The Yansi belong to the great Central Bantu culture area extending across central Africa from west to east; they inhabit the lower Kwilu and Inzia rivers in Bandundu Province in the Republic of Zaire. Yansi society is characterized by a system of stratification, a system of kinship and marriage, and a priesthood, which holds the spiritual power called lebui. Also, in Yansi society there is a particular concern with boundaries and relations between the living and the dead, elders, medicine custodians, and ordinary people.
Dreams play a fundamental role in the life of the Yansi and are as important as waking experiences. Dreams are usually sought in order to obtain commentaries upon current circumstances. For instance, they are carefully examined when someone is ill, as well as before going on a hunt, in order to assess the chances of success. Dreams are regarded as an extraordinary phenomenon, and diverse attitudes are taken toward them by the Yansi, from admiration to fear.
Dreaming is integral to the Yansi witchcraft-sorcery-medicine complex. Among Yansi clan-elders and medicine-owners, who are wise dream interpreters and accurate oracular dreamers, the elaborate distinction made between different kinds and qualities of dreams can be seen as part of a discourse of conceptual authority. According to Mubuy Mubay Mpier’s 1992 study on the semantics of Yansi dreams, the Yansi discriminate between recollected dreams that involve reality and those considered mere fantasy.
Dreams that are later concretely realized are generally considered true dreams. Typically, persons who dream true dreams are fetish-or medicine-owners. These people are often feared by Yansi because they can recount dreams that predict misfortune, tragedy, and anxiety. They can dream solutions to difficult problems, however, and foretell good fortune. Also, those dreams in which ordinary people receive information about their state of health and their problems are considered true dreams.
Dreams by infants as well as dreams whose content is removed from everyday life are a matter of indifference to the Yansi, and usually no importance is attributed to the accounts of mentally handicapped persons, although they also dream and can recount their dreams. Recalled dreams are often considered by Yansi elders as the desires or the apprehensions of waking life. In Yansi society, dreams are not considered a source of information about the psychodynamics of an individual; rather, they are taken into account in giving meaning to the actions and interactions of self and others. Dreams are the evidence of extra-human forces in relationship with human beings and are a means of acquiring knowledge about them. The best time to interpret a dream is usually thought to be the instant following its appearance.