Spotlight on the beautiful arabesques of the henna tattoo, ancestral Moroccan tradition.
I wanted to try Morocco henna tattooing. The must be this girl I met on the terrace of a trendy cafe on the Corniche in Casablanca, with sublimely decorated hands… these beautiful photos discovered online… In Casablanca, I know where to go. I have often passed by these women, near the witch market, who draw beautiful arabesques on the hands of other women. But I don’t want to do just anything. A few things need to be clarified.
What is Morocco henna?
Originally, henna is a plant that grows in desert regions. In Morocco, it is mainly found in the Azzemour region. From this plant, a powder is extracted. Mixed with a small bowl of water and a spoonful of lemon or orange blossom juice, or rose water, or eucalyptus oil, it gives a paste that is slightly heated to fix its color. And that’s it! Henna paste, green in color, is a natural dye.
Chemicals are sometimes added to make it black. Of course, you must absolutely avoid applying this paste on your skin: it can cause allergic reactions, even serious burns… I have read on forums many complaints from tourists after “natural black” henna tattoos.
What about the Morocco Henna Tattoo, how do you do it?
To draw on the skin these very varied patterns, a brush or a plastic cone can do the trick, but it is often a needleless syringe that is used. No incrustation under the skin! The henna tattoo, if it is tolerated by Islam, it is because it is applied on the upper layer of the epidermis. Once applied, the design should dry for about an hour. Its color evolves gradually to finally take orange hues.
What is attractive is the painless and temporary nature of this tattoo: it only remains visible for two to three weeks. Nothing irremediable, therefore, if one quickly regrets his audacity.
Why do you get tattooed in Morocco?
Henna is used in most family celebrations and religious ceremonies. In this case, it is applied within the framework of a precise ritual and ancestral rules. The most common practice is the application of henna on the hands and feet of the bride during the wedding ceremony. One week before the religious wedding, during a women’s evening, the bride-to-be, dressed in a green dress, has her hands and feet tattooed by a professional, a nekacha. Veiled, sitting on cushions embroidered with gold thread and accompanied by her bridesmaids (mother, sisters, cousins, friends), she prepares for her wedding night.
For the drawings of the henna tattoo are loaded with symbolism. The khamsa, or hand of Fatima, protects against the evil eye. The animals – ram, lizard, snake or fish – are symbols of fertility, harmony, abundance and serenity. Geometric patterns are also widely used and each one has a meaning (fecundity, eternity, etc…), as do the numbers 3, 5 and 7. It is a message that the husband will be able to read on his wife’s hands.
At birth, a henna-based coating is applied to the baby’s navel to bring wealth and happiness. But also because henna is a good healing agent.
It is also prized in Morocco for its medicinal virtues. In cataplasm on the hair, it fortifies them. Applied to the nails, it protects them.
WHAT IS THE HENNA CEREMONY IN MOROCCO?
In Morocco, marriage is rooted in several traditional customs. Among them, the henna ceremony is a moment in its own right whose aim is religious and symbolic. The bride is sublimated thanks to the meticulous application of henna on her hands and feet. The designs deliver messages of happiness, fertility and prosperity.
Henna is at the heart of traditions. It occupies an important place in many regions such as North Africa, the Middle East, and also the Indian subcontinent. But what is it made of? We will later detail the symbolism that surrounds this ceremony which takes place at the home of the bride’s parents. Finally, we will see all the organization that structures this moment of sharing that Moroccan women greatly appreciate.
MOROCCAN HENNA MADE OF
composition Morocco henna is a shrub of the family Lythraceae. The grinding of its leaves produces a powder that releases a molecule with fortifying and coloring properties. In Morocco, this shrub is found mainly in the Azzemour region.
Moroccans use it in particular as a cosmetic product. Women use it to dye their hair, men to maintain their beard and in the case of marriage, henna can produce an ephemeral tattoo that is applied to the body. The powder is diluted with orange blossom or rose water to form a paste. This paste is then applied by a professional called “nekacha” who creates according to tradition:
A ball in the palm of the hand
Arabesques on all the faces of the hand and the foot to the wrists
Once applied, the design should dry for about an hour. The henna paste is green in color but when it dries, it ends up taking orange shades.
THE SYMBOLISM OF THE HENNA CEREMONY
The word henna is a derivative of the Hebrew word “hen” which means “to find grace”. The religious ceremony thus takes on its meaning: the bride must find grace in the eyes of God and her husband. As Moroccans often say in Arabic, marriage should bring “baraka” or blessing to the bride and groom. The motifs deliver messages that protect from the evil eye (most often represented by the hand of Fatima) and that invite happiness, harmony or fecundity, through geometric forms or representations of animals.
A table is prepared with the gifts offered by the future husband for the occasion. Sugar, symbolizing happiness, eggs for the change of life, and a penny for prosperity are found on top.
HOW IS THE HENNA CEREMONY PERFORMED?
According to custom, the Morocco henna ceremony is held one week before the religious wedding. However, other families hold it the night before the wedding. It takes place at the home of the bride’s parents. It is a celebration that brings together female family members (mother, aunts, cousins, nieces) and friends of the bride-to-be.
Two candles are lit at the beginning of the ceremony. It is only when they are consumed that the bride is ready to receive the henna tattoo. The nekacha sublimates her by applying henna on her hands and feet. Afterward, she invites the other women invited to have it applied.
Guests are entertained with traditional songs and dance, accompanied by mint tea and traditional Moroccan cakes (briquettes, gazelle horns, mehancha …). We have also dedicated an article on the culinary specialties of Marrakech. This religious festival is a symbolic moment of sharing between women that continues until dawn!