One night my cousin Pua had a dream. She was sitting in the carport of our family house in Samoa, looking out over the vai (a stone pool we’d built to collect water from a stream) into the garden.

There, under a large mango tree, her older sister Teuila and their mother (my aunt) were sobbing uncontrollably as they held up a beautiful fine mat. It was as if they were presenting this ie toga to Pua the way women do at Samoan ceremonial gatherings, say for a wedding or a funeral.

Extremely disturbed by the vision, my cousin phoned her mother as soon as she woke up.

“Eh,” my aunt dismissed. “What kind of stupid dream is that?”

But Pua says she remembers the unease in her mom’s voice.

Two days later, Pua’s older brother collapsed suddenly and died, leaving behind a wife and four young adult children.

It wasn’t the first time – nor was it the last – that a dream had helped my cousin accurately predict imminent death in the family, and she’s not the only one with this ‘gift’. It’s a well-known bit of Samoan wisdom (even my own mother swears by it) that dreaming about ie toga is not a good sign.

I invited Pua and Teuila over last night to help me remember other beliefs Samoans have about dreams (and just a little bit as an excuse for us to eat lots of ice cream and reminisce).

Yin and Yang

“Dreaming the opposite” is a popular one. That is, if you dream about a wedding, it means someone in your family is going to die, and if you dream about a funeral, expect a wedding announcement very soon.

Apparently, this applies to death and birth as well, so dreaming about death means someone close to you is pregnant and seeing a baby born means you should probably start preparing for a funeral.

Meet Joe Black

Yes, death is a huge theme in Samoan folklore, and as we talked (my mom joined the conversation, too) we couldn’t help but digress – a lot! – to general superstitions about death.

Every village has its own beliefs, my mom tells us. In her village (both Pua and Teuila grew up there, too) if you hear a bird called the kuli crying as it flies away from the mountains towards the ocean, someone is going to fall seriously ill and be taken to the hospital.

If the same thing happens but the bird is flying inland instead, towards the mountains, it means someone in the village is about to leave this world. The reasoning is that flying inland is like bringing a loved one home for burial.

To catch a killer

A tradition that many Samoans seem to agree on, though, is the one with the ukufiki on the mat.

So the ukufiki is chunky, dark, hard-bodied beetle-like bug that cousin Teuila says is often found amongst coconuts. I’d say it’s about the size of a large NZ cockroach (or half the size of a large Samoan cockroach) and while it can fly for very short distances, it mostly just does this flick-y hop thing.

When the ukufiki gets into your house and drops on to the flax floor mats, you can hear it… flicking. Or tapping. Or whatever you call that clicking sound its body makes against a hard surface.

If you happen to be amongst Samoans at the time, don’t be surprised if someone jumps up and starts turning over tables, lamps and couches to hunt for this bug… because if you don’t catch it and kill it before it gets away, then its warning of death will come true.

In dreams

In an effort to steer our conversation away from death and back to the topic, I asked my mom and cousins if they knew of any Samoan interpretations for typical dream themes, like flying or falling.

Pua offered that dreaming about the ocean or another large body of water is a good thing. It means good fortune… BUT, if in that dream you see someone getting swept away by the water, then we’re back to yet another death omen.

Gosh, I said. So what do I need to dream in order to win the Lotto? And we all blinked at each other, stumped.

No wonder so many of us Samoans are broke.

We need better dreams!

What it all means

After a long night of discussion and sharing our often spooky experiences with dreams (stay tuned for my blogs-about-those), we concluded that the person most qualified to interpret your dream is yourself.

We decided that what is most important is how you felt in the dream – was it a sense of fear or sadness? Or did it feel peaceful and happy? That seemed to be a better indicator of the dream’s meaning than any of the imagery in it.

A lot of your own interpretations will come from experience, of course. For Pua, despite the ‘dreaming the opposite’ rule, she has dreamt about weddings that turned out to be weddings, and the same about funerals, so she knows that the rule doesn’t apply to her.

My aunt – Pua and Teuila’s mom – passed away a few years ago, but I remember going to her every time I had a perplexing dream, especially when it was about Samoan things. Through her depth of wisdom, I was often able to piece together interpretations that made the most sense to me, so it can still help to seek the insight of people who know you well.

My philosophy is that your own interpretation matters the most because, in the end, the message in your dream is going to be more relevant to you than anyone else.

And you?

What have we missed? What interpretations have you heard? Which do you swear by?

Please share in a comment below.