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Legba, the Gate


The Gate Keeper

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.  Note it here in this popular song:
Papa Legba ouvre baye pou mwen, Ago eh!
Papa Legba Ouvre baye pou mwen,
Ouvre baye pou mwen, Papa
Pou mwen passe, Le'm tounnen map remesi Lwa yo!
Papa Legba, open the gate for me, Ago eh
Papa Legba, open the gate for me
Open the gate for me, Papa
For me to pass, when I return I will thank the Lwa!
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 being at the gate, ultimately creates him in a role as 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 in the wrong place or inappropriate time.  There is 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 beggars 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 "leans" on his wife for support oftentimes.  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!  Noone was harmed by the flames. 

  Legba is a big Lwa.  He has many paths.  Papa Legba lives in the gate and often is 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, that 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 definately 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)

  There is only one Legba but you will sometimes hear someone say "Legba nan Petro".  There are songs for Legba nan Petro.  "Legba nan Petro" actually stands for serving Legba in the Petro rite.  Legba is being served to open the gate for the Petro Lwa.  The service of Legba "in the Petro" is different from his service in the Rada rite.  Legba when being saluted in the Rada rite is saluted and served with water, molassess, and sometimes honey.  He is saluted with the asson, the sacred rattle of the priesthood.  Legba being saluted in the Petro rite, will be saluted with rum (or kleren laced with various things) and with a tcha tcha
  Legba is an old man.  The images of St. Lazarus (the one with the sores and the dogs) serves for Legba in the Rada rite.   St. Jude is the one associated with Legba nan Petro.  Like I said, Legba has many paths.  One of the most well known is Atibon Legba who is an old man and a trickster!  He will walk with a twisted cane. (I have seen houses that use a crutch instead).  He smokes a pipe and wears a straw hat.  He also carries a djakout, the straw sack.  In fact, Legba's straw sack will often be seen hanging off of a tree with Legba's offerings inside. 
  There are so many paths of Legba, and differences in their services. Legba Avadra is the wanderer.  He is a considered a vagabond too.  Legba Do Miwa is Legba behind the mirror.  Vye Vye Legba which translates to Old Old Legba, who indeed is very old.  Most Legba eat in a kwi (calabash bowl), but I know one Legba who eats on a specially prepared mat on the floor and another who actually eats off of the floor!
  Legba may also drink coffee, cola, and trempe.  Trempe is kleren steeped in different herbs.  He is also known to take akasan, siwo, and palm oil.  He also eats toasted corn and peanuts which is a staple that is often offered to many Lwa.  He likes sugar cane, bananas, and bread.  He is also fond of yanm, malanga, and other "vegetables" as such.  He likes cakes decorated in his colors.  He also likes popcorn, and many times during Legba (and sometimes Marassa) time of service, an initiate may be seen dancing with a laye full of popcorn, peanuts, and pieces of coconuts that had been sprinkled with spices.


Is Papa Legba a spirit that walks with you?  Email me: