Eshu-Elegba is, to me, one of the most fascinating gods in Yoruba culture. He is depicted usually as a ritual sculpture and he confirms that if any meaning is to be arrived at, one must abandon any search for a straightforward answer as to the symbolic meaning of Yoruba ritual sculpture. Ritual sculpture made for the cult of Eshu-Elegba has iconographic features that can be interpreted by means of ritual of the cult, myth, and praise songs.

Eshu-Elegba is the god of mischief. He is the Yoruba “trickster” who is recognized by all Yoruba (regardless of their association with other cults.) He is blamed for all the troubles of man, and serves as a sort of mediator between the people and the gods. On the one hand, he tricks men into upsetting the gods (or orisha,) and then in turn aids the gods in their vengeance. So he provides sacrifices for the gods. It is said that without Elegba, the orisha would not have any food. Thus, Elegba is responsible for all conflict between people and gods. When men are fighting, Elegba is said to be present; when a man has committed a wrongdoing it is assumed that he was tempted by Elegba. Praise names describe him as, “the one who turns right into wrong and makes the innocent guilty.” What may be confusing to some is that Eshu is not exclusively an evil god (as no Yoruba god is completely good or bad.) Every Yoruba knows that Eshu gave them Ifa, or the divination system. Eshu worshippers say that he gives them children and protects them. Members of some cults see Eshu as a friend. Eshu is described as a nomadic figure. He occupies luminal spaces, like crossroads and thresholds of houses. He is also present when there is change or evolution.

The features of an Elegba ritual statue distinguishes it. The most prominent feature on an Eshu-Elegba is the long downward-curved hair-dress, sometimes it is even carved as a phallus. The statue is typically adorned with long strands of cowrie shells. Just above the forehead is a tiny calabash. Sometimes Eshu holds a bag, which contains fragments of utensils, and broken calash. The figures are worn over the shoulder of the male Elegba worshipper, or a pair over each shoulder. When they are not being worn, it is set up in the worshipper’s shrine. Women worshippers of Elegba wear a different insignia. They wear a pair of male and female figures with a more subdued curve head-dress. They usually hold two long calabashes. Like the male worshippers, when the figures are not being worn they are kept in a shrine. There are also altar figures. These are not worn. Instead, they decorate a shrine. These figures also have the distinguishing feature of those that are worn. A pillar or mound of mud (between 1 and 4 feet high) can be found in a town’s central Elegba shrine, and in the foot of doorways (although these are much smaller.) Daily offerings of palm oil are poured over the pillar.


  1. Dani04:56

    Eshu-Elegba is known for the crimson parrot upon his forehead to signify that he was not carrying any burdens on his head (which goes a long w/ his carefree, trickster personality). I'm unaware of where this "headdress" representation came from. Of course, my first thought is that it must be a derivative of the feather, but I don't want to assume. Do some research on that to double check, but interesting little article. (:

  2. Hi Jay,

    How much do you know about the Yoruba/Santeria traditions & their rituals? I was recently introduced to it and have been doing some research, when I came across your blog. I'd love to hear what you know, if anything. Thanks!


  3. Anonymous02:46

    Es wäre schön, wenn die Herkunft der Bilder/Objekte wie angegeben wären.

    Werden die Figuren beopfert (was zu Anhaftungen führt) oder "nur" gereinigt!???

    Wie werden sie über der Schulter geragen?

    Happy Christmas!!!

    It would be nice if the origin of the images / objects as world be named.

    Lead offerings to the figures to a dirty patina or are they "only" cleaned!?

    How are they worne over the shoulder?

    Happy Christmas!

  4. Anonymous11:05

    hi jay
    i am a book designer working for oxford university press. i was wondering if you could help me. we want to use the figure of Eshu-Elegba on the cover. i have come across the image in several blogs and i am trying to find out who owns it so i can obtain rights to use it. so, i guess my question is where did you get the image from so i can contact them? i would really appreciate your help. here is my email address: thank you so much.
    lisa force


  6. "....he tricks men into upsettingthe gods (or orishas) and then in turn aids the gods in their vengeance." That statement seems to echo the supremacist Eurocentric-Christian perception of Esu as being the "devil." Esu Elegba or Elegbara, as the mediador between Spirit and humans, has the key role in maintaining harmony and balance in the world. If human move to far away from ideas of living in alignment with natural laws and natural order, Esu as the "trickster" causes [disruption]. He's the Divine Enforcer in issues of Spiritual Justice. The primary energy pattern that incarnates Esu is the Odu Ose’tura, and this Odu says that humans cannot behave in a way that is counter to their essential nature without eventually paying a price. The human arrogance from the illusion of "self-relinat-I don't need nobody" has its consequences. He's called a "trickster" because he can and does create illusions based on people's arrogance, but his intention is primordiallly to teach us humility. Because we live in an infinite universe, our finite perception of reality does not match the objective circumstances surrounding our experience; so Esu is the force in nature that illuminates awareness of this contradiction. Most of the Eurocentric anthropological literature identifies Esu-Eleggbara as a [random form of harassment]. In fact, the supremacists of the Judeo-Christian religion describe Esu-O'Dara as "evil." But this description--among other things--not only fails to appreciate but also undermines the sacred function of all "Tricksters" in all traditional cultures. In summary, the role of Esu as a "Trickster" is to brin each one of us the truth that we are all interconnected. It's simply a manifestation of eternal truth that NO ONE can be totally self-reliant. Once you get into your fat head the idea that you can handle all of your problems by yourself, you are invoking an encounter with the Divine Trickster.

    Iba a she Esu-Eleggba! ashe tutu, ile tutu, tutu ariku babawa. Mo juba Olofin, mo juba olorun, mo juba OLODUMARE. Mo juba olojoni, oni odun mocuedu. Olorun alabosudaye. Olorun alabosunife, olorun alaye, olorun elemi. OLODUMARE oba aterere. Kaje OLODUMARE mo juba gbogbo iku imbelese, OLODUMARE ibae baye tonu. mo juba atijo ojo, mo juba a tiwo orun, ayai odun, oni odun, odun ala, mo juba oshukua, mo juba ile ogere a foko jeri.....ASHE!

    1. Ase'O!!! Thank you for setting them straight. <3

    2. Anonymous20:05

      Much better accounting. Thank you for setting this right.

  7. Eshu09:19

    You wrong, but some right.

  8. Anonymous06:38

    please contact me at without knowing anything of eshu elebra I have known that to be my name since I was very young I need to know more