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Dreams prepare your emotions


Dreams can help in coming to terms with major events and in taking difficult decisions in life. This is what Dutch-sponsored researcher Elizabeth Mohkamsing-den Boer concluded after her research into the function of dreams in indigenous Surinamese and Australian tribes.

’Dreams prepare your emotions’, is a comment that Mohkamsing-den Boer frequently heard during her research. This statement reaches to the heart of her study, namely the function of dreams during important changes in the lives of indigenous tribes in Suriname and Australia.


The researcher carried out literature studies and fieldwork to determine the function of dreams. Mohkamsing talked to men and women about their dreams and presents various case studies in her thesis.

One case study concerns a woman who struggles with the question as to whether she should allow herself to be initiated as a piyai, a religious specialist. One day an aunt gave her a few cuttings from some medicinal herbs. She planted these in her garden but failed to look after them. She later experienced nightmares. The spirits from the plants visited her in her dream. In the end she spoke to the plants as follows: ’I think you are beautiful but I cannot use you yet.’ And the nightmares stopped. In the other dreams she recognised, for example, her deceased grandfather, who was once a powerful piyai.

According to the indigenous Surinamese tribes, dreams allow you to see the consequences of ignoring the spirit world, but they can also provide help when a difficult decision needs to be taken. Other case studies concern coming to terms with the approaching death of a family member. Examples are dreams that predict the future death of elderly parents. These dreams are experienced as comforting. Or to use the words of the dreamers: ’Dreams prepare your emotions’.


Mohkamsing concludes that dreams have a facilitating and supportive role during important transitions in the course of life. She terms these ’transitional dreams’ rêves de passage.

Yet dreams are not only important for the individual. Dreams also say something about the relationships within the community and the role that religion plays in this. ’Freud calls dreams the royal road to the subconsciousness, but this study is the royal road to understanding the lifestyle and cosmology of indigenous, tradition-oriented Surinamese and Australian tribes’ says Mohkamsing-den Boer.

Elizabeth Mohkamsing-den Boer’s research was funded by WOTRO.

Sonja Knols | alfa
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