Category Archives: Latin America
Posted by silverfox57
Etymology: “Master of Force” or “Messenger of the Gods”
Other Spellings: Eleggua (Cuba), Elegu, Elegua, Elewa, Elegba
Other Names and Epithets: Legba, Club Bearer, Eshu-Eleggua
Elegua is a noted trickster and Orisha in Yoruba traditions from West Africa of Benin, Nigeria and Togo. It is an area known as Yorubaland that is a collection of some twenty plus groups with overlapping traditions and beliefs. Which means that trying to pin Elegua down is going to be rather tricky and I’d say precisely what Tricksters enjoy. These numerous groups mean that there will numerous variations to the stories and even spellings for Elegua’s name.
He is the first Orisha created by Olodumare and was present to witness the rest of creation. Elegua is a divine trickster who is seen as both young and old at once. The Orisha of the crossroads, he provides numerous opportunities and choices wherein he will enjoy sitting back to watch the chaos unfold.
Colors: Black, Red
Day of the Week: Monday, Sunday
Feast Day: January 1st, June 13th, November 2nd
Number: 3, 21
Patron of: Doorways, Justice, Messengers, Tricksters
Sphere of Influence: Crossroads, Doors, Time, Trickster, Mischief, Mayhem
Symbols: Cement or Sandstone head with eyes and mouth formed of seashells, Hooked Staff (painted red & black), Keys, Whistle
Taboo: Pigeon (no food offerings of this please)
Depictions Of Elegua
Because he represents both the beginning and end of life, Elegua can often be shown as either a young child, an old man or both simultaneously. He is frequently shown wearing black and red clothing, either traditional or jester’s attire. Elegua often takes on the role of warrior and protector as noted when shown carrying a club. He represents the endless wanderer who often appears in the guises of a beggar or crazy person.
What’s In A Name?
Studying Elegua as a separate entity from Eshu can get a bit confusing. Some traditions hold the two as brothers, other traditions say they are one and the same. That the name Elegua is one title for Eshu representing the light half with Eshu being the dark or shadow half.
In Cuba, where the spelling is Eleggua, it is generally thought that this name is a mispronunciation of Elegbara, one of Eshu’s many caminos and manifestations in Africa. That the name Eleggua is probably the Hispanic form of Elewa for Eshu meaning: “Handsome One.”
With enough sources discussing the two, Elegua and Eshu as separate, Eshu will get a separate entry later on.
Modern Day Worship
Elegua is venerated throughout Latin America and Nigeria, especially in the Candomblé, Quimbanda, Santeria, Umbanda and Youran religions.
Statues of Elegua are kept behind the front entrance to a home. Elegua’s alter will be kept either behind the front door of the house or outside, directly to the left of the door. Additionally, Elegua’s alter is always kept on the ground and never at a human height.
Elegua has a beaded necklace or eleke that has a repeated red and black pattern. These colors of red and black represent the duality of life and death, war and peace, health and sickness and so. In Santeria, is well understood that you want to be on Elegua’s good side as he is the one to help things go smoothly or cause the mishaps that life can throw at a person. He is very much so at the crossroads and a part of every decision that a person can make in life for good or ill.
Offerings To Elegua
Elegua will extend his protection and help to those who give offerings of candy, cigars, coconuts and rum.
Like many Orishas, in the Santeria religion, it is important to properly propitiate Elegua; for as often as he will provide opportunities, he is just as likely to toss challenges and obstacles in one’s way.
For food offerings, Elegua will eat almost anything but pigeon. The young, child-like manifestations of Elegua often receive offerings of candy and toys. Older manifestations lean more towards the hard candy, popcorn, smoked fish, bush rat, goat, and rooster. Elegua is especially found of black & white hens and she-goats as offerings.
Elegua is a member of the Orisha, the first one created by Olodumare. The Orisha are either a spirit or deity. In the Yoruban religion, a nature-based tradition, it is believed that the source of everything is called Olorun or Olodumare. The Orisha themselves are regarded as being different aspects of the main deity, Olorun-Olodumare. The Orisha act as messengers and go between for humans, answering the different prayers and requests as Olodumare is seen as being too busy to answer or do everything.
The Orisha are not perfect and like humans, will have many different good and bad traits. They also function as a family and the different relations and stories about how different Orisha relate to each other are known as Pataki, much like a fable or parable. The story doesn’t have to be true in that it actually happened in a historical sense but is made true in the telling.
With the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the worship of Elegua was brought with the slaves and is now found throughout much of the southern U.S., Latin America and South America.
In places such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Puerto Rico, the various aspects of an Orisha are called caminos, meaning road or path.
In Nigeria, every city has a patron Orisha. Eleggua’s city is Ketu.
The First Orisha – Elegua is the first Orisha that Olodumare or Olofe created. As such, Elegua existed before the rest of creation and was present to witness everything else come into being.
However, there are other Yoruban traditions that state that Elegua is the youngest of the Orisha and the most powerful after Obatala. Elegua did come to be venerated and fed first in ceremonies after he successfully healed Olodumare. Like anyone could, getting to be first has gotten to Elegua’s head and he can cause a lot of mischief, mainly with ceremonies not going right if he isn’t appeased first. Just as Elegua must be called on first in ceremonies, he is also called upon last when closing them out.
Parentage & Family
There are a few different stories for the origins and parentage of Elegua.
Mother – Oya is given as the mother of Elegua.
Father – This part isn’t clear as Oya herself has a couple of different consorts. Either Chango or Ogun.
Other sources and myths will list Elegua as the son of Obatala and Yemmu.
