Veve of Papa Legba
|Venerated in||Haitian Vodou, Folk Catholicism|
Papa Legba is a loa in Haitian Vodou, 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 commonly associated with dogs.
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 drinking sparkling water. The dog is sacred to him. Legba is syncretized with Saint Peter, Saint Lazarus, and Saint Anthony.
In Benin, Nigeria and Togo, Legba is viewed as young and virile trickster deity, often horned and phallic, and his shrine is usually located at the gate of the village in the countryside. Alternatively, he is addressed as Legba Atibon, Atibon Legba, or Ati-Gbon Legba.
In popular culture
In the 1949 novel The Kingdom of This World, by Alejo Carpentier, Solimán gives Pauline Bonaparte a Papa Legba mascot for a safe journey back to Europe because of the Yellow Fever outbreak. Later, when in Rome, the ill Solimán tries to reach for the god Legba. Also in this novel, Papa Legba is referred to as "the Lord of the Roads," in the scene where Ti Noel discovers a large gnarled tree that is comparable to Legba's crutches after freeing himself from slavery.
In his study of the Delta blues, Robert Palmer discusses the appearance of Legba in blues lyrics and lore. Palmer notes that Legba can be referred to/identified as "the Devil", "Papa Legba", and "The Black Man" throughout the history of the blues. This is also made clear in ethnomusicologist Bruno Blum's text for the CD box set Voodoo in America (scroll for English version), where reference to Papa Legba, deity of roads and crossroads, in Robert Johnson's iconic song "Crossroads" is explained.
In the 1983 novel Praisesong for the Widow by Paule Marshall, Part III ("Lavé Tête"), Papa Legba appears in disguise to guide the heroine Avey Johnson when she has arrived at a crucial crossroad in her life.
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 smoking 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 as 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". In this movie, however, Legba is mistaken for the Christian devil (or the popular notion of the devil), who takes the main character's soul in exchange for a successful musical career in blues.
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) in Terry Pratchett's book Witches Abroad (1991).
Papa Legba is invoked by the Marvel Comics character Brother Voodoo for support. This version of the character, referred to as "That Which Stands at the Crossroads", appears in the television series Cloak & Dagger. He takes on the form of the mutilated corpse of Officer Fuchs (portrayed by Lane Miller) and a young Tyrone Johnson (portrayed by Maceo Smedley III). While he states that Papa Legba is one of his names, he also claims to be synonymous Saint Peter. Tandy Bowen begins referring to him as "Papa Mysterious".
In 2013 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 communication.
The 2014 album Memoirs of a Murderer by heavy metal band King810, includes an introduction for the track "Take It" with vocals by singer David Gunn: "Papa, Papa Legba, open up the gate for me."
In the 2017 novel The People's Police by Norman Spinrad, three people from New Orleans appear on TV hoping for publicity and support from the people against the banks, corporate fat cats, and corrupt politicians. Papa Legba responds by asking "What do you offer?"
In 2017, Bruno Blum released a song named "Papa Legba" on his Culte album, in which he depicts Papa Legba as an alien, using the 'Papa Legba' voodoo drum pattern. A subsequent animation video directed by Pascal Le Gras was also issued.
- Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction by Brian Morris, pg. 196.
- Herskovits, Melville J. (1937). "African Gods and Catholic Saints in New World Negro Belief". American Anthropologist. 39 (4): 635–643. doi:10.1525/aa.1937.39.4.02a00080.
- Herskovits, Melville J. and Frances S. "Dahomean Narrative: A Cross-Cultural Analysis." Northwestern University Press (1958), p 35.
- Carpentier, Alejo (2017). The Kingdom of This World (First ed.). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 103. ISBN 9780374537388.
- Palmer, Robert (1981). Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta. New York: Penguin. pp. 60, 126. ISBN 978-0-1400-6223-6.
- 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
- Legba on L-Space DiscWorld wiki
- The Tales of Monkey Island Blog
- Doctor Voodoo: Avenger of the Supernatural (December 2009)
- 'American Horror Story': 'Fringe' star Lance Reddick joining 'Coven' | Inside TV | EW.com
- "AMERICAN STREET". Ibi Zoboi. 2016-05-28. Retrieved 2018-04-09.
- 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.