The knives of the Camorra: rituals and stories about the splendor and the zompafuosso

by Federico Quagliuolo

The knives for the Camorra were an almost sacred object. Let's take the example of glitz: it was a kind of resealable sword which, once opened, became the tool capable of prove a man's worth in duels.

At the time of the Honored Society, when the Neapolitan Camorra tried to pretend to be a "people's Freemasonry", with rituals, rules and procedures copied by the nobility and secret sects, even the knives had their very complicated rituality that revolved around the "zumpata"And ai duels, who were a fundamental part of the most ignorant and violent society which was growing admiring the work of the puppets and he ignited in front of the duels in Orlando and then in popular shows cheered popular Camorra like Ciccio Cappuccio.

When the myth of the guapparia at the beginning of the 20th century, the Honored Society gave way to Neighborhood "guappi", who weren't Camorra, knives were a perfect tool for demonstrate their "virility" and their power over the neighborhood, often plunging into challenges to the death against their opponents, or flaunting it with bravado in front of the poor people who promises to "watch over"Instead of a state that often has closed my eyes on the miseries of the Neapolitan people.

pugnale camorrista
A dagger used by a Camorrista exhibited in Criminological Museum of Rome

The Sfarziglia, the knife of the Camorra

The Beautiful Society should almost have patented hers knife par excellence. The "glitz", Which does not come from"glitz", But from the verb"whip" or "unleash“, In both cases terms appropriate for one whip. The equivalent in Italian is "gash“: An even more appropriate term. It was introduced around the 17th century and it has a dark history, while we know with more certainty the date of disposal: after World War II, when the bombs not only took away the lives of the Neapolitans and the monuments of the city, but also ancient rules of violence, replaced by Weapons.

The use in combat of the splendor is in fact very particular e the enemy is wounded “Throwing” the hand with short and quick strokes, as if you were standing handling a whip. It requires a lot of experience: it is one very long blade, almost as much as a sword, and from considerable weight.

The whole fight with the glitz was a dance, the "zumpata“, In which the challengers jumped, swayed, almost danced as they tried to hit each other in the chest to prove their reason, as in ancient German rituals.

Being thick handcrafted weapons (often very refined), i opening and closing mechanisms they weren't always perfect and you had to be careful of the opponent's gestures that they might have close the blade: especially in duels, where there was a perverse sense of etiquette and honor, was considered one cowardly, but it remained a gesture admissible.

Sfarziglia Sandro Mariani
An open splendor, reproduced by the skilled hands of master cutler Sandro Mariani

Details of the Sfarziglia

Woe to call it a dagger: it is one quasi-sharp sword on both sides that once closed, you can hide in one double coat pocket or that goes unnoticed until use.

It was often richly decorated with acid etching which they often represented the ace of swords, son of the very rich symbolism of Neapolitan cards, or phrases

Once finished the nineteenth century, was also nicknamed "'or curtiello 'and guapparia“,“ The knife of bullies ”: precisely because of his "Noble" Camorra history, became the favorite object of the "guappi"And all of those bullies who wandered in various ways in the districts of Naples and who wanted to prove that they were "men accordingly“.

Carlo d'Addosio tells us that i white weapon duels they were on the agenda in Naples, often for the most trivial reasons.

I coltelli della Camorra: rituali e storie sulla sfarziglia e sul zompafuosso
Un Zompafuosso, photo from Pinterest by Claudio Capodaglio

The Zompafuosso, the switchblade dagger

A different story is that of zompafuosso: it was also nicknamed "women's knife", because very small and invisible. Often the matrons they used it as a hair clip, ready to use it in the moment of danger.
It was a knife that it spread throughout Southern Italy, reaching Rome: it was about 20cm long once extended, while it was closed extra small. It was the self-defense weapon par excellence and often was given as a dowry to marriage as a sign of good luck.

The nickname "zompafuosso"Always derives from ritual of the zumpata, made in this case with knives that guaranteed a very close encounter.

It was also the knife used for the scars, that punishment that often suffered disrespectful women or men not respectful of the principles of honor or of submission to the guappo.

Sfarziglia Napoli 1875
A detail of a splendor: Naples 1875. Photograph by Dionisio Zapatero

The ostentation of weapons

The Camorra, at least at the time the Honored Society, flaunted their splendor almost like a sign of belonging to a knightly order.
When the traditional Camorra ended around 1906, the tranquility in the neighborhood was assured by guappi that they imitated the rites and words of the ancient Camorra to give yourself a tone. With them the weapons became the most varied and the daggers, generically nicknamed "fierro". However, one principle remained the same for all: duels and

Then the Camorra also found his evolutions more and more brutal and infamous. And, with new times, even the duel lost all its own "knightly" rules that gave names to arms, rules of behavior e ancient concepts of honor to cling to.

In the evolution of the Camorra of the last few years only one principle has remained unchanged: the violence, the same as for centuries enters the flesh of the victims wounded or killed for useless reasons.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Abele De Blasio, Uses and customs of the Camorristi, Naples, 1871
Carlo D'Addosio, The duel of the Camorra, Imagaenaria, Ischia, 2018

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