The crossroads is a major concept in African religion. It is a pervasive idea that suggests there is a point where good and evil, humanity and divinity, the living and the Dead, the night and the day, and all other contradictions, opposites, and situations involving decisions must meet. At this point, there exists an intermediary to open the way, to provide humans with choice, and to teach wisdom at the gate. This gatekeeper goes by many names, but is known in the Yoruba as Legba, Eshu, or Ellegua depending on the language and country of practice.
In the sense that the crossroads is literally the place where several paths cross, where several roads intersect, it is really a philosophical concept. As such, the African idea is that, at the point of decision, the human has the possibility of touching divinity or forever remaining locked in mortality. As a profound philosophical concept and idea, the notion of crossroads sits at the entrance into the study of African religion, initiation, ritual performance, spiritual resources, benefits, and indeed reincarnation. One cannot escape the space of decision. Everything is decided, and in the greatest, most poignant moments of the spiritual quest, the human being must, out of relative ignorance of all the possibilities, choose and, by choosing, express an existential life that gives value and meaning to the quest. This is the first and last thing that must be done.
Because the Yoruba see Legba as the deity who stands at the crossroads, some have been inclined to see him as a trickster prepared to trick humans into making the wrong choice or having difficulty discovering right from wrong, but this explanation is limited. Legba is the personification of the space that belongs to no one; it is a space given to the person who is best able to negotiate its demands, and, as such, it is called the crossroads. Among the Yoruba, Legba's music is the first and last played and he is the first invoked in a ceremony.
There is a belief that one can dispose of remnants, things left over from disputes and contests, such as anger and jealousy, at the crossroads because it is a neutral place. As an altar of space or, rather, a space for a neutral altar, one can arrive at the crossroads feeling bad and leave the crossroads, after having decided, feeling much better. Of course, the opposite is also true. Because of this possibility, the African believes that the idea of Legba, Eshu, Ellegua is that humans are bound to decide, but must not take the decisions to be simple; it is like life—quite difficult, complex, and demanding. The person who navigates the crossroads successfully, in African belief, will be rewarded with the wisdom that is reserved for the one who respects the crossroads.



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Further Reading

  • Asante, M. K., and Nwadiora, E. (2007). Spear Masters: An Introduction to African Religion. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Bascom, W. (1969). The Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1969.
  • Eades, J. S. (1980). The Yoruba Today. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Fadipe, N. A. (1970). The Sociology of the Yoruba. Ibadan: University of Ibadan Press.
  • Lloyd, P. C. (1965). The Yoruba of Nigeria. In J. L. Gibbs, Jr. (Ed.), Peoples of Africa (pp. 549–582). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.