Thursday, 15 December 2011


Cute, isn’t he? Like those 15km/h little African kids in school khakis that come running after the 4x4 yelling Yovo,Yovo though impossibly white shining teeth with smiles that would light up the darkest night. Legba. Half a metre of mud high, eyes half-closed against the light of the sun, despite the palm leaf canopy built over him for protection, pouting protest against whatever has been smeared over him. Like a long-suffering Beninese snowman built for the tropics. And just look at those horns. Wouldn’t you just love to take him home?

Do not kid yourself. There’s nothing cute about Legba. This is a power figure. We spotted him just outside the village of Ayomi. The horns are real. In this case, they seem to be a replacement for the huge penis most Legbas have. Legba copulates. Legba eats. The bowl is empty. The remnants of Legba’s  supper, or many past suppers rather, blood of fowl or beast with palm oil and maize meal stirred into a thin paste, is what you see oozing down over his face and down where his sideburns should be.

We’re on our way back from Deve, where we’ve brought a used wheelchair to a 17-year old who’s never walked. Nanavi, she’s called. We spotted her a few days ago, in a hut made of the same earth Legba grows from. One of a triplet, of whom the first died, the second lived, and the third was Nanavi. She lives in the mud and the dust and the gore. Though spastic, she seems to react with normal intelligence. But she’s never been to school, spends her days as they happen to her. The wheelchair scared her. She trembled. At first. But when we left she was smiling. Legba does not smile. Legba is the reason some people have wrong triplets, I have heard. Legba rewards those who feed him, with bad luck towards others. Yes, there’s a reward in that: misfortune directed at someone else means that you are safe, for the moment.

It struck me, last Sunday, during our bilingual worship, how the name Legba was used. Translating  into Adja, each time representing the same word: Satan. Nothing cute about him either. But so many of those bright smiling little African kids are still growing up in a world where the Prince of Darkness sits under a palm leaf canopy, waiting to be fed. I wish I had a million wheelchairs.


  1. Maybe short but powerful!! Love reading your stories, know you two can make a difference, there but also here, by sharing.
    Love you both very much!


  2. Beautiful rendering, Joe. May you bring comfort and joy to these people in Deve, Ayomi,Dogbo, and elsewhere. Love, Coba

  3. Although my pupils can't all read the blogs you write they are an inspiration for me to start many lessons with. Talking about your blogs and the content makes for good discussions. This is even so for pupils that normally don't think it's cool to talk about faith and God.

    Thank you.


  4. Be careful - Legba is NOT the same as Satan. In fact, Legba is a messenger who speaks directly between people and God the creator. The symbol of the cross is Legba's symbol. It was a mis-translation of early Christian missionaries to associate Legba with the Christian idea of Satan, and this mis-translation has stuck - but in fact they are very, very different.