Sunday, December 14, 2008

Henna Nights

The henna night traditionally marks the officical begining of the wedding festivities. In times past Arab brides would be covered from head to toe in henna patterns and somewhere on her body the henna artist would include the initials of the husband. The husband's task on the wedding night was to find those initials.

These days, the bride and her guests usually have patterns applied to just their hands, feet and ankles. Professional henna artists are always hired and you’ll find each henna salon and each area of the Gulf has its own specific patterns. The henna patterns in Oman often involve large areas of very dark brown/black geometric patterns (African influence) and in Bahrain the colour is lighter and the patterns are smaller and more delicate, often using flowers (Indian influence).

To apply the henna, the ground leaves are mixed into a paste and then put in to little piping bags, the end of the bag is cut and then the henna is applied using a technique similar to cake decorating. The bride and her guests (only the closest female family members are invited, usually about 30 women) sit down and have henna patterns applied to their bodies.

Henna nights are usually held in the bride’s parent’s house, although sometimes the henna night will be held at a hotel. Much dancing and joviality takes place and you’re usually in for quite a wild time. Traditionally at her henna night the bride wears a green dress, (here the green symbolises fertility) covered in gold embroidery. Buffets are always provided for the number of guests invited not the number of guests who are expected to turn up and you will be encouraged, if not forced, to eat.

Henna nights usually finish early at about midnight or one and all guests are given a small packet containing henna paste to take home with them.

Background Information
Henna is the Persian name for the plant with the latin name, 'Lawson inermis' which is found in many hot, dry countries. The leaves from the plant are picked, dried, crushed and then made into a paste which is then applied to the body in patterns or shapes and as it dries stains the skin underneath.Once the henna is dry, which takes anything up to a couple of hours, the flakes are rubbed off and the pattern can be seen. The origins of this tradition seem to be lost in time, but it is known the pharaohs were buried with hennaed fingers and toes.

Urban Legends
Henna nights for me are the most enjoyable part of the wedding, simply because it is low key event and everyone is relaxed. Don’t be fooled though, if you ever do get invited to a henna evening, dress up. 'Casual dress' for Arab women is the equivalent of ultra-smart dressing for Europeans. I have a memory of being totally embarrassed when I turned up for a henna party in casual clothes, as I had been instructed to do by my husband ... I was in European casual clothes, not Arab casual clothes and the two things are completely and utterly different.

I remember one henna party which was held in the family house and had lots of dancing and much merriment. I sat opposite the bride and watched as her henna was applied (a very intricate Indian design) and then contemplated the women in the room. The bride was the manger in an international bank, the woman next to her runs a very successful business and so did the woman on her other side.

At that point I looked around the room and realised every single woman there was successful in business. It was a real eye opener as to how far Arab women had developed, work wise, in the past 50 years.


malizea the french hijabi said...

mashallah that's beautiful!

Anonymous said...

I am glad to run across your blog. I am a Westerner living in Doha and I am attending a wedding in June. I am so excited.