Cultural Resources

Papa Legba

In Vodou (often spelled Voodoo), Legba is one of the L’wha (Loa), a spirit who acts as an intermediary between humans and Bondye, the benevolent but disinterested deity who keeps his distance from the world he created. While the L’wha are often described as angels or saints, unlike angels they are not merely prayed to, but served.

Altar to Papa Legba

Ted Calhoun, one of our directors, visits an altar to Papa Legba at the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, 2006.

Legba has his origins with the Fon people of Dahomey (Benin) Africa and is the guardian of crossroads and entrances. He also has the power to remove obstacles. He is often depicted as an old man with a crooked cane, wearing brown pants and a straw hat and accompanied by a rooster or a dog. He is one of the most important and most loved of the L’wha. Often addressed as Vye Legba (Old Legba), Legba Atibon, or Papa Legba, he is always the first to be called in a Vodou ceremony as he is the keeper of the gates of the spirit world. He speaks all human languages and stands at the border between the realms where he either grants or denies permission to speak with the spirits or allow humans to visit the other side. He is the voice of Bondye and sometimes of the other L’wah, and he shares their wisdom, messages, and prophecies. Legba is often invoked when there is a need for greater communication, speech, and understanding between individuals or groups of people. As a god of prophecy, it was Legba who taught humans how to interpret oracles.

In his article Papa Legba Atibon, author Max Beauvoir writes how Legba is “so humble and benevolent...that he never needs sacrifices of pigs, or bulls or big fiesta to be done in His honor. He is happy with a modest cup of coffee, a fistful of grilled or roasted corn or peanuts, some tobacco that He smokes in a noticeably simple pipe made of little bamboo and corncob.” Legba is also fond of grilled chicken, sweet potatoes, plantains, tobacco, rum, candy, and toys.

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