KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Henna dyes are regarded with a special sanctity in Sudan and for that reason they are always present during happy occasions: weddings and children circumcisions, in particular.
Henna has been part of Sudan’s social and cultural heritage ever since the days of Sudan’s ancient civilizations where both would-be couples get their hands and feet pigmented with this natural dye.
Children also have their hands and feet dyed with henna during their circumcision festivity.
And because the henna dye has always been associated with happy occasions, female lyric composers and singers have produced lots of songs to be performed on the henna day of the groom, the day before he would tie the knot.”On the happy day, they baked the henna dye!,” sang folklore singer Badae Mohammed al-Tayeb. Family girls would also sing:” It’s the day for his henna dye.. It’s the day for his henna dye .. And his sisters have come by!” Even heavy weight singers like Salah Ibn al-Badiya would have his share in this: “On the happy day he put the henna dye, and to his home came every young guy!” Folklore singer Ensaf Madani would chant:”My beloved son..I hope to attend his new day and put henna on his hand. God help me see that day!”
It is in the tradition of a Sudanese married woman to dye her hands and feet with henna for two reasons: To endear herself to her husband and to appear in the public eye as a married woman with family to look after.
The groom usually has a plain henna dye with one shape, but the bride and other women get their dyes in different shapes and dapples. The latter’s henna on their hands may take shapes of flowers, tree leaves, bracelets; and anklets on the feet.
The henna festivity is associated with a number of protocols. Family members and well-wishers would gather in droves to attend the event. The new-weds would put on quality brand new clothes amid lots of rejoicing and fanfare. When all is set, the henna bake would be ushered in on a large tray full of lit candles. The new couple are incensed with sandalwood, musk and locally made perfumes thought to guard them against envy, magic and evil eyes.
The henna grows up into a three-meter evergreen heavy branching tree. It has green (or dark green) smooth, simple, spear-like or oval alternate leaves.
The henna flower is delicate, petite, and four-petaled, with a profusion of slender and elongated antennas bursting from the center. The red, rose, and white variations of the blossom, which also blooms yellow, cream, and pink, emit a sweet and seductive scent reminiscent of jasmine, rose, and mignonette; hence the name Jamaica Mignonette, as henna is referred to in the West Indies.
Those who have already come into contact with powdered henna are familiar with its undeniably special smell, a powerful and heady combination of earth, clay, chalk, and damp green leaves. In contrast, fresh henna leaves have no odor whatsoever, even when crushed between the fingers.
Henna flourishes in tropical zones because it needs high temperatures. That is why it grows heavily in the Sudan, in particular in the semi-desert Nahr al-Neel State in the North of the country which is famed for its popular ‘Eddamar Henna’.
The henna leaves contain glycoside contents, foremost the Lawson substance responsible for dark-brown pigmentation. The rate of Lawson, that can go up to 88%, increases in the leaves as the henna tree grows older.
Sudanese women add some organic acids such as acetic acid, citric acid and lemon acid to raise the acidity of henna to help fix it on the body and give longevity to the dye. Indian perfumes and ammonia are also applied to fix the henna color on the body.
Henna is anti-fungal and antiviral. For that it was used by the ancient Sudanese (the Kushites) in mummifications. And for that reason it is applied on the body in case of mange infections in humans and animals. Of late the henna leaves were found useful in the treatment of certain types of cancer and in abdominal spasms. For this purpose the person drinks water in which henna leaves have been soaked. It has an effect similar to that of Vitamin K which is necessary for stopping internal abdominal bleeding. It was found to be useful in headaches, spleen enlargement, hypertension and in boosting the functions of the heart. It is also effective in cases of varicose veins and colitis.
Henna tree leaves are used as a conservatory substance in would-be diagnosed animal bodies in university laboratories. Henna extract is used as a polish for hides, house furniture and shoe polish making, thanks to its ability to fix colors and give them a shine.
Fresh henna powder gives a quick result with lignified plant cuttings, like in the case of fruit seedlings.
Henna is an important economic product for Sudan and generates income for a wide range of farmers, manufacturers and traders. Many housewives also engage in packing and selling henna powder.
Sudan exports henna powder to some Arab and African countries. Beauty shops in some neighboring countries capitals apply henna on their customers. For this they often hire Sudanese experienced women to do the job.
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