Eshu, or Èṣù Ẹlégbára, appears in the Yoruba religious pantheon as the god of chance, fate, change and uncertainty. He acts as a mediator between humans and the gods, conveying sacrificial offerings and divinatory messages back and forth between these spheres (see also Eshu-Elegba in the Marketplace and Eshu, God of Fate).
The following praise-poem is from Ayọdele Ogundipẹ’s comprehensive academic study, Èṣù Ẹlégbára: Chance, Uncertainty in Yorùbá Mythology. The poet is Mùtíù Adélékè, described as a forty-ish trader from Ile-Olunlọyọ in Ibadan state, Nigeria. The poet describes himself as follower of the Islamic faith, who at the same time maintains a shrine for Èṣù Ẹlégbára, to whom he offers the following praises.
Leisurely, I will trail after you with music,
He who creates man and never forgets him.
I will follow you leisurely with music.
Èṣù, so I may not suffer,
So I may not perish,
So I may not have any worries,
My household deity gives me pleasure,
Are the resons why I trail after you.
Leisurely, leisurely, leisurely
Will I play music after you.
Master, son of the owner of Ìdèrè, (1)
He came from Ìdèrè to found a city
One who takes money stealthily.
Short, diminutive man
Who perpetually guards the city gates,
Masquerade of earth-spirits, elderly deity,
Spirits of criminals guard Orò gates (2)
My lord is the only one who guards the city gates (3)
From the dark warrior.
Make a fence of yam tendrils
Help me take care of the slaughter of tortoise.
Tiny, little man, (4)
He alone sits on the tortoise shell.
My lord, my master!
Man of substance
Swathed in a turban of the grassy plain,
Wearing trousers made of the grassy plains,
Wearing loin cloth made of grass.
Owólabí, master mediceman (5)
Drinker of a whole keg of palm wine at the bar
He peers from a ruined house
With elongated occiput like a bush fowl’s (6)
With him, few words become the truth.
Lighter of fire with mouth full of water
Afterwards, they claimed Mute is devious,
Akínfẹ́miwá, man with many names. (7)
Èṣù, afterwards, they claim Mute is odd,
They asked all the Ọ̀yọ́ chiefs and counsellors
Akínkẹ́hìndé, they say, ‘Go reform Mute’s character.’ (8)
Any character needing reform
Shall be put right by my lord and master
Man of wealth and substance who jests endlessly.
Mọ́gàjí, man of considerable means
Roams the streets collecting money off sacrifices (9)
Owólabí, distinguished mediceman
When death finds guilt, the rich sacrifice.
Receiver of blows on his bare chest,
And machete cuts on his eyeballs. (10)
Immortal One: Riser to change the day of Death.
Èṣù, come change the day of Death for my child (11)
Let it be far, far removed.
Therefore I call to you,
Do not let me suffer,
Do not let me perish,
Take away all worries from me.
It is because you are Amọ̀kẹ́ẹ́’s husband
That I trail after you.
Bádérìnwá’s master, I follow you everywhere, (12)
Landori, Laburẹkẹ, (13)
Láaróyè, mighty man, (14)
Compassionate one with ears to hear complaints,
Èṣù, I take refuge with you,
I tremble behind you.
Here is the Oríkì in Yorùbá.
Gbẹ̀rẹ̀ ni n ó máa t’àgbó lẹ́hìn, Gbẹ̀rẹ̀ o.
A dá ’ni má gbàgbé o
Gbẹ̀rẹ̀ ni n ó máa t’àgbó lẹ́hìn, Gbẹ̀rẹ̀ o.
Èṣù, Kíí n má baá jìyà
Kíí n má baá ṣ’òfò
Kíí n má baá rí ìdààmú
Éégun ’bílé wùn mí
Ni mo n seé r’óṣọ lẹ́hìn rẹ
Gbẹ̀rẹ̀ gbẹ̀rẹ̀ gbẹ̀rẹ̀.
