Sunday, June 15, 2008
Friday night I went to a pre-bridal henna party with my daughter. There were about 30 women present, a multicultural mix of Algerian, Tunisian, Libyan, Lebanese, Yemeni, Palestinian, Iranian, Nigerian, Mauritius-ian (?), Chechnyan, anglo-Canadian, Scottish, Austrian, and Finnish (that's me!). Of course, we are all Canadian. The Libyan women were in charge of hennaing the bride's hands and feet. They used stencils, which are easier and less time-consuming than the free-hand designs of women skilled in henna-application. Some of the women told me that "back home" a woman who is skilled in applying henna will arrive to do the designs. One woman said that in Algeria traditionally it is the mother-in-law who applies the henna. Another woman said she remembers that as a young girl she loved the ritual of getting her hands hennaed for Eid.
Henna is a sacred healing plant that imparts good fortune by protecting the wearer from the evil eye. It is one of the plants of heaven. Henna is a medicinal plant that is soothing and cooling on the skin. One of the Chechnyan women told me that she puts henna on her hair to ease headaches. Overhearing, one of the Libyan women applying the henna looked up and said that they don't put henna on the hair anymore because they see that as old-fashioned.
Pre-wedding henna parties are women only spaces and an occasion to put aside one's chores and responsibilities and have fun with other women. We danced, ate great food, and laughed while the bride lounged with her feet propped up on a pillow, waiting for the henna to dry.