.
Orgosolo’s famous murales, political paintings, can be found on walls all over town.
Since 1969, they have reflected different aspects of Sardinia’s political struggles but also deal with international issues.
Vittorio De Seta’s 1961 movie Banditi a Orgosolo focuses on the past way of life in central Sardinia and the phenomenon of banditry in the region.
Michele, a shepherd of Orgosolo, unfairly charged with rustling and murder, is forced to take to the hills.
In his flight into the inaccessible areas of Barbagia, whether there is neither water nor pastures, he loses every sheep in his flock.
One night, desperate because he is full of debts and with impending trials up ahead, he goes into the sheepfold of another shepherd and, at gunpoint, steals every sheep.
Michele has become a bandit.
At one time, Orgosolo was known as the “village of murderers” due to its high crime rate.
Bandits of the surrounding mountains used the church door to post notices of death sentence passed on their enemies.
The figure of the bandit is seen not as a criminal, but as a hero and a liberator.
After all, they call themselves “fighters”.
The wrongs which bandits revenge are considered a defense against bullying and ill-treatments revenge is considered justice if not a duty.
Here is the figure of the people’s bandit-hero.
Congressman Francesco Serra wrote:
“Even today, the legendary Sardinian bandit, perhaps more fabulous than true, attracts, with a mixture of romantic strength, brutal revenge and a set of chivalric generosity, the naïve minds of the people.
There is a halo of sympathy, naïve but tenacious, that surrounds the head of him who, alone and weak, is believed to be not fighting against the rights of society, but rather makes a claim against the violence and bullying of government and authority.
He knows how to use cunning against force, draws fierce and exemplary vengeance upon whomever he opposes, but protects and defends those who like him are weak against those who hold wealth and power.”
In a nutshell, the bandit was the poor man who rebelled against the rich.
Does romantic banditry exist in reality or is it only a creation of writers and poets?
1900: Nuoro Crown Prosecutor Marcialis in his inaugural speech:
“Bandits – these hyenas always thirsty for human blood, these monsters, whose memory should be cancelled…”
4 November 1891: Bandit Ciccio De Rosas of Usini kills, on the same day, two men (Dr. Giuseppe Melis / Antonio Secchi) and two women (Maria Sotgia / Clotilde Coco), one of whom is pregnant.
1899: Orune bandits Giovanni Moni and Giuseppe Goddi, kill a Benetutti farmer in the presence of his wife and child.
They disembowel his body, quarter it and detach his head, which they lay on a dry stone wall, with blood dripping from the farmer’s curled mustache.
July 1899: Captain Petella, to create a vacuum around the fugitives, organizes the most grandiose police operation in the history of Italy.
He arrests 500 people in a single night in the district of Nuoro-Ozieri.
By month’s end 682 people are charged with 237 offences.
In Morgogliai, between Oliena and Orgosolo, 50 carabinieri and an entire battalion of infantry engage in a heated battle against the gangs of Serra Sanna, Pau and Lovicu.
All the bandits are killed.
The Battle of Morgogliai and the killing of so many bandits feeds the illusion of the end to banditry, but only the most dangerous gangs had been eliminated.
The roots of the phenomenon are not even touched.
After a brief lull, more bandits draw new blood and give rise to more periodic outbreaks of crime.
7 January 1925: 10-year-old Wanda Serra, the daughter of the mayor of Aidomaggiore, is kidnapped and a ransom of 40,000 pounds is demanded by the bandits Don Spanu and Peppa Ziulu.
The child is later found dead.
1928: Samuele Stochino, the famous bandit of Arzana, kills with a shot at point-blank range 10-year-old girl Assunta Nieddu.
6 July 1933: Bandits Congiu of Bottidda, Chironi of Nuoro and the Pintore brothers kidnap the mayor of Bono Pietro Molotzu, his wife, their 7-year-old daughter Maria, teacher Pietrina Marongiu and notary Ena.
All were freed except Maria, for which a ransom of 250,000 lire in silver coins is demanded.
The girl’s skeleton is found after more than a year.
3 January 1937: In Benetutti, bandit Giovanni Pala of Orune smashes with an ax the skull of 17-year-old Andrea Bellina as she sleeps.
1952: On the road to Ozieri, a robbery takes place that can be considered the most sensational of the century.
On the very day of the celebration of the anniversary of the carabinieri, a dozen gunmen stop and rob 240 people, block three couriers and more than ten cars for two hours and flee with the loot.
A few months later, outside Nuoro, Roman merchant Patalucci is killed for not stopping when ordered to by bandits.
1966 – 1968: 33 kidnappings for ransom are carried out – exactly 11 every year, the highest number ever in the history of Sardinian banditry and never achieved in any country in the world.
New Year’s Eve 1966: In Ollolai, bandit Antonio Casula and his associates massacre the 60-something spouses Podda and their 11-year-old grandson Michele.
August 1972: The Massacre of Lanusei – 6 bandits enter the house of Dr. Vincenzo Loddo.
His wife, the first to notice their entry, gets scared and starts to scream.
The bandits lose their heads and start shooting.
The doctor, his wife, his brother, a nephew and one of the bandits are killed.
15 January 1992: In Pantogia, little Farouk Kassam, son of hotel owner French-born Egyptian Fateh Kassam, is kidnapped.
The kidnappers carry the baby in the Supramonte, moving from one place to another, always keeping Farouk hidden in caves carved into reinforced stone walls and covered with earth.
To convince his parents to pay his ransom, the bandits cut off a piece of Farouk’s ear.
The story of little Farouk moves all Italy.
May 1995: Vanna Licheri is kidnapped in Abbasanta.
After four months of captivity, he falls ill and dies.
17 June 1997: Industrial entrepreneur Giuseppe Soffiantini is kidnapped in Manerbio in Brescia on the Italian mainland.
He is locked up in various hideouts in Calvana and the Prato mountains in inhumane conditions for 237 days.
It is one of the longest kidnappings in Italy.
He is released after a ransom of 5 billion lire.
Bandits will even kidnap children and kill without pity those who resist kidnapping.
Bandits commit crimes solely for profit.
Bandit perpetrators of the kidnappings choose their victims not only among landowners, but as well amongst industrialists, merchants, wealthy men and small businessmen.
Bandits commit their crimes with inconceivable ruthlessness.
Criminals or heroes?