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25.01.2023 Feature Article

Pelé and the Spatial Concept of the “Vertical Cemetery” – Part 2

Pel and the Spatial Concept of the Vertical Cemetery – Part 2
25.01.2023 LISTEN

The clash of space and memory ought to give us some real food for thought, in terms of land use, a skill which both ordinary Ghanaians and our leadership have shown an existentially abject lack thereof. In the present context, of course, the unmistakable reference here is the ecological apocalypse that is the Galamsey or illegal small-scale mining industry, which all five Fourth-Republican governments have miserably failed to arrest. The fact of the matter is that whether the present generations of Ghanaian citizens – and here, we count at least three of them – recognize this dire reality or not, we are on the verge of extinction as a people and a nation, unless something seismic is done immediately to arrest this situation which has been further exacerbated by our own scandalous inability or desire to recognize the need and the fact that our existence and long-term well-being are inextricably and organically interlinked with our ability to maintain and preserve the ecological balance of our environment and our society.

That we have become veritable creatures of instant gratification ought to give us room for great concern. Interestingly, however, as creatures and makers and founders of Civilizations, in both the past and the present, we have a bounden obligation to preserve our collective historical and existential memory. This is where our desire and ability to preserving our lands and monuments for the dead or the deceased comes to the fore. And I strongly suppose this is also where the decision by both his family and the Brazilian government to bury the globally canonized Mr. Edson Arantes do Nascimento – aka Pelé – who transitioned into the “Ages” or the metaphysical realm of the cosmos on December 29, 2022, comes into play, the obvious pun here is definitely intended.

In Brazil, the foremost Soccer God is commended for having brought his once very small slavocolonial hometown of Santos into global renown. In Ghana, on the other hand, this author has great doubts regarding the fact of whether any reasonably well-educated adult citizen even knows the hometown or the birthplace of the legendary soccer star and national hero called Baba Yara – aka Osman Seidu – whose sporting career tragically ended abruptly in a near-fatal motor or road accident sometime in 1963; he would pass away on May 5, 1969, at the height of career a paraplegic at the age of 32. Baba Yara would allegedly die in abject penury. Refreshingly, however, it appears that not all of our leaders and politicians woefully lack the requisite sense of the sort of morally responsible civic memory that we have been discussing in this two-part column, thus far. For not very long ago, the Kumasi Sports Stadium, located in Ghana’s unofficially recognized second capital city and foremost traditional royal capital, was renamed as the Baba Yara Stadium.

There are several other major stadiums, or stadia, around the country that have also recently been renamed after other equally great and epochally renowned soccer legends, such as the Cape Coast Stadium, located in the small coastal city that was once the capital city of Colonial Ghana, better known as The Gold Coast Colony, so designated by the British colonial imperialists. Today, the Cape Coast Stadium is known as the Robert Mensah Stadium, after Ghana’s most famous soccer goalie, who also had his life tragically truncated in a beer-bar brawl, in what was at the time described by the media as a lovers’ triangle. Yes, Robert Mensah’s life ended rather unwisely or unseemly; nevertheless, his professional soccer career transcended the purely mundane and patently pedestrian, just as Pelé’s life has also been described as one that was flawlessly heroic and transcended the game of soccer itself.

Robert Mensah, at the time of his passing, had been bestowed with the accolade of “Africa’s Number One Goalkeeper.” It is not known precisely how this great soccer legend came by his accolade. Very likely, it was one of those equally legendary and inimitable BBC Sports Commentators who conferred such well-deserved honor on Mr. Mensah. In Brazil, however, it was the entire town or city of Santos that was canonized and became synonymous with the name of Pelé. Santos, we also learn, is a Seventeenth-Century Town that was either settled or created from scratch by the Portuguese and a major port city in the at once lurid and bizarre trade in African humanity. So, I guess, one could legitimately observe or conclude that Pelé could be aptly equated with the metaphorical Phoenix of folk legend and global literature who heroically rose from the ashes of massive African enslavement and genocidal destruction by Europe from the mid-1400s to the close of the Nineteenth Century or the 1800s.

In essence, Pelé could be aptly described as the very human embodiment of that proverbial rotten seed that self-resuscitated and became the mightiest tree of the Amazon Forest. Among the Akan people of Ghana, form whom Pelé could very well have descended, there is a maxim that runs as follows: “We attend the funeral of our recently deceased neighbor in order to remember the dead among the members of our own clan.” Except that in this case, the passing of Pelé could also be practically and pertinently reckoned to be decidedly and inescapably one of our own. Just like the epochal passings of Baba Yara, of Kintampo, and Robert Mensah, of Cape Coast and Asebu-Yamoransa Junction.

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By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., PhD
English Department, SUNY-Nassau
Garden City, New York
January 21, 2023
E-mail: [email protected]

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