Veve of Papa Legba
|Venerated in||Haitian Vodou, Folk Catholicism|
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 usually appears as an old man on a crutch or with a cane, wearing a broad brimmed straw hat and smoking a pipe, or 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, is 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 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. In the ritual and doctrine of African-American religions, there is no such thing as selling one's soul in exchange for wordly success or talent to later burn in hell, since they have no representation of hell.
There is a reference to the god of the crossroads in the song 永遠に幸せになる方法、見つけました。 or The Path to Eternal Happiness, I Found It. on the みんな幸せにな～れ! album by うたたP.
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.
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.
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.
Legba is a significant character in James Nuttall's 2014 novel Preaching Blues: The Life and Times of Robert Johnson.
In the 2014 album Memoirs of a Murderer by heavy metal band King810, an introduction for the track "Take It" includes vocals by singer David Gunn that reference Papa Legba:"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. But then Papa Legba himself answers, and asks "What do you offer?"
- Religion and Anthropology: A Critical Introduction by Brian Morris, pg. 196.
- "African Gods and Catholic Saints in New World Negro Belief". American Anthropologist. 39: 635–643. doi:10.1525/aa.1937.39.4.02a00080.
- 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.