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The social world of Zezuru, the Shona-speaking peoples who live in the Harare region of Zimbabwe, is divided into various categories. Mwari, or God, heads the whole world, that is then divided up into two elements: Shona, consisting of the various clans which are linked to the hero spirits and are further divided into lineages, linked to the ancestors; and non-Shona, made up of the observable world and of the shave spirits (spirits that are not concerned with morality as such but are generally responsible for inoffensive individual differences between people).
In Zezuru society, it is believed that at death a man’s personality becomes a spirit that plays a fundamental part in the social affairs of living men. The makombwe, or heroes, who are believed to have lived on earth north of the Zambezi River before the founding of Zezuru society, have special powers of healing, prophecy, and rain-making, whereas the vadzimu, or ancestor spirits, are more directly concerned with the day-to-day affairs of their descendants. The heroes and the ancestors represent the bastions of morality, whereas the shave spirits, which are believed to originate from outside Zezuru society, are responsible for individual talents and for individual differences between people. Healers generally maintain that they derive their powers from their association with a shave spirit.
Like the Zulu, the Zezuru believe that dreams mediate between the spirits and the living and make connections between the present and the past. The spirits are believed to use the dreams of the healers to achieve their purposes. Through dreams they can call, inform, guide, permit, correct, and shape healers, as well as reach the community and direct the actions of its members. The spirits of witches or lost souls can use dreams for nefarious ends: they can cause harm, demand retribution, or scare the dreamer.
In Zezuru society, dreams are claimed to offer protection to the healers by foretelling major incidents and allowing them to prepare for them. Additionally, as Pamela Reynolds’s research shows, dreams can also be used to constitute the self, by mediating between the child and society and the supernatural, and can be considered a means of both individuation and socialization.
Children’s dreams are sometimes interpreted by adults as direct messages from the spirits, though at other times they are dismissed as meaningless. Sometimes they provoke anxiety in adults, and may even result in punishment. Families seek interpretation of children’s dreams usually because they coincide with events or signs such as incidents of illness or misfortune.
Children, who usually know the interpretation that is given to their dreams, choose what to do with it. Thus, they can repress or recall some or all of their dreams, and they can match their behavior to the interpretation or reject the interpretation. In addition, children can use dreams as part of the conversation between themselves and healers, who are most often grandparents, and dreams may eventually become accepted as part of an initiation of the child into the role of healer. Reynolds was struck by the quality of the relationships between healers and children, which, besides the help and companionship that is often observed between the old and young among the Zezuru, offers a forum for the transmission of knowledge and for the exploration of the self, which is conducted in part through the use of dreams.