The idea for this book was gradually conceived through the encouragement and inspirational support that I received from my professor and old friend, Henry Gates, Jr., during my graduate study at Yale University. This almost telepathic support was engendered by a common interest in the obvious force behind the idea, Esu-Elegbara, the West African trickster figure, whose New World cultural affirmation has been the figurative source of Henry Gates' recent book, The Signifying Monkey. Telepathy is here appropriately suggested because in Henry Gates I have found some attributes of the trickster god, hence the appellation with which I have sometimes accosted him--the ultimate Afro-American Esu!
Indirectly related to this support was the influence of my mentor and colleague, Wole Soyinka, whose book, Myth, Literature and the African World, has been a challenge and a source of determination to me in probing the cultural imperatives of Yoruba metaphysics. Both Henry Gates and I have often argued with him the necessity of accommodating the potential of his patron god, Ogun, within the power house of Esu. More than this, I have often thought that without Mr. Soyinka's shrewd and diplomatic sway as the head of the dramatic arts department at the University of Ife, Nigeria, I would not have been able to take a leave of absence from the university, from 1980 to 1982, to pursue Afro-American studies at Yale.
Several other people have also variously contributed to the realization of this book. Principally, I must thank John Blassingame and Robert Stepto of the Afro-American Studies program at Yale for making the necessary funds possible from Yale for my initial research of Esu in Nigeria; also Robert Farris Thompson, whose enormous interest and inimitable exuberance in the exploration of cross-cultural identifications of blackness in art history have given me