Ghana: Muslim Henna

26 November 2013 , Source: Ghana Govt.

Dating back to pre-colonial times among the Rausa, the Pulani, Kanuri and other people of Northern Nigeria, this fine art remains popular to this day.

A Muslim bride-to-be, no matter how well-dressed, will not be deemed complete until her hands and legs are painted with the liquid fluid made locally with henna (leaves).

Scientifically referred to as Lawsonia Inermis, the henna plant of the family, Lynthracee, has stunned and touched so many people since the beginning of recorded human history, and most probably has been growing on earth longer than we ever thought. It produces the red dye used in the decoration of the brides.

Today, the act of henna decoration is not only limited to North Africa, Egypt, India and parts of the Middle East, where it is predominantly found, but it is also used in the Islamic and non-Islamic countries; interested Christians also used it for decorative purposes.

For many Muslim women, however, the henna is an Islamic alternative to the Western nail polish. While elderly women still prefer henna, which they refer to as lalle, young girls and modem brides prefer using the henna for their designs because to them, designs made with it look like tattoos and can be applied creatively in drawing several designs.

The Henna Design Business:

The business of henna decoration is gradually becoming lucrative for young girls in the Zongo communities. This is because many of the girls use their leisure time to make money by decorating women, especially during festive periods and marriage ceremonies.

They move ‘from one area to the another, advertising themselves and their creativity in henna decoration. The decorations can be made on the hands, legs, chests and other parts of the body depending on the preference of the person who wants the design.

An experienced Faiza Abubakar, 23, is one of the young girls resident in Nima (one of the numerous Zongo communities in the suburb of Accra) who makes brisk business from henna decoration. A graphic designer by profession, her clients are children and adults. She has the magic of making people who are not interested in tattoos interested in trying it.

Faiza charges between GH¢l and GH¢5 for young adults, and GH¢25 and above for decorating a Muslim bride on her wedding I day, depending on the type of design.

She said children often wanted the designs on their hands, especially on the eve of Eid, an Islamic festival. She uses the profit made from the desig to buy her basic needs. Narrating how she ventured into the business 10 years ago, Faiza told the Daily Graphic that she was naturally good at drawing hence it was easy for her to do various designs with henna.

“I remember in 2006 when Ghana entered the world Cup, I drew objects on people’s faces with the colours of the national flag. I later pretended that the paints I used were henna and when I did, it turned out good and that was my breakthrough in henna designs,” she narrated.

But every business has its own season and shortfalls, its good and bad days. and One day seems to be imprinted on the mind of Faiza; She told me about three years ago, she was recommended by one of her numerous clients to an Indian lady.

“I was nervous at first and did not know how she would like it when 1 finished. But 1 was surprised when she looked at me with an approving smile, indicating that she was impressed. She paid more than I charged,” she said smiling.

The practice of henna tattoos:

The practice has evolved from the crude boiling of powdered lalle leaves to the modem-day more sophisticated application and designs. Lalle was traditionally used for beautifying the legs of women. It was red initially nut turned black after continuous application with no form of artwork. Subsequently, fertiliser mixed with ash was introduced to achieve quick darkening.

Later, designs derived by drawing some abstract forms on insulating tape which is pasted on the leg before the application of lalle was introduced. Wher the lalle is dry and dark, the tape is removed but the design remains and lasts for about two weeks.

How tattoos are made:

Henna tattoos and body art are made by applying henna paste on the skin. The-pigment in the paste permeates the outermost layer of the skin and makes a red-brown stain. The longer the paste is left on the skin, the more the henna pigment permeates the skin. The paste tends to crack and fall off the skin so it is often sealed by dabbing a sugar or lemon solution over the dried paste, or simply, some form 0 sugar is added to the paste. .

This also enhances the colour of the result, increasing the intensity of the shade. When the paste has fallen off the skin or been removed by scraping it off, the resultant stain i orange, but it may darken in the three days following the application to reddish brown. soles and palms, which often have the thickest layers of skin and so allow more pigment, have the darkest and most long-lasting stains.

The pattern, however, lasts depending on the skin type. Hence the designs could remain for as long as three weeks on a fine skin.

Social and religious value:

For some women, henna patterns make them highly attractive, especially those who are not married. It is also desired by women as make-up or as a part of their beautification, especially during ceremonial events such as weddings.

The practice is part of the bridal shower, during which women gather and offer intimate advice to the bride-to-be and in some cultures, the groom’s initials are hidden within the patterns and becomes part of the romantic foreplay during the wedding night, since the groom must find them before consummating the marriage.

In other cultures, new brides are not allowed to participate in any chores until the tattoo wears off, hence the longevity of the tattoos determine the duration of the honeymoon.

For the cosmopolitan and trendy, the transient feature of henna tattoos is its strongest attraction. It is a temporary way for the more cautious or conservative to experience body art without pain.

Expert Opinion:

Speaking to the Daily Graphic, Professor Edmund Delle ‘of Rabito Clinic, a specialist dermatologist, said henna, used in its natural state, was not harmful to the skin.

However, materials that are sometimes added to henna can cause allergic reactions in some people when applied on the skin, and cause people to develop lasting chemical sensitivities

One of these materials which was of outmost concern to him was the use of the para-phenylenediamine (PPD), used as a darkening agent to create “black henna.” He said the PPD was rightly approved for use in hair dyes, but not cosmetics, which were applied directly on the skin.

Professor Delle also said PPD caused allergic skin reactions in some people, resulting in intense itching, redness of the skin, blisters, infections, and – in some cases – permanent scarring.

In addition, he said, an allergic reaction to PPD in a henna product used on the skin could set the stage for allergic responses to similar chemicals later on, including ingredients in hair dye, sunscreen and medications.

Also, he indicated, the PPD could easily penetrate the red blood cells through the skin, causing damage to it. “If you use henna in the raw state, it will not be harmful but when you add additives, it causes a problem,” he said.

According to Dr Delle, some people added lead and mercury to the henna, which could also affect the internal organs such as the kidney and the liver. He was, however, quick to add that henna, even though known for its tattoo use, could be used to treat conditions such as sores and was very effective in treating skin problems such as burns and boils, adding, “A rough paste of the leaves can be applied on the burns or boils, which gives instant relief.”

Again, he said the plant had some immune and bacterial properties which were currently being researched into to find out whether it could cure HIV and AIDS because herbalists who had used it had confirmed its ability to cure the disease but that claim was not internationally accepted.

Source: Daily Graphic

Categories: Africa, Ghana

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