Dreaming, Religion and Society in Africa, 1-2








Pamela Reynolds




Rosalind Shaw




Keith Ray




Roy M. Dilley




Ladislav Holy




Mubuy Mubay Mpier




M. C. Je,drej




Peter R. McKenzie



pp. 21-35 Pamela Reynolds : "Dreams and the Constitution of the Self among the Zezuru". [in Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia)]

p. 22 categories of spirits

spirits of __

mhondoro (chiefs of the past)

vadzimu (ordinary people, "who possess their own descendants")

varoyi (witches)

ngozi (lost souls)

mas^ave (aliens)

river (njuzu)

p. 31 "these ngozi (the spirits of abandoned children) draw on the anger of the shades, who are angered at the waste of their gifts, that is, the birth of their children."

pp. 28-33 dreams by níanga (shamanic healers) ["the majority of níanga in Zimbabwe are female" (p. 34, n. 2)]


possession by spirits & dreaming


"signs of possession in their children" : "A family may test a spirit even after it has been authenticated at a bira (ritual of bringing out the spirit, when senior níanga) question the spirit on its genealogy and intention), withholding the cloth and axe due to the spirit."


"One healer recalls that as a ... child ... he dreamt of falling stars that would crash and break into pieces. He would pick up the largest piece and jump into a river. ...


Later, as a young man, he had hallucinations in which the skyscrapers of Salisbury (now Harare) grew tiny, and in which he could see through cars and make out the engine parts, and in which he could see the medicine in peopleís pockets. These occurred shortly before this family finally accepted that he had been called."


"Other níanga remember dreams in their childhood ... of being the centre of a bira dance, of being underwater, of caves full of healersí paraphe[r]nalia".


"female healer" :- "As a young adolescent she began to dream of herbs and her family accepted that she had been called. His father was informed in a dream that his daughterís [divine patron-]spirit was male and that he must collect and handle the herbs revealed in her dreams ... Earlier signs had warned of her future possession : in Grade One at school she would become [temporarily] blind when told to write; at the age of eight she would fall into the river en route to school."


"Many [healers] know medicine that improves the recall of dreams, and some say it helps to make dreams prophetic. The ingredients usually include a vultureís brain and ear (the area around it), which are ... placed ... in the skin which should be pricked with a vultureís nail. The vultureís heart is cooked ... and eaten. This medicine is given to trusted children, those with ... an interest in the healing business."


"All healers who claim to be possessed or guided by the shades say that their technical knowledge (their knowledge of materia medica) is revealed to them in dreams. ... Apart from minor ailments, every treatment must be revealed in dreams for each patient, even if the illness is one often treated by them. Dreams may appear in short spells of sleep during treatment sessions."


"A healer, who held high office in a national traditional healersí organization, claimed that his mudzimu had revealed to him an extraordinary set of myths to do with healing that had been drawn from ... Zezuru mythology."

p. 33 dreams by others

"Zulu believe that without dreams, true and uninterrupted living is not possible. ...

Zezuru believe the same : dreamless nights are said to be unhealthy. Dreams mediate between the shades and the living."


pp. 36-54 Rosalind Shaw : "Dreaming as Accomplishment". [Temne of northwestern Sierra Leone]

p. 37 the 4 worlds


its inhabitants

no-ru / da-ru

humans [& animals]







p. 37 invisible towns

"Ro-soki, ro-kerfi, and ro-seron are ... "towns" (ta-pet) which are invisible to ordinary people, but are "all around us" : "there is only darkness (an-sum) between us ... Although we cannot see them, their inhabitants, being more powerful than we are, can see us ...

Yet certain people known as an-soki are nonetheless able to penetrate this "darkness" with special vision inhering in their possession of "four eyes" (e-for y-anle), consisting of two ordinary and two invisible eyes, Among such people are diviners, ... cult association officials, twins and witches."

p. 38 creation myth; its significance

"this world as having been placed by God (K-uru) on the head of a giant, whose hair is the earthís vegetation, which is infested by human beings and animals, the earthís equivalent of head-lice (Schlencker 1861:12-15).

Significantly, ... the word no-ru is cognate with the verb "to plait" (-ru), implying "that the giantís hair has been ... wrought" (Littlejohn 1963:2). Further connections between plaiting the head, creating human beings ... have been noted by Lamp (... 1985) in the initiation rituals of the male ra-Bay and female an-Bondo cult associations."

Schlencker 1861 = C. F. Schlencker : A Collection of Temne Traditions ... . London.

Littlejohn 1963 = J. Littlejohn ; "Temne Space". ANTHROPOLOGICAL QUARTERLY XXXVI:1-17.

Lamp 1985 = F. Lamp : "Cosmos, Cosmetics and the Spirit of Bondo". AFRICAN ARTS XVIII:28-43 & 98-9.

pp. 38-39 descriptions of worlds






"a large town whose inhabitants ... own palatial houses made of gold and precious stones. On the streets, one can buy a snack of roast ... human meat, as well as special clothes with transformative powers. In order to become temporarily transformed into a wild animal in the human world, no-ru, one can put on a "witch-gown" (an-thoro)".



"this world as having been placed by God (K-uru) on the head of a giant, whose hair is the earth vegetation, which is infested with human beings and animals, the earthís equivalent of head-lice ... "that the giantís hair has been combed and wrought" ... further connections between plaiting the head[-hair] .... in the initiation rituals of the male ra-Bay and female an-Bondo cult associations."



