Veve of Papa Legba
|Haitian Vodou, Folk Catholicism|
|Attributes||Cane, straw hat, pipe, dog|
In Haitian Vodou, Papa Legba is the loa who serves as the intermediary between the loa and humanity. He stands at a spiritual crossroads and gives (or denies) permission to speak with the spirits of Guinee, and is believed to speak all human languages. In Haiti, he is the great elocutioner. Legba facilitates communication, speech, and understanding.
He is always the first and last spirit invoked in any ceremony, because his permission is needed for any communication between mortals and the loa—he opens and closes the doorway.
He usually appears as an old man on a crutch or with a cane, wearing a broad brimmed straw hat and smoking a pipe, or sprinkling water. The dog is sacred to him. Legba is syncretized with Saint Peter, Saint Lazarus, and Saint Anthony.
Alternatively, he is addressed as Legba Atibon, Atibon Legba, or Ati-Gbon Legba.
In popular culture
In the 1972 novel, Mumbo Jumbo, by Ishmael Reed, the main character is a Voodoo priest named Papa Labas after Papa Legba. In 1982, Elton John released a UK B-side titled "Hey, Papa Legba," with lyrics by longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin. The musical groups Talking Heads, The Smalls, Angel, Sun City Girls, and Sun God have also made songs named after him. The Talking Heads song can be found on their 1986 album (and soundtrack to the David Byrne film of the same name), True Stories; the Talking Heads song has been covered regularly by Widespread Panic, whose performance of the song can be heard on their live album, Light Fuse, Get Away.
A 1985 episode of the TV series "Miami Vice" (Season 2, Episode 8, "Tale of the Goat") centers around a malign Vodou priest by the name of Papa Legba (played by Clarence Williams III). In keeping with the image of Legba often conceptualised in Haitian Vodou subculture, Papa Legba is depicted as "controlling" the gateway to the spiritual world (through the use of drugs), walking with the aid of crutches, and smokes a pipe.
There is extensive referencing to Voodoo in the Sprawl trilogy by William Gibson. In the second book, Count Zero, Papa Legba stands at the gateway to cyberspace the "master of roads and pathways," with other loa appearing throughout the book. Papa Legba and Voodoo appear again in Spook Country, a book from one of Gibson's other trilogies.
In Chapter XXII of James Branch Cabell's Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice, Jurgen and Queen Anaitis (lady of the lake) pass a statue of Legba in the courtyard. Jurgen remarks "Now certainly, Queen Anaitis, you have unusual taste in sculpture".
In the 1986 film Crossroads, blues musicians Robert Johnson and Willie Brown sell their souls to a "Mr. Legba" at a Mississippi crossroads. Later in the film Legba takes the name "Scratch".
There is a single reference to Atibon Legba in the song Black Cat Bone on the Mission album The Brightest Light.
They also appear (or are referenced to) in Terry Pratchett's book 'Witches Abroad' (1991).
Papa Legba is invoked by the Marvel Comics character Brother Voodoo for support.
Papa Legba is a significant character in Gwenda Bonds's 2013 novel The Woken Gods.
Papa Legba is one of the Major Arcana cards in Chrysalis Tarot.
In 2014 Lance Reddick portrayed Papa Legba in American Horror Story: Coven, where the character is depicted wearing a top hat and black tuxedo jacket, more in keeping with one of the Barons (e.g. Baron Samedi). This depiction is of a crossroads demon rather than the loa of the crossroads.
Papa Legba is mentioned in the 2014 horror film, Jessabelle, where he is called upon to open the door for a dead spirit to return to the living.
- McAllister, Cher Love. "Legba". In Carole Boyce Davies. Encyclopedia of the African diaspora: origins, experiences and culture 1. ABC-CLIO. pp. 625–626. ISBN 978-1-85109-700-5. Retrieved June 10, 2011.
- Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction by Brian Morris, pg. 196.
- African Gods and Catholic Saints in the New World Negro Belief by Melville J. Herskovits, doi:[http://dx.doi.org/10.1525%2Faa.1937.39.4.02a00080 10.1525/aa.1937.39.4.02a00080, 1937 American Anthropological Association]
- Widespread Panic official website
- The Haitian Vodou Handbook: Protocols for Riding with the Lwa By Kenaz Filan
- Looking for Mr. Legba By Richard Laister, pg. 12
- The Boston Globe: Q&A with William Gibson
- The Tales of Monkey Island Blog
- 'American Horror Story': 'Fringe' star Lance Reddick joining 'Coven' | Inside TV | EW.com
- Papa Legba, protector of the home and guardian of gates and crossroads photo from Galembo, Phyllis (March 2005). Vodou: Visions and Voices of Haiti. Ten Speed Press. ISBN 1-58008-676-4.