Colour Me Black

The Place Of Henna In Modern Culture

by Gottfried Moh

Colour Me Black

Henna is a dye prepared from the plant Lawsonia inermis (also known as hina), the henna tree, the mignonette tree, and the Egyptian privet (the sole species of the genus Lawsonia). It also refers to the temporary body art resulting from the staining of the skin from the dyes. Henna has been used since antiquity to dye skin, hair and fingernails, as well as fabrics such as silk, wool and leather.

Historically, henna was used in the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian sub-continent, the Middle East, Carthage, other parts of North Africa and the Horn of Africa. The name is used to describe other skin and hair dyes, such as the black henna and neutral henna, neither of which are derived from the henna plant.

Henna upon application can last for 1-4 weeks, but usually, it looks fresh for about a week and fades after that, depending on how fast the skin renews itself.

Henna is apparently safe for adults when used on the skin or hair. However, it can cause some side effects such as inflammation of the skin (dermatitis), itching, burning, swelling, scaling, broken skin, blisters, and scarring of the skin.

According to expert, henna tattoos are completely safe for the skin, even for pregnant women. Beyond that, when applied to the skin, it may look like a real tattoo, but allergic reactions should provide cause for caution.

Even royalty is getting in on the act, as the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, got a Henna tattoo to celebrate her pregnancy. According to reports, the couple visited the girls at the “Education For All” boarding house in the Atlas Mountains. During the visit, she received a henna tattoo of flowers running down her forearm, hand, and pointer finger.

Today, men and women in non-traditional American & European pop culture are taking up henna as a form of beautification. Mainstream America remains fascinated with body adornment and beauty practices from other cultures.

Non-traditional design tends to involve combinations of cultural variations, and is more personalised per individual. One could like a particular portion of Indian design and want to infuse a symbol that holds significant meaning to them. There are also picture symbols (astrological, mythical, Native American, etc.), religious or spiritual symbols (pentagrams, crosses, ankhs or Om’s), or writings from other cultures (runes, Chinese characters, Arabic, Tibetan or Sanskrit). There are those who choose designs purely for aesthetic purposes, like trailing vines or filigree patterns. The potential variety in design is practically limitless.

Henna decorating will survive in traditional uses within specific ethnic cultures and within various communities in a number of developed nations. The richly beautiful art of henna knows no boundaries in culture, ethnicity, gender, religious or spiritual beliefs. In its many forms, henna decorating is truly a gift of beauty, touch, and trust.