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Peles Identity Revealed

By: Richard Kerr-Bell

Pele is one awesome man and soccer player,


  • Description of Socio-cultural Group of the Family of Origin

  • Historical Event: Professional Football in Brazil 1933

Don’t be fooled these reports are robust and between the two of them deliver everything promised and a little more…

So enjoy them and share them with friends (please include all links).

I have written them from my passion for Pele and to get to know him more deeply and intimately as someone who hasn’t met him can at least.

Take care, have fun and God Bless,

Arohanui, Richard Kerr-Bell

Welcome to this four part series on what “My Life and the Beautiful Game” reveals about Pele.

Installment No.1

Pele’s Family Origins

It is possible to assume from photos included in Pele’s autobiography and in Pele’s descriptions of being ‘black’, that he descends from the 3 million African people brought to Brazil as slaves between the mid-1500s and 1850-88 when slavery was abolished in Brazil. (Microsoft Encarta online Encyclopaedia 2001)“I have often been asked if, being black, I ever faced racial prejudice”(Pele, 1977, p.83)

While African spiritualism and other African customs have continued from their native lands of the Congo, Mozambique and West Africa, it is obvious that the Catholic culture of the Portuguese has played a role in the families belief system. Pele mentions his baptism explaining his delight at meeting Popes John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, and what it meant for him. Most of Brazil’s population and particularly that of black Brazilians until the 1960s’, lived rurally working in gold mines or sugar plantations and later on the coffee plantations. The Government then encouraged multi-national investors into Brazil, expanding the Iron and Steel Industries resulting in many people moving into urban areas particularly in the southeast, where Pele grew up. Dondinho (nickname), Pele’s father was a professional soccer player. The family moved around as Dondinho followed employment opportunities with different clubs. While Dondinho signed for a big club, an injury in the first game of the season meant a return home. He played for minor clubs receiving a wage “called in Portuguese a mixera –not a very nice word meaning less than nothing”(Pele, 1977). There was no insurance or compensation scheme at the time. He also worked in a hospital as a cleaner. Dona Celeste (Pele’s mother) did not appear to have paid employment though she was bringing up three children.

Dona Celeste and Joao Ramos de Nascimento, his mother and father both express values as told by Pele, of the dignity of people, the value of a promise and carrying ones self with respect. Family was an important value to the parents. His mother’s brother Jorge, and her mother, Dona Ambrosina, lived with them and were consulted in various decisions about the family. Pele also records his own concern and affection for his family.

Installment No.2 Pele’s Autobiography reveals the Man.

Neither of his parents seems to have had an education or at least much formal education. In 1950 an estimated 50% of the population over 15 were illiterate. (Microsoft Encarta 2000) In 1997 the problem still exists with only 18% of blacks completing a maximum 8 years of school and 35.2% still unable to read (SEJUP, News from Brazil, 1997). Pele never mentions reading or books in the house. He mentions endless games of football in the neighbourhood, selling wood with his Uncle Jorge, selling unfinished cigarette butts, stolen peanuts, and later shining shoes, as activities he was involved in as a child.

Living in a two room rented house made of reused brick and washed plaster, were some of the stress factors the seven members of the extended family experienced. Pele recorded the poverty his family lived in and the arguments and constant negativity he heard. These were predominately about the need for Dondinho to get a proper job and Pele’s mother’s pressure for him to be looking at other ways to spend his time than playing football. “Poverty, in short, is being robbed of self respect and self reliance. Poverty is fear. Not fear of death, which though inevitable, is reasonable; it is fear of life. It is a terrible fear…during the first few years in Bauru, however, poverty was a problem for my parents”(Pele, 1977).

In summary, Pele’s family of origin is a poor Brazilian family, descended from African and Portuguese ancestors with little or no formal education or qualifications. They lived in an extended family situation and were Roman Catholic. In 1940 they lived in a Favela (an area of poor housing with little or no running water, electricity) in the town of Tres Coracoes, in the state of Minas Gerais on the southeastern area of Brazil. That Pele has held a Government post, and visited over 88 countries, has met with ten kings, five Emperors, seventy Presidents and 40 other Heads of States including 2 Popes, holds a University qualification and has been voted to be the Sports Person of the Century is remarkable. As an African Portuguese descendant, growing up in Brazil, it would be significant enough to be able to read and write. Brazil’s society has and still excludes these people from rising above their poverty through the large numbers that still cannot read, write or share in the countries wealth.

