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Dreams have an important institutional aspect among the people of the Ingessana Hills in the Republic of the Sudan, who take them with great seriousness. According to the Ingessana, dreams contain certain messages from components of a cosmology in which the sleeper is situated. Certain significant dreams are regarded as consequences of the activities of supernatural beings.
In general, Ingessana consider dreams as occasions on which ordinarily invisible beings, such as ghosts, ancestors, and gods, make demands, issue warnings, and instruct ordinary people. The messages from dreams may state what has to be done and express the intentions of the senders concerning the material well-being of the members of a household, the inhabitants of a territorial area, or the entire population of the hills. Through dreams, these beings usually demand certain rituals that can restore the relationship between them and human beings, and in some cases promote the restoration of the souls of children. “Restoring the souls of children” or “bringing back to the children their souls” constitutes a typical ritual carried out when the parents of a child who has suffered some frightening experience approach the local dream leader (always a woman), and ask her to restore the child.
Differences in the content of recollections of waking experiences and dream experiences can be attributed in part to the different capacities of certain types of dreamers. The images that ordinary people see while dreaming can be easily seen while awake by “doctor-diviners” and by people who are believed to have a “second sight.” These people can have dreams that ordinary people cannot experience, and even while awake are able to penetrate consciously beyond the normal spectrum of visibility to see ghosts.
Usually ordinary people consult a doctor-diviner in order to be enlightened about what appears obscure in their dreams. Since he is able to see in waking consciousness what an ordinary individual can see only in dreams, the doctor-diviner is authoritative on what the dream signifies. Also, the dreams of the men who are the hereditary custodians of certain temples are very important and have enormous social implications. The most feared dreams among the Ingessana, but also the most widespread of socially significant dreams, are those involving nengk, ghastly creatures that bring illness and death.