Saturday, April 23, 2016

"Dreams As Validator In Traditional African Cultures" (pdf excerpt)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides an excerpt of a pdf file entitled "Dreams As Validator In Traditional African Cultures" by Dolores M. Yonker. This excerpt is from that portion of that document which focuses on the role of dreams in certain West African societies in conferring artistic abilities and in introducing and sanctioning innovation.

The Addendum to this post provided information about the following West African ethnic groups that are mentioned in these excerpts: Anang, Dan, Gola, and Mambila.

The Addendum also provides information about two of the men who are mentioned in this post: novelist Camera Laye and author Warren d' Avevedo.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric and socio-cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Dolores M. Yonker for writing on this subject and thanks to the publisher of this pdf file, and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.
My interest in the topic of beliefs about dreaming in African societies was peaked by reading this article: "Harriet Tubman and Ashanti traditions of dreaming" posted by Robert Moss.

Portions of that article are included in this pancocojams post:

Dorothy M. Yonker
[This online document has a total of nine pages. These excerpts are quoted without source numbers or citations which are found in that document.]
p. 245
"The dream journey can sanction, even introduce, innovations into the culture. A Mambila woman of northern Nigeria described a journey taken in a dream when she was seriously ill. She had died and was taken to the world of shades. The Mambila believe that the dead live in villages similar to those occupied by the living. There, products considered desirable by her society were plentiful. Fine houses, abundant food and beer, and large quantities of imported cloth awaited the dead who merited them. The cloth, which had only recently been brought to the isolated Mambila village, had been incorporated into the reward system communicated from the dream. Rehfisch noted in his study that by means of dreams, new ideas, values, and aspirations could be reconciled with the existing belief system without shaking the foundations of the society.

Reporting recent research among the Dan of Liberia, Eberhard Fischer indicates that new dances and mask types are introduced there every year which are created from dreams. Each principal type of mask, together with a body of symbolic

p. 247
meaning and regulations for its use, is said to be “born through a dream”. The mask-spirit reveals itself to the prospective masker, telling them the name to be applied to the mask and several dance and song patterns. In this competitive society prestige is gained by such revelations and innovations....The Dan believe that masks enable invisible spirits, dissatisfied with their immateriality, to take an active physical role in the affairs of men. These spirits may also bestow gifts of divination or healing or political power by means of dreams. When a member of “makka”, a particular ferocious secret society of warriors, is visited by its spirit in a dream, he places a miniature brass bow on his threshold. It is a signal for that society’s members to gather for war or ceremonial. Dreams, among the Dan, provide sanction for prestigious innovation and achievement, as well as direction for specific action.

A few theorists have gone so far as to ascribe a major source of innovation in primitive cultures to the inspiration of the dream. New rituals, dances, cults have been more readily accepted when validated by dreams. Even today, as one author writing on Aladura, a contemporary religious movement among the Yoruba of Nigeria, noted, it is “an unquestionable assumption among most Yorubas that dreams are attempts of the numinous world to get in touch with the dreamer....

p. 248
African artists, particularly those who work in valuable materials such as gold or rare wood, have described their inspiration and their skills as derived from dreams. Camara Laye, in his autobiography of a Senegalese childhood*, recounted an incident in which his gold-smith father revealed a dream-serpent as the source of his vocation. The small serpent first appeared to him in a dream, arranged precisely the day and time when he would appear in reality. In subsequent dreams, the serpent gave him foreknowledge of events and knowledge of the skills of his artisanship....

Among the Anang of southeastern Nigeria, a deity may will that a man become a carver and inform him of that election in a dream of by means of an unusual event. Only the carver among the Anang is guided and protected by a tutelary spirit appearing to him in a dream. He works close to its shrine, an impaled tortoise and clay pot placed in the corner of his workshop.

In Liberia, a talented Gola artist is said to be guided by a “neme”, a spiritual mentor appearing to him in dreams. The “neme” may extract a formidable price of behavior restrictions, physical impairments, or even childlessness (the ultimate deprivation in African societies) for his guidance. Evidence of the guidance of the “neme” is observable from early childhood. The Gola draw a sharp distinction between the craftsman, however skilled, and the artist- genius inspired by the “neme”. When a carver is hired by a woman of Sande to carve a mask, she must provide food and other amenities for both him and his “neme” during the entire process. If he feels that insufficient amenities have been made or that he or his spirit have been insulted, he can destroy his work at any time. Domination of the “neme” often produces a restless, irresponsible individual who prefers a private life with his “spirit spouse” to proper familiar ties. As d’Azevedo has pointed out in his detailed study of Gola artistry, this provides the artist a convenient rationale for the avoidance of unwelcome social obligations, insulating him from direct public sanctions. The dream can be accountable for both behavioral deviancy and artistic innovation. The Gola say that “every man has his own way of dreaming”. The special genius is referred to as “he who dreams”.

Although carvers occupy the preeminent place in Gola visual artistry, certain weavers who are considered especially creative and innovative are referred to as dreamers. One craftsman observed by d’Azevedo kept a notebook of complex geometrical patterns transmitted to him in dreams. For the Gola, the exceptional artist is viewed as a passive instrument of his tutelary genius. His arduous apprenticeship and dedicated labors are considered inevitable in a daring entrepreneur who mediates between human and supernatural realms...

p. 249
Many more examples could be cited of the office of dreams in the validation of special professions, roles, or behaviors in traditional and modern African societies. Accepted as authentic messages transmitted from supernatural realms, dream content is interrogated carefully and acted upon. Dreams are believed to be a legitimate demonstration of the unity of profane with sacred and a reliable means of intercourse with a mode of being accessible in everyday life."
*This author wrote that novelist Camara Laye wrote about his Senegalese childhood. Actually, Laye was born and raised in Guinea and died in Dakar, Senegal. Some information about Camara Laye is given in the Addendum to this post.

