dreams as a sun that never sets, a vessel for embodied and epistemic reincarnation
by Li’Tsoanelo Zwane
For as long as I can remember, dreams have played quite a significant role in my life. Ever since I was a child, I have been someone who has had vivid dreams of people whom I have never corporeally met, places to which I have never been and languages I have never spoken. Having been exposed to Eurocentric epistemological paradigms and knowledge systems, I was indoctrinated into dismissing these dreams as mere utterances of my seemingly “overactive” imagination. My immersion and initiation into African spirituality led to my development of a more nuanced and contextual hermeneutic of dreams. The acquisition of an alternative ontology and epistemology is hardly ever a peaceful process, as there are concomitant and confounded internal conflicts. These internal conflicts are then compounded by sustained contentious academic discourses around the validity of dreams.
At the basis of these contentions are positivist and Eurocentric understandings of dreams. Europe’s obsession with positivism entrenches problematic “knowledge verification processes” – which denote any framework of understanding which cannot be “scientifically proven”, and therefore have its existence validated – is dismissed into what De Sousa Santos calls an “epistemological abyss”, which is where all non-European paradigms (African, in this context) are confined into non-existence. Psychology, as a school of thought and European paradigm, posits dreams as mere depictions of our psyche, not necessarily having any ethereal or spiritual significance. Eurocentric knowledge paradigms are symbols of what De Sousa Santos defines as “metonymic reasoning” and “proleptic reasoning”. Metonymic reasoning is an ontological and epistemological approach which positions itself as the singular, plausible truth and therefore does not concern itself to even consider the plausibility and possibility of other truths. Proleptic reasoning is an ontological approach that assumes that what is presently constructed to be true will remain so even in the future. This means it is the kind of paradigm that believes itself to be omniscient, since it not only assumes the universality of its topoi (constituting fragments of meaning-making) but also that its hermeneutics are sufficient for understanding future phenomena.
The dismissal of African dream hermeneutics will never not be racist. Scholars such as Oyewumi and Baderoon argue that there is an inherent relationship between how hegemonic structures and systems of power treat marginalized communities and the knowledge systems within which the marginalized understand their existence (on a micro and on a macro-level). In simpler terms, how Europe has treated the corporeal bodies of Africans is identical to how it has also treated the epistemological frameworks and bodies of knowledge synonymous with Africans.
African cosmological and metaphysical hermeneutical systems understand dreams to be communications from The Divine (God and ancestors); this means that dreams have the power to conflate the material and spiritual realm, thus making it possible for the two to be in constant contact with each other. Additionally, African cosmologies understand the spiritual world to have a trilateral composition; that is, the existence of God or “The Creator” as the overarching Supreme Being (theism), the existence of ancestral spirits who are family members who have passed on (spiritism) and the ability of God to imbue humans with spiritual and “supernatural” abilities which make it possible to access the spiritual realm and receive information through visions and dreams (dynamism). Pertinent to this discussion are the last two concepts which have an intense relationship with dreams, as dreams are often the vessels for the enactment of dynamism and the perpetuation of spiritism. Through dreams, we can connect with ancestral spirits who, in turn, are able to share invaluable insights which relate to not only the phenomenology of individual and social phenomena, but also share prophetic messages which can be preventative and rehabilitative. These prophetic messages afford our ancestors the opportunity to reincarnate, through our consciousness (individual and collective), and thus help us to traverse social issues which they may have also encountered in their corporeal existence. With this point in mind, dreams give us access to the spiritual and ethereal realm. This proximity provides us insights into the past which assist us in making sense of the present and therefore reconfigure the future. Our sustained intimacy with historical epistemologies and knowledge paradigms solidifies the power of dreams to reincarnate as we become the new ancestors: ukubuya kwamaKhosi, the return of the Royals.
The rehabilitative power of dreams is analysed through a metaphysical hermeneutic which posits that they can be reviving for people who have a shared experience of oppression, trauma and violence; dreams can serve as catalysts for social change. Furthermore, through dreams, individual and collective understandings of ethnic and genealogical wounds enables marginalised communities to map out contextual healing processes. The past and our ancestors are perpetually available; our forefathers access us through our dreams, we then carry forward the knowledges they imprint into our consciousness, therefore reincarnating them. By resuscitating the past and bringing it into our present framework of reference, dreams do not allow knowledges to fade into the abyss, but they represent the possibility of epistemic immortality – a sun that never sets.
Recently, I dreamt of ukhokho wam (an elderly male ancestor) dressed in his signature leopard skin, adorned by a crown on his head. He took a leopard print cloak and handed it to me to wear and placed a smaller crown on my head, before smiling and walking away until I could no longer see him. Apart from other things, I understood that dream as him passing the baton to me – his life’s mission, hopes and dreams live through me. He chose to reincarnate through me and through my corporeal embodied existence. Abuyile amaKhosi, the Royals have returned.
Li’Tsoanelo Zwane is from Gugulethu, Cape Town where she is currently a doctoral student at the University of Cape Town. Her educational background is trans-disciplinary and her research interests include African philosophy, metaphysics, African feminist thought, epistemologies and African cosmologies, which are largely inspired by her work as a licensed and practising traditional healer, diviner and clairvoyant medium. She is a lover of the occult and, as an academic, writes from the margins and from the perspectives of all that has been constructed to be non-existent.
*Abuyile amaKhosi translates to “the kings have returned”.
1. See P.H. Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment (London: Routledge, 1990).
2. See B. de Sousa Santos, Epistemologies of the South: Justice Against Epistemicide (London: Routledge, 2014).
3. See Santos, Chapter 6.
4. See O. Oyewumi, “Visualizing the body: Western theories and African subjects”, African Gender Studies: A Reader (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and G. Baderoon, “Sexual Geographies of the Cape: Slavery, Race and Sexual Violence”, Regarding Muslims: From Slavery to Post Apartheid (Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2014).
5. See A. Anderson, Umoya. The Holy Spirit in an African Context (Pretoria: University of South Africa Press, 1991).
6. See P. Erasmus, “Dreams and Visions in Koranna and Griqua Revival in Colonial and Post-Apartheid South Africa”, The Journal of Pan African Studies, Vol. 3, No. 9 (2010).