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The Aguaruna are a people who inhabit Peru’s northern region, where they support themselves through horticulture, hunting, and fishing. Although the interest in dreams and visions among this people has been declining in recent years, it still plays an important role in their response to contemporary problems and in day-to-day decision making.
According to the Aguaruna, dreams may reveal emergent possibilities and events that are developing but have not yet occurred or become fully accomplished facts. Dreams are generally regarded as taking place during the wanderings of the soul during sleep, when it encounters other souls and discovers their intentions. However, the recent exposure of the Aguaruna to Christian concepts of the soul has introduced confusion regarding their understanding of dream experiences, in that some Aguaruna now argue that soul loss of any kind can only result in sickness.
In any case, dreams are considered exclusive events experienced only by the dreamer; they cannot be seen by other people. Dreams can be distinguished according to whether they are spontaneous or intentionally sought. The latter are more significant than the former, in that they require more personal sacrifice and offer greater rewards with respect to their manipulative potential. For the Aguaruna dreams represent a potential field for exercising human control because they occur in an arena of direct contact between people and powerful supernatural beings.
The most powerful Aguaruna dreams concern success in hunting and warfare, and they exercise the same control over the world as magic songs (which might be regarded as magic “spells”). A highly esteemed dream experience is the establishment of contact between a man and an ancient warrior soul that enables him to survive an attack. This type of dream usually involves an initial vision of a terrifying entity that the dreamer must confront, followed by the apparition of the ancient warrior, who acknowledges the dreamer and confirms his future victory in battle. Dreams are often used as vehicles for the expression of authority by leaders and people in positions of power, and their complexity generally invites interpretation by people who have accumulated experience and knowledge in this field.