"The ancestors ... cohabit on such close terms with their living descendants in the lattersí villages that it is considered unwise to sweep the house after nightfall in case their benevolent presence is swept out."



"non-ancestral "town ... spirits" ... inhabit the village."



" "Bush spirits" ... are described as looking so terrifying that anyone who sees their true appearance will go mad ..."



"A man seeking wealth or, more usually, a woman seeking children will establish a one-to-one contractual relationship with a spirit inhabiting a strikingly beautiful pebble {cf. the pebble-sized "black stone" of Mecca} found on the river bank, taking the stone home and promising to make a sacrifice in return for a child or for success."

pp. 40-42 "dreams (me-re) and dreaming (worep)"




"Witches are described (and ... describe themselves) as coming and going between no-ru and ro-seron in their dreams ...

It is also said (mostly by male diviners) that in dreams, women are vulnerable to sexual intercourse with bush-spirits, who assume in the dream the form of a brother".

"... dreams are also an important vehicle for communication from the ancestors, who are described as


"the old ones who have gone to the place of truths" (an-baki po kone ro-ten)".

"After death, it is only the left hand which is said to be able to give God a "true" account of the individualís life. In sleep the left handís power manifests itself, ... in a commonly-reported experience in which ... one wakes up feeling crushed by an enormous weight, and is unable to either move or to call out."


"Although close visual contact with spirits in waking experience commonly results in madness ... for ordinary human beings, such contact in dreams is possible ... even for those who do not have the penetrative vision of "four eyes" because sleep is said to be a darkness (an-sum). ... Through dreams, we enter yet another region, called "the place of dreams", ro-mere, which is said to be close to ro-soki. ... like the other invisible worlds, ro-mere is spoken of as a definite spatial location Ė as a town again, in fact."


"Ro-mere is a big town dreamers go to. ... Your mind [an-mera] will not know you have been in no-ru. Do-mere [sic!] : itís just as if youíve always been there. Itís the an-yina ["soul", "shadow" ...] that goes there. Itís different from ro-soki, but close to it. Only in ro-mere are you able to talk to them [the spirits] : ro-mere is their own place, and you can talk to them there. ...

There are people who dream and see spirits [e-kerfi]. If they wake up they have to be helped or theyíll die. When someone dreams, ... If he comes across "bad people" [witches] and they put medicine in his eyes, heíll get four eyes. Itís something like when weíre near death. I donít have four eyes now, but I do when I sleep. ... Before people die they dream a lot, and some even dream their death."

pp. 46-7 sexual relations between a man and a female water-spirit in his dreams


sexual relationship


"a man who is sick, mad or suffering financial misfortune may be told that this is due to a sexual relationship he has cultivated in his dreams with a female water spirit called an-yaron ..., who is depicted


as a mermaid. In this relationship, an-yaron makes her lover fabulously wealthy as long as he remains faithful to her in the waking world of nor-ru ... . If he is unfaithful to her ..., an-yaron will ..., if she particularly likes him, ... merely make him ill, insane, or impoverished."

pp. 48-49 initiatory dreams by diviners




"Diviners insist that no-one can be a diviner unless they have had an initiatory dream in which a contractual relationship is established with either a spirit or an ancestor, or both. The patron ancestor is usually a deceased diviner or the same sex who was a close relative, while a divinerís patron spirit is usually of the opposite sex. In return for a sacrifice ..., the spirit or ancestor bestows the ability to divine, and thereafter facilitates the divinerís access to the "truths" of other worlds."


autobiography of a diviner :- "While I slept, I dreamt that a spirit tied me up {cf. Yis.h.aq tied up by Ya<qob?} and said that he should work together. When I woke up the next morning, I could do it, and gave an egg to the spirit."


autobiography by a woman diviner :- "In the first dream my aunt showed me how to use the cowries. ... I was in ro-mere, and I saw these cowries first in a heap, then in a circle."


autobiography by another [male] diviner, initiated in his dream by a spirit of opposite gender, "in a sacred forest near Makump" :- "My eyes were tied with a white cloth, and I slept. I saw a fine white lady, who ... asked me what kind of gift I


would like ...? I replied that I wanted ... to learn what is hidden. I said, "Whenever something is hidden, I was to know how to find it." After this, she stretched out her hand and we greeted each other. Then she gave me a red cloth ... Anyone who has this ... can see hidden things. ... I was gone for two days : the lady had taken me to ro-soki. When she left me and I came back, ... I was dizzy for seven days. When I got back, sacrifices were made".

p. 50 diagnosis & praescription by dream-interpreter for a client (the authoress)

The dream-interpreter, "who used mirror-gazing divination (an-memne {cf. hero /MEMNon/}) to perceive the diagnosis, he told me that my mind (an-mera {cf. /meMoRia/}} was waking up ... He prescribed a protective sacrifice of a black umbrella and a length of black material, and offered to perform a ritual for me, which would have involved opening the umbrella {cf. [Kemetian] parasol for soul of the dead} over me and covering me with the material."


STUDIES ON RELIGION IN AFRICA (SUPPLEMENTS TO THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION IN AFRICA), VII = M. C. Je,drej & Rosalind Shaw (eds.) : Dreaming, Religion and Society in Africa. E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1992.