Eshu, also known as Legba, is a trickster god of the Yoruba people of Nigeria in West Africa. He is unpredictable, sly, and fond of pranks that can be cruel and disruptive. Eshu, who knows all the languages spoken on earth, serves as a messenger between the gods and people. Eshu enjoys confusion. Many stories tell of tricks he plays that cause arguments between friends or between husbands and wives. In one myth he lured the sun and moon into changing places, which upset the cosmic order. The following classic tale is told in many forms, sometimes with a hat of two colors, sometimes involving two groups coming to war as he walks between two towns.
A Coat of Two Colors
Once there were two boys who were great friends, and they were determined to remain that way forever. When they grew up and got married, they built their houses facing one another. There was a small path that formed a border between their farms.
One day, a trickster from the village decides to play a trick on them. He dresses himself in a two-color coat that was divided down the middle. So, one side of the coat is red, and the other side is blue.
The trickster wears this coat and walks along the narrow path between the houses of the two friends. They were each working opposite each other in their fields. The trickster makes enough noise as he passes them to make sure that each of them looks up to see him passing.
At the end of the day, one friend says to the other, “Wasn’t that a beautiful red coat that man was wearing today?”
“No,” the other replies. “It was a blue coat.”
“I saw the man clearly as he walked between us!” says the first, “His coat was red.”
“You are wrong!” says the other man, “I saw it too, and it was blue.”
“I know what I saw!” insists the first man. “The coat was red!”
“You don’t know anything,” the second man replies angrily. “It was blue!”
They keep arguing about this over and over, insulting each other, and eventually, they begin to beat each other and roll around on the ground.
Just then, the trickster returns and faces the two men, who are punching and kicking each other and shouting, “Our friendship is OVER!”
The trickster walks directly in front of them, and shows them his coat. The two friends see that his coat is red on one side and blue on the other.
The two friends stop fighting and scream at the trickster saying, “We have lived side by side like brothers all our lives, and it is all your fault that we are fighting. You have started a war between us.”
“Don’t blame me for the battle,” replies the trickster. “I did not make you fight. Both of you are wrong, and both of you are right. Yes, what each one saw was true. You are fighting, however, because each of you only looked at my coat from your own point of view.”
[This is a very popular theme for wedding gift commissions.]