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Eshu, also known as Elegba or Legba, is a trickster god of the Yoruba people of Nigeria in West Africa. He is unpredictable, sly, and fond of pranks that can be cruel and disruptive. Eshu, who knows all the languages spoken on earth, serves as a messenger between the gods and people. He also carries up to heaven the sacrifices that people offer to the gods.

According to one story, Eshu became the messenger after playing a trick on the High God. He stole yams from the god's garden, used the god's slippers to make footprints there, and then suggested that the god had stolen the yams himself. Annoyed, the High God ordered Eshu to visit the sky every night and tell him what happened on earth during the day.

trickster mischievous figure appearing in various forms in the folktales and mythology of many different peoples

cosmic large or universal in scale; having to do with the universe

Eshu enjoys confusion. Many stories tell of tricks he plays that cause arguments between friends or between husbands and wives. In one myth he lured the sun and moon into changing places, which upset the cosmic order. As the god of change, chance, and uncertainty, Eshu is sometimes paired with Ifa, a god representing order. In one tale Eshu claimed that he would ruin Ifa, who laughingly replied, "If you transform yourself, I shall do the same, and if I die, you will die, for so it has been ordained in heaven." In this way, order and disorder are forever paired, and neither can exist without the other.

See also African Mythology; Tricksters.

* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.