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The Temne, a people inhabiting Sierra Leone and the Guinea Coast of West Africa, are characterized by a high degree of cultural diversity arising from invading, migrant, and neighboring peoples, which has resulted in considerable heterogeneity in different areas of Temneland and in a cultural overlap with other ethnic identities. The only two features not shared with other peoples are the highly elaborate nature of Temne cosmological ideas and the large repertoire of techniques used by Temne diviners.
In the Temne cosmological vision, four worlds are distinguished: the visible world inhabited by human beings, the world inhabited by the spirits, the world inhabited by the ancestors, and the world inhabited by witches. The last three worlds are regarded as towns that surround ordinary people, although they are invisible. Only certain people, possessing two ordinary eyes and two invisible eyes, can penetrate the darkness of the invisible worlds. Among these people are the diviners, who are present in every village, where they use more than thirty different divinatory techniques to mediate between the inhabitants of the four cosmos.
An alternative means of mediation is through dreams, by which knowledge is transmitted from the ancestors and from the other invisible worlds to ordinary people. For the Temne, dreams represent a crucial source of knowledge and are as important as waking perceptions, although they are distinguished from them. Among this people, the vision and the knowledge of diviners are attributed to accomplishment in dreaming, through which the diviners become experts on the dreams of their clients, who renounce their interpretation of reality in the face of divinatory authority.
According to Rosalind Shaw’s 1992 study of Temne divination, the abilities of Temne diviners are revealed in an initiatory dream representing the context in which a contractual relationship with a patron spirit is established. Subsequent encounters with this and other spirits occur in the dream town of Ro-mere, a destination often described as something of an attainment, as dreaming is not considered to be a universal phenomenon. In diviners’ dreams, ordinary people are passively acted upon by spirits and ancestors, as their victims or as recipients of their revelations.