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Eshu (other names include Exu, Esu Eleggua, Esu Elegbara, Eshu Elegbara, Elegba, Legba, Papa Legba and Eleda) is both an orisha and one of the most well-known deities of the Yoruba mythology and its related New World traditions.

He has a wide range of responsibilities: the protector of travelers, deity of roads, particularly crossroads, the deity with the power over fortune and misfortune, and the personification of death, a psychopomp. Eshu is involved within the Orisa (also spelt Orisha or Orixa)-Ifá system of the Yoruba as well as in African diasporic faiths like Santeria/Lukumi and Candomble developed by the descendants of enslaved West Africans in the Americas, where Eshu was and is still sometimes identified with Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Michael [1] or Santo Niño de Atocha, depending on the situation or location. He is often identified by the number three, and the colours red & black or white & black, and his caminos or paths (compare: Avatar) are often represented carrying a cane or shepherd's crook, as well as smoking a pipe.

Eshu is a spirit of Chaos and Trickery, and plays frequently by leading mortals to temptation and possible tribulation in the hopes that the experience will lead ultimately to their maturation. In this way he is certainly a difficult teacher, but in the end is usually found to be a good one.[2] As an example of this, let us look at one of his patakis or stories of the faith.[3] Eshu was walking down a road one day, wearing a hat that was red on one side and black on the other. Sometime after he entered a village which the road went through, the villagers who had seen him began arguing about whether the stranger's hat was black or red. The villagers on one side of the road had only been capable of seeing the black side, and the villagers on the other side had only been capable of seeing the red one. They soon came to blows over the disagreement which caused him to turn back and rebuke them, revealing to them how one's perspective can be as correct as another person's even when they appear to be diametrically opposed to each other. He then left them with a stern warning about how closed-mindedness can cause one to be made a fool. In other versions of this tale, the two halves of the village were not stopped short of extreme violence; they actually annihilated each other, and Eshu laughed at the result, saying "Bringing strife is my greatest joy".

In Brazil, the female counterpart of Exus are called Pomba Gira. Eshus are constantly related to Hermes/Mercury for their heraldic function.

Eshu in different cultures

The veneration of Eshu is widespread in the New World, as well as in Africa, and he is venerated under many different names and attributes[4]:

  • Exu de Quimbanda: The Exu who is the messenger of the deities in Candomble is not Exu de Quimbanda. Exu de Quimbanda has a few similarities in how he is worshipped, such as in the colours he likes, but he is an entirely different entity, originating among the people of Angola, not the Yoruba of Nigeria. While the Exu de Candomble is an Orisha, the Exu of Quimbanda is like a Lordly or Kingly Spirit, and unlike the Candomble Orishas, he can be "bought" or "controlled" by the Quimbanda practitioner to go and do many sorts of deeds, while the Candomble Exu must only be petitioned. Exu de Quimbanda is a Nkuru, a spirit of the forest, while Exu of Candomble is a universal elemental spirit, the spirit of the crossroads and the divine messenger. The similarities between the two are that they both respond to red and black, they both are fed on the road, and they both are very tricky. Beyond that, the similarities cease.
  • Eleggua: Eleggua is another name used among Lukumi for Eshu. His divine number is 21.
  • Elegba or Elegbara: in Nigeria and the West of Cuba
  • Legba: In Vodou, Papa Legba is the intermediary between the divine and humanity, while Kalfu is his Petro manifestation.
  • Lucero: In Palo Mayombe, Lucero (also Nkuyo\Mañunga\Lubaniba) is the deity of balance and guidance through paths.
  • Esu: In Yorubaland, this is an energy that rose out of the Yangi (sacred red rock) and allows people to communicate with the Irunmole, Orisa, Orunmila, and so on. This is essentially the oldest Esu. Also important in the African diaspora.
  • "Eshu": in the play A Tempest (1969), by Aimé Césaire of Martinique, Eshu is the virile trickster who comes to sing defiant songs laden with sexual innuendo and add humor to this highly political rewriting of Shakespeare's classic play, The Tempest.

Best Known Exus in the Brazilian traditions

Exu Rei
Exu Tranca Rua
Exu Tranca Rua das Almas
Exu Sete Encruzilhadas
Exu Sete Capas
Exu Tiriri
Exu Veludo
Exu Marabô
Zé Pelintra
Exu Mirim

Roads of Eshu-Elegba in Lukumi

Eshu-Elegba in Cuban Lukumi tradition has 101 different roads, or manifestations. Some of his most well known are:

Eshu Añiki
Eshu Laroye
Eshu Alagwana
Eshu Modubela
Eshu Kilalu
Eshu Bararaki/Bararikikeño
Eshu Ocuboro
Eshu Afra
Eshu Mike
Eshu Bi
Eshu Tulu
Eshu Agosole
Eshu Alabode
Eshu Beleke
Eshu Onibode
Eshu Myulu
Eshu Otole
Eshu Miwa
Eshu Osika
Eshu Araibode
Eshu Yemi
Eshu Aye
Eshu Ocholforo
Eshu Wonke [1]


Further Reading

External links