Thursday, November 26, 2009

Queen for a Day

The whining, high pitched nag of a kid... "Moooooooom, pleeeeeeease its not a really tattoo it fades"  goes hand in hand with the smell of sunblock and the sounds of crashing waves on any busy Natal beach in December. I mean who haven't walked past two long haired  hippies smoking something (?) under a tattered gazebo advertising "Have your name on a grain of rice" or "Henna tattoos, any design". The answer to my nagging was usually..."Your body is a temple, I will not allow you to desecrate it!".

So I would spend the rest of the vacation enviously glaring at girls (with COOL parents) who had tattoos on their backs and arms. THEY could go back to school in January with something cooler to show their friends than a bikini tan. But as I grew older the tattoos on the beach started to loose their appeal, but I still got my name engraved on a grain of rice (who didnt?).

A weekend on Zanzibar brought back all these memories when a friend from South Africa insisted on having some Henna(the tattoo) done. We found a tiny swahili lady wrapped in colourful khangas in a duka(small shop) on the beach. After enquiring if she does henna she produced three different albums filled with designs, and not your usually chinese writing or dolphin jumping through a heart. Beautifully crafted patterns to be applied to hands and feet. I immediately fell in love with a particular hand design and just had to have it. With the back of a matchstick she carefully drew out the design, using the thickness of the henna to aid the design. Her hand was so steady as the henna stains wherever it touches. It takes about 20minutes to dry and then the henna starts to flake off, beneath it the skin is stained and stays that way for about 2weeks.

After this experience, which was so glaringly different from the Natal beach version I was interested in the history and tradition surrounding Henna Body painting. According to Wikipedia Henna has been used to adorn young women's bodies as part of social and holiday celebrations since the late Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean. In Tanzania Henna is used to adorn the Bride's hand and feet to make her more attractive for her husband. The bride is more elaborately bedecked, more deliberately attractive than the groom, and stands out above even the bridesmaids and female relatives; in essence, she is queen for the day. This tradition is taken very seriously and my henna painted hand suddenly took on great significance.

{Images from Rahim Yar Khan Online}

So, after years of whining I eventually got my tattoo, although I would rather call it a henna adornment and so experienced a tradition that is older than time.


1 comment:

  1. Lol - am off to Z-bar in December and might seek out a lady, sitting on a beach in a small duka and adorn myself too :)