Following where Obatala and Yemmu are his parents, Elegua’s siblings will be Ogun and Orunla.
As an Orisha, one could argue that ultimately, they are all brothers and sisters.
Elegua is the messenger orisha for Olofi, one of the three manifestations of the Supreme god in Yoruban religion. As a messenger, Elegua has the power or Ashe (Ase) to make things happen or get things done.
As messenger, that also puts Elegua in the position to mete out justice to wrong doers. Anything from financial losses. To accidents and even jail. Naturally, Elegua can also bless those whom he favors too.
Due to his nature, Elegua is seen as a trickster in Santeria as he is present everywhere. He was the first to witness creation, he is witness to all of humankind’s events and history. Elegua provides both opportunities and obstacles in a person’s life. If you’re particularly lucky, you might even get a second chance with him.
God Of The Crossroads
A trickster, Elegua is known for opening the crossroads in the Santeria religion. Elegua is also associated with doorways and will protect a home from any danger or ills entering. Especially for those who have made the right offerings.
Within the Santaria religion, before starting any ritual or ceremony, Elegua must be called upon first, getting his approval at the beginning of every ceremony and to ensure it will proceed in an orderly manner. By the same token, Elegua will be called on last to close out a ceremony too.
As an Orisha of Crossroads, Elegua rules over different “roads” or caminos. Elegua is believed to have 101 (some traditions say 21) different such caminos or aspects. Some traditions, these caminos are also called “Eshu.” There is Eshu Alawana, the one who wanders alone in the wilds, Eshu Larove, the talkative one and Eshu Olona, the owner of the road. These are just a few of the different aspects or caminos that Elegua can take on.
As a god of the crossroads, he is the guardian of not just the crossroads, but marketplaces, curved streets and thresholds to houses. With this aspect, also comes providing choices and options, for a person to decide which direction they will go or to make mistakes in the process as Elegua stands back and watches.
Elegua is not an Orisha of Divination. However, due to his nature of facilitating the flow of energy and crossroads, Elegua does hold close ties to Orunmila, who is the Orisha of Divination. It makes sense given that Elegua has the keys to time to see the past, present and potential futures.
For general readings, Elegua’s diloggun or cowrie shells are used as he is considered to speak for all the Orishas.
Keys Of Time
There is a Pakati or story within Santeria where Olodumare gives Elegua the keys to the past, present and future. It is from this story, that Elegua is sometimes shown holding keys.
In the traditions where Elegua is the youngest of the Orishas; Olodumare had fallen extremely ill and lay sick in bed. All the Orisha gathered around and in turn, each one tried their best to heal Olodumare to no avail. Finally, Elegua arrived and offered to try healing Olodumare. The other Orisha scoffed at this, for how could Elegua, a mere child accomplish what the others, adults couldn’t do? Undaunted by the others, Elegua tried his hand and successfully healed Olodumare. In gratitude, Elegua was made the first Orisha to be called upon in every ceremony.
Variation – Other versions will say that it is Obatala who fell sick that Elegua healed. In thanks, Olodumare or Olofi then gives him the keys to all doors.
An Argument Among Friends
This is one story involving Elegua that I came across in full.
Elegua heads out one day on a Monday wearing a hat that is red on one side and white on the other. As he’s heading to the crossroad, he passes between two friends. One only sees the side of the hat that’s red and the other, the side that’s white.
Later on, the two friends comment about the stranger that walked past them earlier in the day. One friend comments on the red hat while the other says he is wrong, it was white. They get into such an argument about who is right and who is wrong, that it comes to blows.
Elegua had been watching the two from a hidden spot. He laughed at the two as he strode over to separate the friends and chastise them for fighting over the color of a stranger’s hat. He points out how his hat is red on one side and white on the other. That the two should be ashamed as their clothing is now torn and that there are more important matters to argue about.
In some versions of this story, the two friends apologize, while in other versions that two are so furious with each other that they continue their fight to the point of destroying their village.
Eshu – Synodeity
Elegua is also associated with Eshu (Echu). In many traditions, the two are seen as brothers while in others, they are one and the same. In Santeria, Elegua’s energy is tamer and more constrained compared to Eshu whose energy is wilder and more unpredictable. Basically, light and shadow.
In Brazilian traditions, Elegua is known as Elegbara and is just one of the titles that Exu or Eschu is known by.
Among the Yoruban practitioners of Nigeria, Eshu is just another name for Elegba or Elegua. Here, Eshu is a protective spirit who serves the chief god Ifa as a messenger.
Legba – West Africa/Haitian
A trickster deity and Loa found among the Fon people and Voudon religion, he is often equated as being the same figure as Elegua, especially variations of Eshu-Eleggua.
Janus – Roman
Given that Janus is the Roman god of portals and crossroads, shown to protect doorways, symbolism with keys and was invoked first in Roman rites, I see a lot of similarities between Janus and Elegua.
There are a few different Saints that Elegua has been equated to and it varies by the religion. Often the connections are fairly superficial.
Anima Sola – Not exactly a saint, but this is the Lonely Soul in Purgatory that is popular in Latin America in Catholosism with the Saint Cults. The Santeria religion in Cuba makes this connection of Elegua, more specifically Eshu with this figure.
Holy Child of Atocha – As in the infant Jesus, he is a popular folk image among Hispanics and as a protector of travelers, has easily been syncretized with Elegua.
Saint Anthony of Padua – One of the beloved Saints in Catholism, Pictures of Saint Anthony often show him carrying the Child-Jesus and a lily. The connection to Elegua is made as he is sometimes shown as a child.
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