, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 290-312
Date: 13 Mar 2009

Conflict Nightmares and Trauma in Aceh

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Abstract

In both the Acehnese and Indonesian languages, there is no single lexical term for “nightmare.” And yet findings from a large field research project in Aceh that examined post traumatic experience during Aceh’s nearly 30-year rebellion against the Indonesian state and current mental distress revealed a rich variety of dream narratives that connect directly and indirectly to respondents’ past traumatic experiences. The results reported below suggest that even in a society that has a very different cultural ideology about dreams, where “nightmares” as such are not considered dreams but rather the work of mischievous spirits called jin, they are still a significant part of the trauma process. We argue that it is productive to distinguish between terrifying and repetitive dreams that recreate the traumatic moment and the more ordinary varieties of dreams that Acehnese reported to their interviewers. Nightmares that refer back to conflict events do not appear as an elaborated feature of trauma as the condition is understood by people in Aceh, but when asked further about their dreams, respondents who reported symptoms suggestive of PTSD were more likely to report PTSD-like dreams, memory intrusions that repeat the political violence of the past.