Information about the ethnic groups mentioned in this excerpt (given in alphabetical order):
"The Anaang (also spelled Annang) is a cultural and ethnic group that lives in Southeastern Nigeria....

The strength of any individual, family (or group for that matter) is typically based upon a consensus of the village or clan through this complex social system. In all this, Anang women are not completely subordinate to men. Instead Anaang women are partners and leaders in many aspects of Anaang tradition, including serving as female chief priests "Abia Idiong" in the Idiong cult or as healers in the healing cults. The first-born female known as Adiaha is important and commands respect in the family and lineage. Some traditions hold that a woman's first birth should take place in her mothers compound. Women organizations such as "abi-de" and "Nyaama", and "Isong Iban" play important roles in giving the women voice and status in society. There are no traditional or cultural barriers that prevent women from attaining high offices or positions. Indeed, traditionally Anaang women have a great deal of economic independence from men. The society was semi-matriarchal before colonialism. Children bore the names of their mothers and such common names as Essien, Essiet, Ukpong and Umo were female names and became androgynized when the missionaries saw matriarchy as anti-Christian .(Ette,2009). Anaangs value the ability to speak well and oratory ability using proverbs is highly desirable, especially among the leaders. The American anthropologist, Peter Farb, stated that the name "Anaang" among this group means 'they who speak well' An individual who has the gift of eloquent speech is often complimented as Akwo Anaang meaning the "singer of Anaang".[3]"

"The Gio or Dan people is an ethnic group in north-eastern Liberia and in Côte d'Ivoire. There are approximately 350,000 members of the group, united by the Dan language, a Mande language. Neighboring peoples include the Guere, Guro and Mano...

Dan men have their own fraternal societies, which marks their initiation into manhood and guides them throughout their lives. Men's societies, curator Barbara Johnson writes, "form the real socio-political unit of power in the Dan community today, as they did in the past."[2] These societies controlled by the elders and acts as a source of power for the community. Boys initiated into the society are prepared to encounter the mysteries of the spirit world and to learn the rules of adult Dan men. Women, too, have a similar society.

These societies demonstrate their power and effectiveness through masquerades, wherein they call upon and control tutelary spirits from the bush, who appear as masked figures in this context. Using these mask-spirits, the societies are able to settle disputes, enforce rules, and correct behavior. All males attend bon, or bush school, during their initiation into these societies when they are adolescents."

"The Gola or Gula are a tribal people living in western/northwestern Liberia and Eastern Sierra Leone. The Gola language is an isolate within the Niger–Congo language family; in 1991 it was spoken by 200,000 people. As of 2015, it is spoken by about 278,000 people.

Charles Taylor, who ruled Liberia between 1997 and 2003, is of mixed Gola and Americo-Liberian ancestry.[1]
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia's president, is of mixed Gola, Kru and German ancestry.[2][3]

The name Gola is a possible source for the name of the Gullah, a people of African origin living on the islands and coastal regions of Georgia and South Carolina, in the southeastern United States."

"The Yan Mask, or Gbetu, also belongs to the Gola, Vai, and the Mendi Tribes of Liberia. The Yan is for the Poro (men's) society, and the Sande (women's) society, or club. Within Vai culture there are both male and female secret societies which teach young boys and girls the social, survival, traditional, and personal lessons in becoming men and women. Performing the masked dance is the final blessing. The Yan mask performs during the graduation which is known as "The Breaking of the Poro Bush," where the boys and the Yan mask exhibit their talents.

In Culture and customs of Liberia (2006) by Ayodeji Olukoju, the place of the Poro society in Liberian life is examined. "Liberian religious culture is characterised by a predisposition towards secrecy (encapsulated in the concept of ifa mo - "do not speak it") and an ingrained belief in the intervention of mysterious forces in human affairs".[4] "Both elite and non-elite Liberians usually attribute events to the activities of secret powers and forces".[5]

"Beliefs include the conviction that there are deep and hidden things about an individual that only diviners, priests, and other qualified persons can unravel.[6] This presupposes that whatever exists or happens in the physical realm has foundations in the spirit world".[7]

"The Mambilla people of Nigeria and Cameroon regard themselves as a group with a common identity. They are the denizens of the Mambilla Region, and have been in their homeland for upwards of 4,000 years (Zeitlyn & Connell, 2003). The Mambilla and Mambilloid peoples represent the Bantu who stayed home following the Great Bantu Split of pre-historic times. In Nigerian dialects they refer to themselves as 'Norr' (the people) while in Cameroon there is a collective noun 'Ba' that is used in the unmarked sense to refer to the Mambilla, and also to refer to Mambilla in Cameroon on the Ndom or northern Tikarr plain (see below) contrastively with neighbouring Mambilla on the highlands of the Mambilla plateau who can be referred to as "Bo ba bo". The populations of different Mambilla villages speak different dialects of Mambilla or closely related Mambilloid languages. They also share a set of closely related cultural practices, in particular a conjunction of masquerade and oath-taking called "suu", "shua", "sua" or "shuaga"."...

Information about two of the men named in this excerpt:
Warren L. D'Azevedo
author of The artist archetype in Gola culture - W... Books
Warren L. D'Azevedo. Desert Research Institute, University of Nevada, 1966

Camara Laye
Camara Laye (January 1, 1928 – February 4, 1980) was an African writer from Guinea. He was the author of The African Child (L'Enfant noir), a novel based loosely on his own childhood, and The Radiance of the King (Le Regard du roi). Both novels are among the earliest major works in Francophone African literature. Camara Laye later worked for the government of newly independent Guinea, but went into voluntary exile over political issues.

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