Dreams are central to most aspects of cultural and social life of the Tukolor of Senegal, for whom dream experiences are often associated with supernatural or spiritual entities. A common belief among the Tukolor is that the soul, which is thought to leave the body during sleep and wander across the earth, is responsible for dreams. At night, the soul is believed to experience another reality in dreams, although this is not always the case, as many dreams are dismissed as meaningless. Additionally, the use of dreams is institutionalized in the roles of formal dream interpreters. Certain learned Muslim clerics and other diviners usually induce, evoke, and interpret dreams through specific techniques and procedures. Dream interpretation manuals are common throughout much of North and West Africa and the Middle East.
Dreams generally have two purposes. First, they are used in consultations with clients inquiring after particular advice in certain matters. Second, they are used in combination with prayer and contemplation as a means of acquiring religious knowledge. According to Roy M. Dilley’s research on dreams among the Tukolor, dreams have a particular significance in the activities of Tukolor weavers, whose craft is said to have its origin in the spirit world, where an ancestor transmitted it to a man during the time of myth.
The spirit world continues to be a source of inspiration and knowledge for weavers through the mediation of dreaming. Weavers are believed to hold a magical power of transformation that is transmitted by an external source of creativity. The stock of knowledge that weavers possess is rarely divulged, and weavers’ dreams, besides being a source of innovation and inspiration, are a means of resolving the paradox of an ideal equality between weavers in Tukolor social ideology and the reality of individual differences. In addition, inspirational dreams constitute part of the basis of a hierarchical differentiation between, on the one hand, craftsmen and musicians, who derive their black lore from the jinn of the forest, and, on the other, marabout clerics—the custodians of Islam—whose white lore is provided by Allah and his angels.