The henna plant has many traditional uses including dye which is used for ancient body art in Bedouin culture. Traditionally henna was worn by Bedouin brides at their weddings as it was believed that this would bring good luck and positive energy. This Bedouin tradition has been adapted to a modern decorative form and is still a popular body art form in Dubai today.
Henna is made out of dried leaves from the henna plant. The leaves are dried out in the sun and crushed into a fine powder form. The henna powder is then mixed with water and lemon juice to create a thick paste that stains the skin. Once applied to the skin, the henna dye darkens and changes colour from a light brown colour to a reddish-brown colour.
Traditionally henna was applied by hand over the tips of the finger and in a circular shape in the palm of the hand. Usually a female elder would paint the bride’s hands, forearms, feet and ankles. The designs would be patterns made up of intricate spirals, petals and dots. It was common that the bride would wear similar henna patterns to what their mothers wore at their weddings.
Nowadays, henna is applied with a cone in intricate designs across the hands and feet. While there are many places in Dubai to get modern henna applied, there are very few places where you can still observe the application of traditional henna. Henna is a form of body art but unlike other forms such as permanent ink and needle tattoos, it is temporary and fades after a few days. It is painted onto the skin and doesn’t penetrate the surface.
Henna is an important tradition associated with celebrations rooted in Bedouin culture and can still be observed in Emirati culture in Dubai today. Bedouin brides traditionally gathered with their female relatives and friends three days before the wedding day to host a henna night to apply the body art. Although henna is worn most commonly for wedding celebrations, it is also worn to celebrate important religious occasions like Ramadan.