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A mask representing Eshu.

Eshu (other names include Exu, Esu Eleggua, Esu Elegbara, Eshu Elegbara, Elegba, Legba, and Eleda) is an orisha, and one of the most known deities of the Yoruba mythology and 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 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, shepherd's crook, as well as a pipe.

Eshu is a god of Chaos and Trickery, and plays frequently tempting choices for the purpose of causing maturation. He is a difficult teacher, but a good one[2]. As an example[3], Eshu was walking down the road one day, wearing a hat that was red on one side and black on the other. Sometime after he departed, 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 half. They nearly fought over the argument, until Eshu came back and cleared the mystery, teaching the villagers about how one's perspective can alter a person's perception of reality, and that one can be easily fooled. In other versions of this tale, the two tribes were not stopped short of 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 herald function.


Eshu in different cultures

The veneration 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.
  • Legba: In Vodou, Papa Legba is the intermediary between the divine and humanity, while Kalfu is his Petro manifestation. Eshu also resembles the Voudon loa Simbi who is both the god of magic and the intermediate between humanity and Papa Legba.
  • 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. Is 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 de Marabos
Exu Zé Pelintra
Exu Mirim

Roads of Eshu-Elegba in Lukumi

Eshu-Elegba in Cuban Lukumi tradition has 101 different roads, or manifestations. His most well number in 21 and they are:

Eshu Añiki
Eshu Laroye
Eshu Alagwana
Eshu Kilalu
Eshu Bararaki/Bararikikeño
Eschu 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]


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