Dream of Chief Sodeke predicting the arrival of Henry Townsend in Abeokuta
Arrival of Henry Townsend in Abeokuta foreseen in Sodeke’s dream. Source: asirimagazine.com

Dream is refereed to “An illusory mental image” in Roget’s II. The New Thesaurus Macmillan English Dictionary however defines dream as “something that you experience in your mind while you are sleeping.” From these two definitions, it is expected that human beings that have the capability of having mental images while sleeping will definitely dream. However, dream is a common phenomenon among the Yoruba in the past and in the present dispensation. It is an historical fact that Generalissimo Sodeke who led the Egba to settle at Abeokuta in 1830 dreamt about the coming of Henry Townsend, the first white Christian missionary to visit Abeokuta before his arrival. It was when he was hosting Townsend in his compound that he remembered that he had a dream about the coming of the man of God. Some times ago, I was opportune to listen to the narration of a woman at Itoko, in Abeokuta, who did not attend an Egungun masquerade festival, in another township in Abeokuta, because she was warned twice on different occasions in her dream that she should not attend the festival. At the end of the day, she heard the sad news that the festival ended on a tragic note; some of those who attended the festival were killed as a result of gunshots when some of the participants at the festival decided to settle a score by smuggling guns into the scene of the festival in a coffin and shooting their foes to death.

Since all humans dream, there is a cultural dimension to dreams because human beings live in different cultural areas and consequently their various cultural backgrounds have influence on the contents and interpretations of their dreams. Now due to the advent of Western Civilization and the influence of Christianity and Islam among the Yoruba, most of the beliefs of the Yoruba concerning dreams are now regarded as uncivilized and unacceptable traditions which Christians and Muslims should not embrace. But despite the foreign influence that has turned many Yoruba into strangers in their land, there are still some Yoruba, including Christians and Muslims, who still hold to some of the beliefs of their forbears concerning dreams.

Some of the Yoruba beliefs concerning dreams would now be reflected upon to show this cultural dimension to dreams among the Yoruba. At this juncture it is germane to point out that some of the beliefs of the Yoruba are found in their proverbs. Ala ti aja ba la, inu aja lo n gbe (A dog’s dream is not shared with others), is one of the popular proverbs among the Yoruba which shows their belief concerning dogs and dreams. One can deduce from this proverb that the Yoruba believe that a dog (an animal) also dreams like human beings but it cannot share its dreams as humans do.

The Yoruba definitely arrived at the conclusion that a dog dreams but cannot voice out its dream through their observation that a dog twitches and whimpers when asleep; this conclusion should not be regarded as a mere myth. It has also been observed scientifically that Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which is identified in humans that are hunters when they are sleeping and dreaming, is also identified in hunting dogs when they are asleep. Another proverb among the Yoruba which also reflects Yoruba belief concerning dreams is Eni rowo he loju ala to n dun nu, e so fun ki o tepa mo sere nitori ebi (Advice he who is happy because he finds money in his dream, to take his work more serious to avoid hunger.) This proverb shows that the Yoruba also identify the universal problem in dream interpretation and dream integration. If a dream is not properly interpreted it will definitely be of negative value to the dreamer. This is why Craig Webb in his article on dream integration warns that when dreams are wrongly interpreted we actually carry “… away golden coins, [but] we may miss the priceless and treasured jewel fashioned or concealed within the chest itself.” Ala kii ba omo leru ko maa le ro (No matter the nightmare; a child will still narrate it) is also a Yoruba proverb which shows that Yoruba identify nightmare (unpleasant dream) as a type of dream. It must be noted that among the Yoruba nightmares are basically attributed to witches who they called Awon Agba; Awon Iya and Awon Aye. The tradition among the Yoruba is to find spiritual solution to nightmares because of their belief that the source is spiritual. It is doubtful whether they believe that physical and psychological factors could also make a person to have nightmares.
This sole identification of spiritual realm as the only cause of nightmare is wrong. The source of nightmares is not solely the spiritual realm.  According to dreams.ca, many nightmares, like a bitter but quite necessary medicine, represent opportunities for healing and insight, and can warn of psychological imbalances that we need to remedy, or of current behaviors or decisions which may soon become detrimental unless we change them.” The indisputable truth is that not all nightmares should be attributed to witches or other forces in the spiritual realm.

It is part of Yoruba beliefs that not every dream will become reality; this belief is expressed in this proverb, Ala ti o le se (A dream that will never become a reality.) Various steps are taken among the Yoruba to prevent any unwanted dream from becoming a reality. Some of these steps seem to be superstitious but they are integral parts of Yoruba beliefs. One of the recommendations is that after having an unwanted dream, the dreamer must turn another side and continue to sleep on his mat or bed. Another recommendation is that after having an unwanted dream, the dreamer must not narrate his dream to anybody; but should go straight to a dumping ground and narrate his dream to the garbage dump which is expected to accept the dream which is dumped on it just as it accepts any rubbish dumped there.

It is a general belief among Yoruba that some dreams can result in sickness and death; such dreams are dreams in which the dreamer is fed in the dream. The popular belief is that witches are the spiritual caterers behind this sort of feeding. To avert the impending sickness and death, it is part of Yoruba customs that soapy water which is a mixture of black soap and water according to the recommended quantity is taken as soon as the person wakes up after the dream. Apart from this, if a person dreams that he eats a particular type of food in his dream, it is also recommended that the person should eat the same type of food when he wakes up to avert evil. To prevent a dream from becoming a reality, it is also the practice among the Yoruba that a dream must not be related in the night. It is the belief that if dreams are related in the night, the dream would come to pass. In order to prevent a dream from becoming a reality, especially dreams in which unpleasant events occur to the dreamer or another person, the narrator of the dream is expected to direct the unpleasant events to his enemy or the enemy of the person he dreamt about. This enemy is popularly referred to in Yoruba as olodi or ota. In view of this, a person that dreamed that he had an accident would narrate the dream by saying his “enemy” had an accident in the dream.

Despite the influence of Western Civilization and the effects of Christianity and Islam, some of these beliefs are still being practiced among the Yoruba. But it is glaring that it is becoming more difficult to practice some of these beliefs among the Yoruba as a result of colonial mentality and economic realities. In modern day Yoruba land, many educated people have distanced themselves from the use of black soap which they regard as local. This set of people who do not have black soap in their houses but modern toilet soap would not be able to make use of the soap as an antidote against unwanted dreams. Apart from this, the level of poverty in modern day Nigeria can prevent a person that dreamed he ate a particular food, to eat the food when he wakes up due to his economic inability to prepare or by such food.

A popular belief among the Yoruba that Ala go (Dream is not realistic) also shows the belief of the Yoruba concerning dreams. The Yoruba are quite right to say that a dream is not realistic since dreams in most cases are like jigsaw puzzles which are to be put together after interpretation. The various symbols in a dream are responsible for its not being in a realistic mode but a symbolic mode. For example, after having a dream in which a man dressed gorgeously; one may find out later that the son or the brother of the man died. The reason for this is that in the dream, both the man and his gorgeous dressing are symbols which are to be interpreted in order to know what would happen in reality. If Friedrich Kekulé had been a Yoruba man in present day Nigeria, his dream in which he saw a form which is snake-like swallowing it’s tail would have been given a wrong interpretation; but this dream led Kekulé to discover the structure of the benzene ring. If local educational standard and our religion would make us reject all the beliefs of the Yoruba forbears in connection with dreams, the belief that Ala ko go; eniyan lo go (A dream is not defective but human beings are the ones defective in dream interpretation.) should not be rejected.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer