PELE: hono (Incomparable)
Updated: Jan 4
The perfect graphic description of this soul is unfortunately in a scoff by a Brazilian world cup winning coach fondly nicknamed Big Phil. Big Phil got irritated when a young overweight English boy of average global talent was being compared to Pele. The boy having won nothing of note was being over romanticised by patriotic and parochial press to be the white Pele. So Big Phil, a white Brazilian visibly annoyed calmly retorted, “No they are not comparable. Rooney is white and Pele is black”.
And the English press went dead silent on that Pele/Rooney comparison. To this date the annoying term of white pele has never been back. Now they they have introduced fresh yard sticks like European cups and Ballon d'Or, Kenyan league winner, AlegoUgenya cup winner etc etc to try to hang onto Pele but the rest of the world is just smiling knowingly. True Rooney never won a thing out of England and never plied his trade outside the comfort of a hugely fearful national association. With the English national team he would pulverise countries from poor FIFA zones during an international tourney and only qualify out of the eventual tournaments group because of favourable seeding. As for me I think nothing will ever describe the great Pele. Pele cannot be compared to any other living player in any way. Pele is the standard by which other mortals are compared. But that is not why I am posting about Pele in a Luo blog.
Who is Pele?
If you don’t know him by now, then it is not worth reading this. Just pass. I was privileged to meet Pele. Not really meet. I was privileged to watch Pele play and score. As a semi pro playing in the AYSO league of North America which was patronised by US State Secretary Dr Henry Kissinger. We were rewarded by a ticket to go watch Pele’s New York Cosmos team play Elton John’s owned Los Angeles Aztecs at the famed LA Coliseum in January 1976. Pele scored the only goal with not a thunderous shot. But with hind sight I can say that I never appreciated the spontaneity of the shot until much later that such impulsive forward movement without a back lift are not only rare but are scored by gifted human beings. But when it becomes a regular happenchance of theirs then they such scorers are upgraded into gifted mortals because even to sight that happening can take generations. It’s a wondrous sight. Yes, Pele produced a miracle in that 1-0 win over Los Angeles Aztecs.
The Luo Pele.
Is there anything like the Luo Pele? There is no comparison. The term Luo Pele is a term I have used to describe the version of a Luo person who has exceled in sports or in any amateur vocation. How did Luo receive famous sportsmen? Or even musicians. Culturally what was the place of stardom in Luo competitive sports. What was the place of Luo heroes? And most importantly how has it impacted on the community.
Like in any community a hero is loved in our community. I should know that. I am named after a great wrestler which together with my father formed an indomitable wrestling tag team in Ugenya in their days. The superlatives forms of my fond name like Chot Were, chot Ajwang, chot Rambo come from the wrestling prowess of the person I am named after. So years after he passed on I am still fondly referred to by those superlatives. I have never lived out of his shadows. Okinyo Dorcas my aunties daughter still calls me Jek Ratego up to today.
This same awe goes for musicians, and generally performing artists. They are an adulated lot in Namlolwe land. And Namlolwe people being those people who are in praise of Nyadhi, it has shaped our way of thinking.
The Luo community is rife with do-gooders just to earn praise like sports men. Even in far distance places like Zanzibar, you had Field Marshall John Okelo rescuing Zanzibaris from the Omani sultanate. In Kenya we had Luos throwing themselves in Mt Kenya war against the colonialists with gusto. And even much later it was the Namlolwe sons who put their lives in harm’s way against Dictator President Moi when it was Kikuyus feeling the full force of the Kalenjin boot. on their throats. The act of heroism or to be loved like a sportsman come naturally to my Namlolwe brethren even in advocacy and trade unionism. My Luo it appears have never heard of the maxim, “with time a hero is a very stupid person”.
And that is who we are especially in team sports like football where mutu wa kibinafsi is not desirable. That is to say in team efforts where individual excellence is not a plus, then Nam lolwe people are the ones you want by your side when battle calls. This is even evidenced in the political map of Kenya when 80% of the topology votes together with Namlolwe people since Kenyan independence and more intensely in the last 25 years. Sons of Namlolwe are trusted when the hour cometh. And that is why Pele and his heroism resonates very well with Nam lolwe owuora.
In some area of Namlolwe, a story is told of chilling consequences. It is a very factual story and is very close to me. This is a true story and not a legend. Around 1920’s or shortly thereafter, the elderly wise men of an Ugenya sub clan observed as two youngsters of the sub clan excelled in the wrestling Amen or Mawi. The two were simply a tag team who were invincible. Time after time they beat up every challenge. No one in Ugenya land never heard of Ombanyo ka Nyawalo and his cousin in Ugenya precinct. Clans from Gem, Alego, and neighbouring peri-Ugenya groups put their best wrestlers forward. And one by one they fell like dominoes. And all watched this and were pleased with the dominance and pride that followed the clan. Everybody loves a hero.
However, among the wise men of the sub clan this raised eyebrows. The indomitable and the praise it earned was not pleasing to this Umira Kager family. And the old folks consulted the wise men to ensure that they lose to curb this wild untouchable greatness.
On the tournament day of a scheduled routine win as the two untouchables and entourage left their village for the tournament, a young lady cuz, Okinyo, was sacrilegiously sat on the revered three legged stool to sit still until word reached them back that the brother-comrades had lost the wrestling bouts. And it so it came to pass that the two spectacularly lost their contests on that day.
