Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The origin of Henna

Posted by Fredsvenn on August 4, 2015

History of Henna

The history and origin of Henna is hard to trace with centuries of migration and cultural interaction it is difficult to determine where particular traditions began. Henna has been used as a cosmetic hair dye, cosmetic and healing capacities for 6,000 years. There is very persuasive evidence that the Neolithic people in Catal Huyuk, in the 7th millennium BC, used henna to ornament their hands in connection with their fertility goddess.

The different words for henna in ancient languages imply that it had more than one point of discovery and origin, as well as different pathways of daily and ceremonial use. While henna is known by many names including Henne, Al-Khanna, Jamaica Mignonette, Egyptian Privet and Smooth Lawsonia, the art of its application is referred to as Henna (Arabic) or Medhi (Hindu).

The word “alkanet” derives from Middle English, from Old Spanish alcaneta, diminutive of alcana, “henna”, from Medieval Latin alchanna, from Arabic al-ḥinnā’, “henna”  akin to ḥana’a (al-: “the” + ḥinnā’, “henna”), to become green, the name for the small thorny tree (Egyptian Privet, Lawsonia inermis). The genus name Pentaglottis is Greek, meaning “five tongues”, and the species name sempervirens is Latin, and means “always alive”, or “evergreen”. Green alkanet blooms in spring and early summer. Its stamens are hidden inside narrow flower-tubes which end in a white eye in the centre of a blue flower.

In botanical terms it is Lawsonia Enermis, a plant which grows to be 4 to 8 feet high in hot climates and can be found in Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Persia, Morocco, Palestine, Yemen, Egypt, Uganda, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Senegal, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and India. The leaves, flowers and the twigs of the plant are ground into fine powder containing natural dying properties called tannins; the powder is then mixed with hot water.

Hannahannah (from Hittite hanna- “grandmother”), also known as the Hurrian goddess Hebat, a name that later developed into the name of the Aramean goddess Hawwah, or Eve, whom she appears to have become identified, is a Hurrian Mother Goddess related to or influenced by the pre-Sumerian goddess Inanna.

Inara, in Hittite–Hurrian mythology, was the goddess of the wild animals of the steppe and daughter of the Storm-god Teshub/Tarhunt. She corresponds to the “potnia theron” of Greek mythology, better known as Artemis. Inara’s mother is probably Hannahannah and her brother is Sarruma.

The mother goddess Hannahannah promises Inara land and a man during a consultation by Inara. Inara then disappears. Her father looks for her, joined by Hannahannah with a bee. The story resembles that of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, in Greek myth.

The earliest written evidence that mentions henna specifically used as an adornment for a bride or woman’s special occasion is in the Ugaritic legend of Baal and Anath, inscribed on a tablet dating back to 2100 BC, found in northwest Syria. Henna has also been used extensively in southern China and has been associated with erotic rituals for at least three thousand years, during the ancient Goddess cultures.

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. Many statuettes of young women dating between 1500 and 500 BCE along the Mediterranean coastline have raised hands with markings consistent with henna.

The earliest civilizations to have used henna include the Babylonians, Assyrians, Sumerians, Semites, Ugaritics and Canaanites. The earliest text mentioning henna in the context of marriage and fertility celebrations comes from the Ugaritic legend of Baal and Anath, which has references to women marking themselves with henna in preparation to meet their husbands, and Anath adorning herself with henna to celebrate a victory over the enemies of Baal.

Wall paintings excavated at Akrotiri (dating prior to the eruption of Thera in 1680 BCE) show women with markings consistent with henna on their nails, palms and soles, in a tableau consistent with the henna bridal description from Ugarit.

In Ancient Egypt, it is known to have been worn. In Ancient Egypt, Ahmose-Henuttamehu (17th Dynasty, 1574 BCE): Henuttamehu was probably a daughter of Seqenenre Tao and Ahmose Inhapy. Smith reports that the mummy of Henuttamehu’s own hair had been dyed a bright red at the sides, probably with henna.

This early connection between young, fertile women and henna seems to be the origin of the Night of the Henna, which is now celebrated worldwide. The Night of the Henna was celebrated by most groups in the areas where henna grew naturally: Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and Zoroastrians, among others, all celebrated marriages and weddings by adorning the bride, and often the groom, with henna.

Across the henna-growing region, Purim, Eid, Diwali, Karva Chauth, Passover, Nowruz, Mawlid, and most saints’ days were celebrated with some henna. Favorite horses, donkeys, and salukis had their hooves, paws, and tails hennaed.

Battle victories, births, circumcision, birthdays, Zār, as well as weddings, usually included some henna as part of the celebration. When there was joy, there was henna, as long as henna was available.

Henna was regarded as having blessings, and was applied for luck as well as joy and beauty. Brides typically had the most henna, and the most complex patterns, to support their greatest joy, and wishes for luck. Bridal henna nights are a popular tradition in North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Near East and South Asia.

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