Ni n ó maa t’ àgbá lẹ́hìn rẹ
Ọgá ọmọ ònídèrè
Ìdèrè lá tí wá ṣè ’lú
Ọmọ akọ́wọ́ adikukururu
Ẹní npa ’bodè féé
Eégún irúnmọlè, àgbàlagbà òrìṣà
Pákọ̀kọ̀ ní ípa ibòdè ọ̀rọ̀
Olúwàá mi nikan níí ipàbọ̀dè
Nigbà jàgunjàgun dúdú
Jákùn ewùrà asogba
Ba mi bode adunbu ahunmjẹ
Ànikàn da omi àdó wẹ̀
Òònìkàn fi awon ahun jókòó
Olówóo’ mi, olúwàa mi
O f’ọ̀dàn wé’rí
O f’ọ̀dàn dá ṣòkòtò
Èṣù tún fi dá bàńtẹ́ o
Owólabí, ojigan lóògun
Gbagburu nílé ọlọtí
A koo ’nu aho yọjú
Sipakọ soo bí àparò
Sọ̀rọ̀ díẹ̀ wá d’òótọ́
Ab’ omi s’ẹ́nu fẹ́’ná jò
Wọ̀n ṣe tan, wọ̀ń ni’wa odi o gun
Akinfẹ́miwa, olórúkọ púpọ̀
Èṣù wọ̀n ṣe tán, isron ni’wa odi o
Wón ni gbogbo Ọ̀yọ́mèsì-melu o
Akíndẹ̀hìndé, wọ̀n ní ẹ lọ, tún’wà
Iwa ti o bane
Olúwaá mi jí ó sì tún n ṣe
Onile, ọlọ́na ti njẹ̀wọ̀ ososo
Mógàjí, onílé ọlọ́nà
Tí n tọ ìgboro owó ẹbọọ́ kiri
Owólabí, ojingan ìṣògùn
Ikú debi olówó nii m’ẹbọ
Àyà lo fi ngbe ogbo
Ẹyinjú ni fii gba agada
Òbìriiti ají p’ọjọ ikú dà
Èṣù wá p’ọjọ ikú ọmọ dà
Ko jọ́mọ na gbongbon
Ni mo n ṣeé ké sí ọ
Ko má mà jẹ mi níyà
Ko má mà jẹ́ n sòfò
Ko má mà jẹ́ n rídààmú
O ṣé ọkọ Amòkéé
Ni mo ṣe ń rọ̀ léhìn rẹ
Olówó Bádérìnwá, ni mo ṣe n rọ̀ léhìn rẹ
Láaróyè, ọkùnrin konkori
Èṣù mo sá di ọ́
Mo ń gbọ̀n léhìn rẹ.
from Èṣù Ẹlégbára: Chance, Uncertainty in Yorùbá Mythology,
by Ayọdele Ogundipẹ,
Kwara State University Press (2012)
- Ìdèrè: The name of a town in Ọyọ state, Nigeria. Most Yoruba mythology places the city of Ilé-Ifẹ̀ (in south-western Nigeria) as the focal point of the creation of the world. However, some localised myths ascribe the creation of the world as taking place in the ancient royal town of Ìdèrè (see Hail Orisha!: A Phenomenology of a West African Religion in the Mid-Nineteenth Century by Peter Rutherford McKenzie, published by Brill 1997).
- Orò: The Yoruba deity of justice. In precolonial times the Orò cult performed legislative, executive and judicial functions in the Yoruba society. They were responsible for carrying out the executions of criminals on behalf of the state councils. The Orisha Orò commands the spirits of the executed criminals and those who have spilled human blood upon the earth.
- Shrines for Èṣù are traditionally placed at the entrances and the exits of towns and cities.
- As a god who personifies life’s paradoxes, Èṣù is described as both infinitely big and infinitesimally small.
- Owólabí: Means “Gives birth to money” or “Born into wealth”.
- With elongated occiput: Èṣù is most commonly depicted as having an oddly shaped head, with the back part of the head elongated.
- Akínfẹ́miwá: Meaning “Brave loving one”.
- Akínkẹ́hìndé: Meaning “Manly” or “Last born”
- Èṣù embodies the contradictions of life. Despite his high status as a deity and the wealth associated with him, he frequently steals from sacrificial offerings made to other gods and ancestors.
- Èṣù is described as so invincible that he can be stabbed in the eyes with a machete without feeling a thing.
- Èṣù appears in Yoruba mythology as the master of fate, who can change predestined events.
- Bádérìnwá: One who walks with royalty.
- Landori, Laburẹkẹ: Generic praise names for Èṣù.
- Láaróyè: Meaning “Honour of the throne”.