Papa Legba

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In Haitian Vodou, Papa Legba is 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. 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. In Haiti, he is the great elocution, the voice of God, as it were. Legba facilitates communication, speech and understanding. In the Yoruba pantheon, honored in Nigeria, Cuba, Brazil, and elsewhere in the Yoruba diaspora, Ellegua is mostly associated with Papa Legba since both share the role of being the god of the crossroads. In contrast to Papa Legba, however, Eleggua is a trickster child. Legba also shares similarities to Orunmila, the orisha of prophesy who taught mankind how to use the mighty oracle Ifá. 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. Because of his position as 'gate-keeper' between the worlds of the living and the mysteries he is often identified with Saint Peter who holds a comparable position in Catholic tradition. He is also depicted in Haiti as St. Lazarus, or St. Anthony[1].

In Benin and Nigeria, 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.

Alternative: Legba, Legba Atibon, Atibon Legba, Ati-Gbon Legba.

Papa Legba in popular culture

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, Angel Band, 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" centers around a malign Voodoo priest by the name of Papa Legba (played by Clarence Williams III). In keeping with the image of Legba often conceptualised in Haitian Voodoo subculture, Legba is depicted walking with the aid of crutches, and smokes a pipe.

There is also reference to Legba in the 1986 movie Crossroads, the blues movie referencing the old story of Robert Johnson selling his soul to the Devil at the Crossroads in Mississippi. The Devil is initially referred to as Legba, but later changes his name to Scratch.

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". Papa Legba and Voodoo appear again in Gibson's "Spook Country".[2]

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