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The people who live on the Polynesian island of Tikopia, which is located to the southeast of the Solomon Islands, regard their dreams as significant indicators of supernatural influences. Considerable attention is paid to dreams, and it is believed that an accurate interpretation of them can throw light on the events of normal waking life. It is very common to share one’s dreams with others, although there is no ritualized context in which to tell them. Dreams are usually reported in a casual way, at any time of the day. Some dreams are not given particular significance, however, and many of them are not reported in public at all.
According to the Tikopia explanation of dreams, which rests on a more general theory of a mobile soul, every person embodies an intangible entity (which may be designated the spirit, or life, principle) capable of leaving the body during sleep and wandering abroad, transmitting its experiences to its mortal owner upon its return. The mobility of the spirit explains dreams of visits to distant places. The spirit can also journey to the heavens and have contact with persons long dead.
Many dream experiences stem from the intrusion of spiritual beings who have never belonged to humankind, but who counterfeit familiar forms in order to deceive the dreamer. To this kind of spirit is attributed dreams of physical oppression, such as nightmares. The experiences of people in dreams are considered proof of the existence of spirits, and much of the information about supernatural beings is derived from dreams in which they appear. Violent dreams with an unpleasant aftereffect are very common among the Tikopia, although the significance given to such dreams varies, and they may even be entirely neglected.
Some dreams are regarded as being of more importance than others, especially those concerned with fishing (a major economic sphere) and with birth, sickness, and death. These are aspects of human life peculiarly liable to chance, and some degree of advance assurance about them (provided by dreams) is usually welcomed. In Tikopia the value and the meaning of a dream tends to be a function of the immediate practical situation of the dreamer and his family, to whom it is generally told. The dream is discussed in this context, and its relevance determined.