Yoruba God


Figure of Eshu by Yoruba artist (1880-1920)

Wooden figure representing the god Eshu, by Yoruba artist (1880–1920).

Science Museum GroupCC0


Eshu—also known as Elegba or Legba—is one of the most recognizable oriṣas (gods) of the Yoruba pantheon. A complex god with many facets and roles, he is best known as the trickster god and the god of chance, unpredictability, and accidents. However, he is also a messenger god, a master of languages, and a guardian of crossroads. 

Eshu is a god of dualities and contradictions. He thrives on disorder and confusion, yet he is also a servant and companion of Orunmila, a god of order. Eshu serves as a mediator between the human and oriṣa realms, overseeing the transport of sacrifices to the oriṣas.[1]

Given that Eshu is a trickster god, Yoruba mythology contains many tales of his mischief, which depict him as alternately malevolent and benevolent to humans.[2] Within his diverse and sometimes contradictory domain, Eshu is responsible for “sin and punishment, fate and accident, certainty and confusion, and life and death.”[3] He is also a gatekeeper of crossroads and thresholds, where he is known as onile-orita, or “the one who builds his house at the road junction.”


  • English
  • Phonetic

Eshu Steals Obatala’s Yams

Eshu by Yoruba artist (20th century).

A carved representation of Eshu, by Yoruba artist (20th century).

Museum of High ArtCopyright

Eshu and Obatala (the god of creation and purity) have a complex relationship, with Obatala often serving as the target of Eshu’s tricks. In one particular tale of mischief, Eshu entered Obatala’s garden and stole some of his yams. He then used Obatala’s own slippers to make footprints in the garden. 

When Ọbatala discovered the theft, he asked Eshu about the missing yams. Eshu pointed toward the slipper prints and argued that Obatala must have stolen his own produce, for those were his tracks. Annoyed by Eshu’s cunning and trickery, Obatala punished the god by ordering him to return to the skies every evening and report to the oriṣas what had happened on earth that day.



  1. In this aspect, he is like Orunmila, who conveys divine messages from the oriṣas to humans. Eshu is responsible for “inquir[ing] whether a devotee has performed the required sacrifice prescribed by the gods.” See Ayodele Ogundipe, introduction to Esu Elegbara, the Yoruba God of Chance and Uncertainty: A Study in Yoruba Mythology (Malete: Kwara State University Press, 1978).

  2. Judith Gleason, Orisha: The Gods of Yorubaland (New York: Atheneum, 1971), 79.

  3. Ogundipe, Esu Elegbara, 130.

Secondary Sources

  1. Anda, Michael O. Yoruba. New York: Rosen Publishing, 1996.

  2. Awolalu, J. Ọmọṣade. Yorùbá Beliefs and Sacrificial Rites. London: Longman, 1996.

  3. Gleason, Judith. Orisha: The Gods of Yorubaland. New York: Atheneum, 1971.

  4. Karade, Baba Ifa. The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts. Newburyport, MA: Weiser Books, 2020.

  5. Knappert, Jan. African Mythology: An Encyclopedia of Myth and Legend, London: Diamond Books, 1995.

  6. Lucas, Jonathan Olumide. The Religion of the Yorubas: Being an Account of the Religious Beliefs and Practices of the Yoruba Peoples of Southern Nigeria, Especially in Relation to the Religion of Ancient Egypt. Lagos: C.M.S. Bookshop, 1948.

  7. Lynch, Patricia Ann, and Jeremy Roberts. African Mythology, A to Z. New York: Infobase, 2010.

  8. Ogundipe, Ayodele. Esu Elegbara, the Yoruba God of Chance and Uncertainty: A Study in Yoruba Mythology. Malete: Kwara State University Press, 1978.

  9. Pemberton, John. “Eshu-Elegba: The Yoruba Trickster God.” African Arts 9, no. 1 (October 1975): 20–27, 66–70, 90–92. https://doi.org/10.2307/3334976.

  10. Scheub, Harold. A Dictionary of African Mythology: The Mythmaker as Storyteller. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

  11. Vogelzang, I. “Ifa and Esu: Iconography of Order and Disorder.” African Arts 17, no. 4 (August 1984): 80. https://doi.org/10.2307/3336166.

  12. Wescott, Joan. “The Sculpture and Myths of Eshu-Elegba, the Yoruba Trickster: Definition and Interpretation in Yoruba Iconography.” Africa 32, no. 4 (October 1962): 336–54. https://doi.org/10.2307/1157438.


Mackay, Danielle. “Eshu.” Mythopedia, April 26, 2023. https://mythopedia.com/topics/eshu.

Mackay, Danielle. “Eshu.” Mythopedia, 26 Apr. 2023. https://mythopedia.com/topics/eshu. Accessed on 13 Dec. 2023.

Mackay, D. (2023, April 26). Eshu. Mythopedia. https://mythopedia.com/topics/eshu


  • Danielle Mackay

    Danielle Mackay is a writer and scholar who received her MA in Classical Studies from Rhodes University in South Africa

    Danielle Mackay Profile Picture