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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.

Papa Legba
VeveLegba.svg
Veve of Papa Legba
Venerated in Haitian Vodou, Folk Catholicism

Contents

AppearanceEdit

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,[1] and Saint Anthony.[2]

Alternative viewsEdit

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 cultureEdit

In the 1972 novel, Mumbo Jumbo, by Ishmael Reed, the main character is a Voodoo priest named Papa Labas after Papa Legba.

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.[3]

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.[4]

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,[5] and smoking a pipe.[6]

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.[7]

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".[citation needed] 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 brief reference to Papa Legba in Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

There is a single reference to Atibon Legba in the song Black Cat Bone on the Mission album The Brightest Light.

Erzulie, Damballa, Baron Samedi and Papa Legba, all appear in the WildCats original comic series, assisting Voodoo against Mait' Carrefour.

They also appear (or are referenced to) in Terry Pratchett's book Witches Abroad (1991).[citation needed]

The character Galeb from Tales of Monkey Island was based on Papa Legba.[8]

Papa Legba is invoked by the Marvel Comics character Brother Voodoo for support.[citation needed]

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).[9] This depiction is of a crossroads demon rather than the loa of communication.

In a 2014 television episode of Constantine (TV series), titled "Danse Vaudou", Papa Legba is summoned by the character Papa Midnight to open a channel between the living and dead to allow people to speak with and attain closure with the dead. however, the channel was allowing the dead to walk among the living and to inflict their manner of death upon the living.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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."[citation needed]

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?"[citation needed]

See alsoEdit

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