Globalization: Social & Geographic Perspectives

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Creolization Essay

April 16th, 2011 · 3 Comments


Globalization of Henna
“Henna” or “Mehndi” is native to the Middle East, and was spread through interaction with other cultures to different parts of the world. It is an important attribute in the Muslim religion. Henna is a paste/ink that has been around for almost 5000 years. In parts of the Middle East it is orange/ dark red, however, in other parts it is black. Henna is applied on joyous occasions and marriages. Here, in the U.S. people use it for other reasons like tattoos. Some get a henna tattoo to see what they think of the tattoo before it is permanently applied, since henna is only temporary. Another way to people use henna is they dye their hair with it. Henna is used at any age and mostly females.

With centuries of migration and cultural interaction it is difficult to work out where particular traditions began. But, historians claim that henna has been used for at least 5000 years both as a cosmetic and medicine. Some scientists believe that henna use originated in ancient India, while others suggest its use originated in the Middle East and North Africa, and was brought to India in the 12th century by Egyptian Moguls. It is now a common household name in both South Asia and Europe, with many people seeing henna as part of their lives either to dye their hair, or tattoo their skin.

The art of henna is now practiced in some nine religions including Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Christian and Pagan. Traditionally a woman’s art, Indian and Pakistani henna designs are intricate. Intricate patterns are made to decorate a bride, in a ritual a day before the wedding called the Mehndi ceremony. The patterns that are drawn usually have leaf stems, a big leaf, swirls, zigzags, and dots.

The art of Henna, or Mehndi, is an old tradition used generally for celebrating events or marking rituals. The use of Henna in the 4th-5th centuries in the Deccan of western India is clearly illustrated on Bodhisattvas and deities of cave wall murals at Ajanta, and in similar cave paintings in Sri Lanka. With centuries of migration and cultural interaction it is difficult to determine or trace the origin of Henna. The art of henna is still retained to this originality to experience the essence and beauty that pharos, royals, rich and poor have enjoyed centuries ago.


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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1    jasmina786 // Apr 16, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Whenever I go to wedding parties, I love how they decorate the hands of women using henna in colors of burnt sienna and black. I also had it done on my hands and I really loved the design when washed off. I have to say that it does have this unpleasant smell, but once its washed off then it goes away. I have seen some women apply it on their feet. It is amazing how Henna is used differently in the Afghan, Pakistani and Indian societies. They have their designs differently applied and the atmosphere is different but at the same time it is alike where everyone enjoys this interesing paste that even children love to be in part of all the fun. It was a fun read. I also read that Henna is great for medical purposes.

  • 2    ahsana // Apr 18, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    Being a Muslim I’d like to add that applying Henna on joyous occasions such as Marriages is not a religious practice but rather a cultural practice performed by many Southeast Asian countries and other countries around the world. In Islam it is not a mandated but it is a custom that has been practiced for hundreds of years. When I was a young girl I use to be obsessed with putting on henna designs on my hands and arms but over the years I grew out of it. When I went to Bangladesh for the first time 2007 it was interesting for me to see how henna was made. My aunt had a henna tree in the back of her house so my cousins and I went to the roof top and started picking out the henna leaves. My grandma later grinded the leaves and it turned into pure henna without any chemicals. All natural henna lasts much longer than the ones sold in American stores. Today henna has globalized into the west and there are so many shops in NYC that apply henna tattoos to people of all different ethnicities

  • 3    Prof. Hala // Apr 22, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    What a rich case of creolization, Safia. Excellent choice. I especially like how you draw attention to the contested origin stories of henna. We often fail to note that there are usually multiple competing stories out there about the origins of many globalized cultural objects and practices. Another very interesting aspect of henna is that it’s been used for both cosmetic/aesthetic and medicinal purposes, and as Jasmine and Ahsana confirm, it’s used differently in different places.

    Ahsana, your story about visiting your Aunt in Bangladesh adds some wonderful detail, tracing this symbolic practice back to its natural source — I had no idea henna came from trees!

    The distinction you (Ahsana) make between “religious” and “cultural” practices is interesting. I gather that your point is that since it is not “mandated” by Islam, it should not be considered religious, but a cultural practice. I think that’s a valid basis for a distinction, though some might say that even if practices are not required by scripture or law but become attached to a religious tradition they should be considered a “religious” practice; in any case, many scholars see religion as a part of culture. In the end, it really gets down to how one defines “religion” and “culture.” I think Safia’s point that the practice is now embraced by many different religions suggests that it has now become a broader cultural practice, not defined solely by religion.

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