Legba: The Gate
Papa Legba, a Haitian Vodou Lwa
|Legba is sometimes said to be the first lwa saluted in a Vodou ceremony. In actuality, this is not true, there are other Lwa who are saluted before him. There is no doubt that serving Legba is essential though. Without an appropriate salute to Legba, one will not be able to get in contact with other Lwa. Papa Legba is the gate-keeper. Thus, he opens the gates to the Lwa.
Our most popular bath, it’s on the list
Note it here in this popular song:
“Papa Legba ouvre baye pou mwen, Ago eh!
“Papa Legba, open the gate for me, Ago eh
As you can see, Papa Legba resides at the gate. At the beginning of any Vodou dance, you will note the various salutations to the Lwa Legba. During ceremonies, the entrance to the peristyle will be saluted during Legba’s salutes. This is a way to honor the “home” of this Lwa, the gate. Living at the gate, Legba controls the entrance and departure of the Lwa into and out of the temple. Without his permission, no Lwa will be able to enter the peristyle and addressing the Lwa will go in vain. Legba is the master of doors, gateways, and highways. Points of intersection are also under his control.
Legba’s living at the gate ultimately places him in the role of regulator. He somewhat regulates the flow of a ceremony, allowing Lwa to pass through as they should. The Houngan or Mambo leading the ceremony also regulates the Lwa. He or she may make Lwa leave the head of someone if they have shown up at the wrong place or inappropriate time. There are a number of techniques used to do this.
Papa Legba is an old, (mostly) peaceful, sexually impotent man. He is seen as a small old man who wears beggar’s clothing. He has sores, a lame foot and a twisted limb. This is deceptive though, as he is a very powerful Lwa. One can see this during his possessions, in which Legba can demonstrate his great strength. He walks with a crutch (sometimes a twisted cane), carries a djakout, smokes a tobacco pipe and wears a straw hat. Legba’s straw sack, djakout, can often be seen hanging off of a tree with his offerings inside. Even in all his conditions, Legba has a wife. He oftentimes “leans” on his wife for support. His wife’s name is Adjessi.
I remember one time seeing Legba pick up a burning branch out of the fire made for Ogou. He took the branch, dancing back to the peristyle. Then he proceeded to clean people by passing the branch over their bodies. He cleaned me too! No one was harmed by the flames.
Legba is a big Lwa. He has many paths. Papa Legba lives at the gate and is often seen as a wanderer. During ceremonies, the entrance to the peristyle will be saluted during Legba’s salutes. This is a way to honor the “home” of this Lwa, the gate. Legba is a trickster too! He has been known to play quite a number of tricks on people, some nice and some not so nice! I know a woman, who after doing a service to Legba for money, got into a terrible car accident, broke two of her legs, and then got her money – from the insurance company! She is alive and well now, but that definitely wasn’t the way she wanted to obtain the money! (This is another reason why one should serve the Lwa under the guidance of a Houngan or Mambo)