HENNA GEOGRAPHICAL ROOTS
Henna is known locally throughout the Middle East and North Africa as ‘Henna’ or ‘Hene’ and is known as ‘Mendhi’ or ‘Mehendi’ in India & Pakistan.
Henna powder destined for colouring the hair & adorning the skin is made from the crushed leaves of the Henna Plant Lawsonia Inermis, a tall shrub-like plant that thrives in hot and dry climates. Much of the world’s henna powder comes from plants cultivated in Sudan, Egypt and India, though it is grown in most North African & Middle Eastern countries as well.
The leaves used to produce henna powder are harvested when the plant flowers and the pink and cream coloured flowers are also used to make perfume. To produce the finest quality henna powder the leaves are air-dried, out of direct sunlight, in order to preserve the staining properties. The dried leaves are then ground into a fine powder, ready for preparing henna paste.
Although henna may have been in use throughout North Africa and the Middle East at the same time, it is thought that it was first used cosmetically in Lower Egypt (now Sudan) from where it spread throughout the regions of Africa and Asia where henna is still used traditionally today. It is known that the Moguls took henna cultivation and their intricate henna application skills to Pakistan and India in the sixteenth century. It has since spread throughout India and Bangladesh and gone on to Malaysia & Indonesia.
The exact route and timeframe that it took for the traditional knowledge and skills of henna preparation and application to spread across the Eastern World is unconfirmed. It is also possible that the plant’s cosmetic properties were discovered and utilised simultaneously in different areas across North Africa and Asia. You can be certain though, that every country in the Eastern World where henna is still in use today has a rich tradition of female henna application.
Although used by women of different religions and cultures, who may be thousands of miles apart, many of the customs involving henna application are the same. For example, decorating the hands and feet to celebrate a wedding or a religious festival. A lot of women however have hennaed hands and feet for everyday cosmetic purposes, the style and artwork of this everyday henna application is never as elaborate as it is when applied for a special occasion though.
There are distinct differences in both the styles of design and the artwork itself from region to region. For example, henna artwork in Arabia tends to include large, bold, floral patterns and the style of application tends to adorn both the palm & back of the hands, whilst still leaving a good portion of the skin showing. Whereas henna artwork from Rajestan in Northern India tends to include fine-line, intricate, paisley patterns and the style of application tends to mainly adorn the palm of the hand, completely covering the skin like lace.