The Kalapalo Indians of central Brazil are a Carib-speaking community of fewer than 200 people. To the Kalapalo, dreaming represents an experience of life that frees the imagination and memory, and dreams must be interpreted with reference to the future of the dreamer.
The interpretation of dreams requires special linguistic resources that might be different from those appropriate for speaking about the ordinary waking life. Dreaming is believed to occur when, during sleep, an individual’s “interactive self” awakens and wanders until it achieves an experience. The dream experience begins when the interactive self stops wandering and starts to participate actively in some event.
According to the Kalapalo, the process of remembering is responsible for the experience of particular images, which can be associated with the memory of recent events. Dreaming is claimed to be a means of communication with powerful beings who visit the sleeper and are drawn to the interactive self when it detaches itself from a person’s physical body and begins to wander about. The appearance of powerful beings in their dreams allows the Kalapalo to acquire direct knowledge about them and about their properties, which can be subsequently used in waking life (in the event that the vision is not fatal). A person who experiences frequent and successful contacts with a powerful being becomes a shaman, after a period of apprenticeship.
Dreaming provides the Kalapalo with useful insights about some problems and about the formation of new roles and relations. Dreams are usually given great importance and are often associated with states of psychological tension and with critical times in people’s lives. It is believed that dreaming is a performative event because it causes the future by revealing the dreamer’s life as it is contained in his current motivations and fears. Thus, the Kalapalo often believe the dreaming subject is responsible for subsequent events. The interpretation of dreams is considered a metaphorical process of achieving knowledge about the interactive self.