The song speaks of Legba because belief in Legba is one of the beliefs that came to Haiti during the time of the TransAtlantic commerce of people as slaves. This belief is primarily from the Nago-Oyo Kingdom, now a part of Nigeria. The Nanchon Nago people usually call Legba, Elegba. In Haiti, there has been an E to A change making Elegba, Alegba. The E may also be dropped altogether and be pronounced as Legba. Legba is the spirit who carries communication from our world to the spiritual world. In Haiti, Sèvitè call Legba Papa to show that he is a male figure with authority similar to that of a father over his children. In the song, Legba´s children are his followers, referred to as Legba-si. Si is the Gedevi Dahomean word for follower.
Religious service to Legba originates from the Nanchon Nago-Oyo people and was later adopted by the people of Dahomen. King Achade and his mother, Wandyole, were both instrumental in helping to spread belief in Legba throughout Dahomey. Before Achade came to power in Dahomey, he spent much of his formative years living among the people of the Nago-Oyo Kingdom. Together, the Dahomean people and the Nago people brought their belief in Lebga to Haiti.
The dyakout in the song is a shoulder-bag symbolic of the cargo of prayers and requests that Legba carries to God and to the other Lwas. Prayers and requests are not a burdensome load. For that reason, the song depicts Legba as carrying it on his back and not on his head, the common method of carrying a load. The Dahomean people often draw Legba with a triangular hat so as to show that although he is loaded with our prayers, he does not carry things on his head. In recognition of this, the song places the prayers and requests in a bag over his shoulders.
The song says that Legba sits on the Grand Road, Gran Chemen. The song does this to show that Legba is the guardian of the Grand Road, the path linking the visible world to that of the invisible realm. Gran Chemen is part of a symbol we call the Crossroad. Legba sits at the intersection of the Crossroad where he guards the gate to the spriritual world. This is said in the song as he opens the gate to the spirits: ¨ouvè baryè pou Lwa yo¨. For Legba to be successful at this, he needs the fortitude of spiritual power called se in Haiti and in Dahomey. The Nanchon Nago people refer to it as Ashe, and in Brazil it is called Axe.
Followers of numerous religions believe that a gate keeping spirit facilitates contact between humans and spirits. In Roman religious tradition, that gatekeeper was called Janus. The Romans viewed Janus as the spirit that gave access to a new realm and likewise to a new year. When the Romans made the modern calendar, they named the first month of the year for Janus, which became January or Legba’s month. The first of the year was Janus’ feast day and continues to be a festive occasion today, although now a more secular celebration.
When belief in Christ spread from the Middle East to Rome, some of Janus’ attributes merged with the belief in Christ. Today, many Christians consider Christ to have gate-keeping functions like Legba. To many believers, Christ selects who does and who does not enter the kingdom of God.
To appeal to Legba so that he may carry the singer’s demands to God and to the Lwas, the singer humbles himself or herself. The singer is said to be innocent and naïve but with Legba’s support, he or she will walk in the light. This is said as mache an we. We is the Gedevi Dahomean word for the sun. The sun is used to represent the light of knowledge that Legba will bring to his follower, the Legba-si. Songs about Legba commonly talk about his walking because his gait is of special interest. He is considered to have one foot in our world and another in the spiritual world. For that reason, Legba’s gait is unsteady. He carries a cane to balance himself between the two domains.
In short, the song is about Papa Legba having the burden of carrying everyone’s wishes to God and to the Lwas. He brings the light of knowledge to our lives enabling us to walk on the illuminated path: mache an we.
Additional analysis of this song and others, along with references is provided in these books published by Bookmanlit:
Remembrance: Roots, Rituals, and Reverence in Vodou. English Edition
Sèvis Ginen: Rasin, Rityèl, Respè lan Vodou. Creole Edition
In the following You Tube video, a manbo sings of Papa Legba.