Installment No.3

Soccer’s Role in Brazil, Pele’s Time is near…Historical Event: Professional Football in Brazil 1933

Professional football has had far reaching effects in Brazilian culture and life. Given Brazil’s significant number of unskilled, illiterate, and marginalised people, the introduction of professional football in 1933, has enabled numerous people the opportunity to play a part in their community, as volunteers, board members, supporters, a number of support jobs, a collective identity, and ultimately for a portion of these, a career playing Soccer all over Brazil. In the case of Edson Arantes do Nascimento (Pele), the possibility to play in many countries, representing his club, his country, and his people.

Pele’s story of success and achievement is the exception for professional footballers, however this should not discount the many advantages Professional Football has brought to the poor and disadvantaged living in the same conditions Pele grew up in, and the communities who find identity, joy, and delight beyond their immediate circumstance. “The central position of the soccer club in Brazilian communities sustains pluralism by giving people of similar backgrounds a place to meet. Soccer clubs can offer the only form of organised activity in poor areas. The soccer club was often a communities first voluntary organisation, and even today soccer clubs offer millions of people, their only experience with grass roots democracy” (Arbena, 1988, p.90)

Joao do Nascimento, Pele’s father, was known as an excellent footballer and his skills were in demand by the smaller teams in the State of Mines Gerais. This meant the family moved around during Pele’s childhood, which gave him impressionable experiences such as a train ride, and seeing parts of the country he had never even heard of. The most significant influence to benefit the family was the promise of a public service job to supplement his income. Pele comments (1977) that his mother who had “threatened to start a small war” over another shift, surrendered instantly on hearing the promise of a state job. Contacts Joao made during his career helped Pele later on as he progressed as a player. A significant result, which would have been noted by Pele growing up in a poor community was the respect afforded to his dad and the esteem with which others held him. “Jorge [Pele’s uncle] loved my father and Jorge secretly envied my fathers ability to play football and have people cheer him from the stands, and have people cross the street to come over and say hello when he walked through the town.” (Pele, 1977).

While observing and cherishing his father’s involvement as a professional player, it also inspired Pele in his vocational choice and gave him a focus as a boy beyond his environment. Pele tells how he lived for football playing in the Bauru youth team, “dreaming of the day when I would get to play with BAC (Bauru Athletic Club) as a professional”(Pele, 1977).

Instalment No.4

The Young Genius

Playing football for a living, and on making it into a Club of national significance, Pele was assured of an income and opportunities, which his level of education (He has to repeat his 4th year twice making 6 years at school), social class, and his parents financial situation could never have enabled. Injury would have ended this at anytime as it did his fathers opportunity in the big time. At 15 Pele signed a contract well above the minimum wage for an adult in1958 (Pele, p.100) and was housed and fed “mammoth meals… foods we had rarely been able to afford in our house in Bauru” (Pele, 1977, p.98) His compulsory military service turning 18 was more an advancement in the football education and experience playing 100 games during 1959 for the Army Barracks team, the Brazilian Army team, the National team, and his Club side Santos. (The Colonel in charge of him was a director at Santos Football Club).

Many stories are told of Pele honing his soccer skills by having to play with a grapefruit or many socks stuffed into another, which were often stolen of the clothesline of a neighbour.

The benefits derived from the inception of professional soccer in Brazil include the status Pele has achieved through his success and ability as a player and in the success of the Brazilian National team. He has held a government post, had access to political, religious and social leaders, travel to over 88 countries and has held posts such as a United Nations sponsored anti-drug campaigner, ambassador for F.I.F.A (The world governing body for Soccer). His status has allowed him to challenge Government policy or lack of it without censor or repercussions at times where military dictators did not tolerate any criticism or protest.

What is obvious in reading his biography, is that the greatest effect professional football has had on Pele, is his ability to support his family out of the poverty they lived in, and the dependence and hopelessness such living conditions cause. He also wrote passionately about being able to advance the opportunity of other children in the world through soccer.

Going back to complete his education and to university level, is also an achievement made possible by the personal strengths he learned from the demands of professional soccer and the financial rewards and confidence it had provided.26 years after retiring, Pele is still able to command a huge following. He is in great demand as a speaker, a guest at international events, and to commentate in the political and sporting arena. Voted the Sports Personality of the Century by 54 sports editors and journalists from 35 countries (Carroll, 1999, in web site, p.2) ahead of Muhammad Ali, Carl Lewis, Michael Jordan and Jesse Owens, Pele continues to feel the effects and influence professional soccer has had and is having in his life since it’s inauguration in 1933.

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About The Author, Richard Kerr-Bell

Richard Kerr-Bell coaches at the Otago Polytechnic's Academy of Sport with Elite Soccer players and recovers statistics for the NZFC National Soccer League team "Otago United".
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