When I was told this scary story, I asked the story teller, what is the point of watching them rise and then making them fall by setting up the abomination of sitting a woman on the 3-legged stool? Is there anything that is wrong in excelling in sports? To be honest the simple answer I got was, “mondo kare gi obedie”. That is to mean, ‘so that they can have normal lives with families’. And he explained to me that a Luo is composed of two parts. The physiological body and the spiritual body. That spiritual body is at large but must not be left to roam too far as it leaves the physical body a disturbed soul. I am secular person and could not conceptualise all these. Does it mean that great Luo sportsmen onge gi kare gi? Forget this. It is beyond reason to connect how a menstruating post puberty girl abominably seated on a revered 3-legged stool can spiritually float across rivers and mountains to go to wrestle down young relatives with finely primed athletic bodies. It does not make sense so it has to be matters of faith. But I am just telling you a real story about my people.
I am not getting into that debate or the debate about the private lives of celebrities. But I have had to calm members of families of great sports families who cannot legislate what happened in their lives by explaining that whatever happened here is beyond their control by citing the foregoing family story. And believe me in that moment of reflection they have come to accept faithfully that 'this explains what happened to our family'. They have had to come to terms with the devastation that hounds stardom and devastated their families.
In my own interpretation is that at that juncture it is not normal to be indomitable but it is okay to be competitive. Maybe like a faithless person in matters of the underworld I just heard, saw and interpreted what I wanted. It is the easy option, don't you agree.
Owiti Hatari is a legend in Gor Mahia and Luo Union football teams. He was an uncompromising defender who took no prisoners. By clan lines he was an uncle. So if he was speaking I listened with studious attention. On this time we were hanging out in his Nairobi office waiting for traffic jam to recede so that we can go home and using the time to lament about the fall of Luo Union FC. Honestly he surprised me with his honesty even exonerating those we considered enemies of the club who had brought the club down. Like Kenneth Matiba the KFF supremo.
Naturally at such times you wonder into the greatness of the club and more so the underworld. I was young and more scientific and did not believe in the underworld so much. Nevertheless, he told me two things that bothered me. One was that the club handlers exposed some of the key players to very gory practices in the dead of the night. And he is doubtful if these stars will ever live a “proper” life. True I have done my body count. You do yours how all the stars of East and Central conquering heroes ended especially the older players.
Then he told me a story involving a football club supremos and top officials. That the praise that goes to these supremos is like the one showered on top players. And he said, “watch how their lives unravel”. I am just telling you a story that I was told. I can neither defend it nor scathe it. As for me I brushed all that aside because Kenyan football does not pay and much still drains the officials to poverty. Pure straight forward recipe to poverty. And with poverty comes marriage upheavals, uneducated family which is a strong cocktail for poor retirement if not early grave. That is a very scientific and logical eventuality if you ask me. Nothing spiritual to be feared by Nam lowe people that, “kare ok obetie because of stardom”. Again I am not doing body count for you.
Omolo Siranga counsel.
Omolo Siranga was a clansman and a very senior administrator at Club and National football federation. He is mostly known for pushing for customary Law to be at par with English common law as sources Kenya Law during the SM Otieno High Court burial saga.
One time after hearing that I was dubbing my hands in football administration, he pulled me aside and warned me that I have to be careful in this world. That this is a new world that has very unkind distractions and unseen obstructions. He said, “sports praises like any praise whether in music or any other popular sphere is not good and you must have non-negotiable boundaries. Just look around you”. I purely took it that I must not have unbridled passion here.
And true, I have looked around me even to stars like George Best, boxers, famous. The general rule is that I was being given these counsel by people within fame. It was like in fame awaits a monster to devour you. Like that status is some form of koko ma ji oluoro, (dreaded monster)
Yes, you can point to artists lives and self-destruct buttons. The lives of insanely gifted people for a start. The lives of hugely gifted musicians and artists that receive fame and praise as a mark of excellency. And closely related to this is the proverbial myth of the village beauty who is never happy in life while averagely endowed age mates lead a happy marital life. It is the belief that this was at the cornerstone of Luos fixing the arrangement marriages to avoid any beautiful girl or boy to reach a crescendo of praises from admirers the way the wrestlers lives were redirected above.
Jaber Jaula (Jaber Rasambo)
Which brings us to the Luo Jaber Jaula or Jaber Rasambo. The English loosely translated equivalent is All that Glitters is not gold. But in close examination the Luo version is not a fault finding. In the Luo version it is inherently implied that it is not faulty but has a tendency to become faulty (rasambo or jaula). There is even fatalist conclusion. That ber has a life of its own that cannot be tamed. A sweet surrender that Jaber’s destiny is predetermined. And despite what you do jaber will be attracted to her destructive destiny. This nicely sits with the fear of perfection as deliberated above. If that is the case, then the Luo perfection or the Pele perfection is spiritual. It is beyond the realms of man like in autism. But unlike autism is a spiritual matter or a matter of faith.
Closely related to the foregoing is the jathum-athuma to iomo ang’o kuome phrase of caution that not many Luos will fathom though they all pretend to know the meaning moral or spiritual meaning of this. Who can really tell me the meaning of this riddle? I think I will leave this one here for you to decipher.
From the foregoing it appears the Luo's fear of fame is not a matter of rational or scientific explanation. We cannot legislate it. We cannot explain the fear of a pele-like stardom away without reaching out to divine powers. And when we talk of divine powers or juogi then we are into the realms of faith. And faith is something that we have no evidence of. The Luo belief in the myth around fame is a matter of faith. And that fear of model of excellence is something Luos dread like it is not to be achieved by normal beings. That perfection that Muslims call Mutukufu and reserves of our maker is the same perfection that Luos feared that earthlings should never be a model of excellency or it is a burden too heavy to bear for ordinary mortals. It is like stardom is spiritual gift.
If in the event that one attains that status normally like Edson Arantes d’Nascimento did and lived a normal life, then they graduate to hono.
Rest in Peace Pele. In hono