In Brief

Ali boma ye: The chant that made Muhammad Ali an African hero

Rumble in the Jungle was defining moment of boxer's career and made him a cult hero on the continent

It will surely be remembered as the most seismic moment of his momentous career and it came in 1974, when Muhammad Ali fought and beat George Foreman in the legendary Rumble in the Jungle.

The Greatest entered the ring in Kinshasa, Zaire, shortly before 4am, to a chant of "Ali boma ye" – "Kill him, Ali" - from the 60,000-strong crowd.

Few who were there will ever forget it: veteran sports writer Alan Hubbard described it as "the most exhilarating experience I have ever had in sports journalism".

The chant, the soundtrack to both the fight and its extraordinary build-up, became an iconic boxing catchphrase. It also, says Yomi Kazeem writing in Quartz, "epitomised [Ali's] connection with Africans".

The 1994 film When We Were Kings features incredible footage of crowds surging to catch a glimpse of Ali on his daily run and of him leading them in "Ali boma ye". It helped forge a connection with the people of Zaire and established the boxer as the hero of the fight, with Foreman, undefeated in 40 bouts, cast as the enemy. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"content_original","fid":"95864","attributes":{"class":"media-image"}}]]

"Ali boma ye" forms the backdrop to the coverage of writers such as George Plimpton and Norman Mailer, who chronicled the circus surrounding the "rumble" and its wider political significance in his book The Fight. It continued to reverberate around the ring even as Ali was soaking up the punishment from Foreman, recalls Mike Downey in the LA Times.

And when Ali began his unthinkable counter-offensive in the eighth round, the cry filled the arena once more. It continued as the boxer put Foreman on the floor and was lifted shoulder high in celebration.

"The fight was a significant event as Africa got a front-row seat for one of the most defining moments of Ali’s career - and life," says Kazeem. "The fight reverberated across millions of the people on the continent."

Ali was a hero for his approach and his stance on US civil rights, which struck a chord in post-colonial Africa, adds the journalist. "Ali was deified by Africans who felt they were being let down by former anti-colonial heroes turned presidents who had promised so much but given so little."

That he was invited to Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo mattered little, says Kazeem. In the wake of his stunning victory, "Ali’s strength, defiance and fame across the world as possibly the first global sports star was something Africans could lay claim to".

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