Chuck Fisher and his wife Leah are taking a six month travel sabbatical. Prior to this break, Chuck has studied Dream Rituals of the Achuar of Ecuador: here are observations on African dream rituals. Next, week, dancing with the Ghanians.
Nathan Szajnberg, MD, Managing Editor
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Leah and I are enjoying adventures in Cape Town, South Africa. It’s a comfortable place to stay, much more reminiscent of San Francisco than it is of the rest of Africa. A visit to the Black townships and the history of apartheid keep us grounded. In a few days, we’ll be off to explore some other parts of the country. In the meantime, a bit more about our time in Tanzania. Apart from our intense consultation with the Network Against Female Genital Mutilation, we had some other amazing experiences.
Our safari in the Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti was unworldly. So many zebras (and no horses). Giraffes and elephants by the hundreds. Lions, cheetahs. leopards, etc. We saw both lions and ostriches mating. It’s better to be an ostrich. Ask me why. The endless plain of the Serengeti and the vast bowl of the Ngorongoro Crater inspire awe.
We had some wonderfully relaxed time on the breathtaking beaches of Mafia Island, near Zanzibar, but further off the beaten track. It’s really called that, although it has no mobster connections, so far as we know.
We visited the Olduvai Gorge where the Leakeys discovered remains of hominids from 2.7 million years ago. We felt young.
We spoke with some individuals with strong tribal identifications about indigenous dreaming practices and beliefs. We talked with a young Masai man inside his surprisingly comfortable mud hut in the desert. Then we spent a couple of days in Dar es Salaam with a member of the Ha tribe who has studied the dream interpreting practices of the Ha and Nyamwezi peoples of Western Tanzania. While there are remarkable similarities among these various dream cultures, they differ significantly. The Masai rely on “expert dreamers” to confirm the insights of ordinary dreamers. Our Masai informant was quite interested in psychoanalytic methods of dream interpretation, particularly how to determine whether a person is bad or good. The Ha and Nyamwezi peoples (who are quite intermarried and rather similar to one another) use dreams in quite a literal fashion — much more so than the Achuar. By living a holy life, one can become an accurate dreamer. These nuances seem to reflect the differing social realities of these tribes. Of all the tribes in Tanzania, the Masai may be the one which has most strongly asserted its traditional culture rather than accepting assimilation into the mainstream. One striking example of this is the Masai’s continuing practice of female circumcision, otherwise known as female genital mutilation, despite the fact that the practice is illegal in Tanzania. As another example of tradition, the group of boys in the photo below are painted and dressed in a special way as part of a ritual which follows male circumcision in middle adolescence. One of the ways that the Masai maintain their strong traditions is via reliance on a socially approved “expert dreamer” to reinforce dream interpretations which are consistent with group norms. The Ha and the Nyamwezi peoples, on the other hand, have been strongly influenced by Christianity (despite the fact that they live in a more remote part of the country than the Masai). By way of this Christian influence, individuals in the Ha and Nyamwezi groups, have access to a personal relationship with God. By living a holy life in the Christian sense, one can become an “accurate dreamer.” The literalness of dream interpretation among the Ha and the Nyamwezi may stem from an effort to combine Christian and pre-Christian beliefs in a syncretic fashion.
Incidentally, in Tanzania, every person who is not a foreigner is a member of a tribe. And there are more than 120 tribes. Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, managed to create a single nation (with Kiswahili as the common language), out of these disparate groups. We felt that tribal identity continues to be strong within the framework of the country.
Next, more of South Africa.
Warmest wishes to all, ChuckExplore posts in the same categories: Papers