As a child, I loved everything about it.
The excitement it brought when you could feel that Eid was coming and how you would wait for the time you knew you would decorate your hands.
I remember mom, your beautiful art on my hands.
I’ll never forget your hard work. I promise.
I remember how much I bothered you to put it on my hands; I wanted it to be perfect.
I remember when I was in grade five, you drew a heart on my palm, and I swear if I look hard enough I can still see it, it’s like it got carved into my palm.
But I’ll stop with this mushy stuff and go back to talking about henna which is actually made from the leaves of the henna plant; it is also the name for the body art associated its use. It is used by people to celebrate religious and cultural holidays, for example Eid.
So as a child I concluded that Eid couldn’t happen without henna, it was just a must, bordering on obligation.
You couldn’t possibly have fun without putting henna on.
Henna became the symbolic form of happiness and festivity which marked the celebration for Eid. It was a way to show that you were acknowlding the holiday and taking part in it (sorry brothers!)
I instantly fell in love with this beautiful form of art.
The canvas and medium were my hands.
Now what I love about henna is that every design is different. I mean you can follow a template but at the same time the henna artist adds their own individuality and personal talent into the art piece and so basically they add their own personal touch. Since it is temporary and eventually fades away you can change the designs and try something new the next time you put it on.
It’s like writing a specific type of poem, a writer can follow a certain model but at the same time they will weave together words with their own personal touch. This is similar to the henna artist whom adds their own touch into their art piece. The floral or geometric designs are always rejuvenated as the words in a poem are always put in a different style and harmony.
And so it’s almost as if for that moment the artist is drawing on your hand you are filled with wonder and amazement by this form of eloquence.
Putting henna on your hands is like carrying around a masterpiece and it doesn’t weigh anything (unless you have really heavy hands and you decide to wear a vey big ring which complements you henna design) then it might be heavy but my point being that it’s like a cultural artefact that you have the opportunity to take with you and share it with others. With this piece of art you get to share your culture and your heritage with other people, which sometimes spark dialogue and leads to the passing on of knowledge. It’s another way to open doors for conversation and understanding.
And as it begins to fade away, we are left with only memories of the amazing designs which once were upon our hands. Putting on henna brings back memories of our childhood, the moments we shared and continue to share with those close to us. Times when we shared and exchanged stories as the henna artist drew on your hands.
We remember moments when we were asked to
To stop moving,
To be careful, not to get henna on our clothes,
To roll up our sleeves,
Not to touch anything.
For me memories are brought back every time I put on henna.
This art that unites us.
This art which has become a way of self expression.
I still remember when I was younger, on the day of Eid I would wake up and close my eyes real tight, hoping that my henna came out really dark and then I would slowly peek at my hand and then a smile would streak my face.
“Maryum, is your henna dark too?”
“Look at mine”
And then my sisters and I would beam at one another, wearing matching smiles.
Intricate and beautiful designs, those which mesmerize people.
Rest assured, I’ve come to learn that Eid is still valid even if you don’t put on henna.
This is a picture of the henna design created by my friend Sonia Sumr, on my hand.