NAME: Eshu-Elgbara also in different places known as Legba, Kalfu, Exu, Baron Carrefour, associated with St. Peter, St. Anthony & the Holy Child of Atocha. Also known in some forms of Santeria / Lucumi as Eshu Oro “Master of the Spoken Word,” Eshu Elekun “The Predator, and “Eshu Odara “Lord of Transformation,” & Eshu Laroye Messenger of the Love Goddess Oshun.” Among others.
SYMBOLS: Crossroads, Red Feather, large staff or other phallic symbols, the Ifa Oracle, the colors red & black.
USUAL IMAGE: As he was taken from his African origin his images has changed to fit into the different ways he is visualized which range from his being seen as an energetic teenage youth to being seen as a bent old man with clawed hands who much walk with a stick. He is often pictures with a huge erect phallus or wearing a red father or with a nail in his forehead.
HOLY BOOKS: The Ifa Oracle
HOLY DAYS: Mondays & Saturdays
MAJOR TABOOS: Depends on the manifestation of Eshu. For instance if Kalfu should ride a worshipper everyone falls silent because he does not like extraneous talk.
FORM OF WORSHIP: In the manner proper to how a Lwa / Loa is honored in that tradition. Initiates of Eshu offer an ebos (sacrifice) of rum, cigars or other things each Monday. At special times however the ebo may call for something such as three black roosters. It is thought to be VERY foolish, dangerous even to not feed the Loa once you have started a relationship with them.
DETAILS: Eshu-Elgbara is one of the Orisha gods of the Fon and Yoruba people of West Africa.
He has become better known today though the religions known under various names such as Voodoo, Vodon, Hoodoo, Voudou, Candomble, Lucumi, Sevi Lwa, Santeria and other names.
He is a trickster god known for humor, rules braking, boundary crossing, deceit, lawlessness & sexuality. However he is also the god of communication who must be called first of all if any of the Gods or Goddess are to be reached at all, the inventor the Ifa Oracle, the keeper of the keys and the crossroads who stands at the boundaries of all things in the universe and the lives of people, as well as the only Orisha who understands all languages both cosmic and mundane without whom all contact with the ultimate Creator would be lost.
As originally visualized by the Yoruba people he was seen as a youthful man full of life and energy, however on being transferred to the New World with the slaves he took on somewhat different aspects in different areas.
So that in Haiti where he is called Legba he is seen as a pleasant old man who walks with a cane because of his age crooked body which also turns his hand into painful claws. While at the same time also seen as Kalfu, powerful & dangerous master of the baleful Loa who, when he shows up in a ceremony must be meet with silence less he let dark spirits lose that would not otherwise come near the rites. And cases even cause transformations in those foolish enough to displease him. While in Brazil he is Exu who is quite simple the Devil.
For most however Eshu is the God who can go anywhere due simply to the fact that when the remote all-powerful being who put the Loa in charge of men and nature asked what where each wanted to go they all gave an answer such as the air, the sea or such like. Only Eshu was cleaver enough to say “I want to go wherever I will.” And so there was no place here is he denied, no language he cannot speak, and no rule he cannot break.
Therefor it’s hardly any wonder that in whatever form he takes he is always the first one called.
The Three Friends are part of a series of ‘vodou pake’ I created back in 2013 exploring the Vodun religion of Western Africa and issues of modern day slavery.
The Drapetomania project started as a response to the case of Mary Adenugba, a survivor of human trafficking and member of the RAPAR charity where I was artist-in-residence in 2013. Mary had been taken from Nigeria and brought to the UK where she was forced to work as a prostitute and cleaner for three years. In the midst of Mary’s asylum campaign, I began to conduct research on human trafficking from Nigeria, and learnt local belief in Vodon and Juju is exploited by traffickers to ensnare victims into the sex trade. Traffickers target women from communities where Vodon is still a widely held practice and with the help of 'witchdoctors’, promise to get the women good work in Europe to help them provide for their families, if they agree to take an oath of obedience and silence to the Odisha. The women are then put through an often gruelling and frightening ceremony which takes many different forms, but all are designed to terrify the women into a state of blind obedience. They are then taken to Europe and introduced into the sex trade, but fear of breaking their 'vow' to the Odisha and what might happen to them keeps them from seeking any escape or help from their circumstances. If they are rescued by the authorities, the victims of this practice are obviously reluctant to speak out and give evidence. The authorities response is either to disbelieve the victim or to simply insist that the religious and spiritual beliefs they have grown up with are nonsense. Whilst trying to think of a response to this scenario, I heard a story of a gynaecologist from East Africa who returned to his native village, and saw the horrific daily consequences of the FGM rituals. Many well-meaning Westerners had come to the village trying to stop the practice, but had little success. The gynaecologist asked why it was so important that FGM be practiced on the village girls. Though the reasons for FGM vary widely from place to place, the village insisted that if they did not circumcise the girls, the crops would not grow. The gynaecologist then offered a solution, that on that year, no girls would be cut, and together, they would all jump over the fields. If the crops failed that season, he would bear the financial loss and compensate the village. If the crops were fine, they would stop practicing FGM. When the next season came, and the uncut girls jumped over the fields, the crops grew as usual and the practice ceased amongst the villagers. Many of the news stories I looked into to research the exploitation of Vodon in trafficking was rather ignorant, Eurocentric (and in some cases, quite racist) perspectives on the issue, laughing at African 'superstitions’. Vodon and it’s relative religions are deep and complex and utterly misunderstood and misinterpreted across the world. Vodon, ironically, was spread to the Americas via the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, where it amalgamated with other local and imported beliefs, languages and traditions to form Haitian Vodou, Brazilian Candomble, Cuban Santeria and Louisana Voodoo, all derived from the African diaspora. As with many things, not exclusively religions, it not the idea itself that is harmful, but how it is used. I wondered that instead of trying to convince victims that their religious beliefs were nothing and condemning a whole faith, that it’s practices be used to help victims on their level. The Drapetomania project is an exploration of that idea through the creation of Spirit Bottles (otherwise known as Wanga or Pake) and fetishes, paying homage to Yoruba beliefs, Vodou, Candomble and Santeria as well as other forms of spiritualism, folklore, mysticism and ideologies in order to unite these practices to break the psychological hold upon victims of trafficking, domestic violence and persecution.