Henna is one of the oldest beauty accessories in Qatar, and possibly could be the first female prettification item that women in the region discovered. This ancient dye has become a cherished tradition, preciously passed down from mother to daughter for generations, and is still the first choice for women in taking care of their beauty.
This natural substance is derived from the henna plant, which yields a vegetable dye made from its leaves and stems into a powder. They dye is used to adorn the woman’s hair, hands and feet.
Henna is usually preferred in celebrations and any joyous festivities, especially in weddings where the bride dyes her hands and feet one day before the wedding ceremony. The occasion is called “Henna Night”, where the bride’s female relatives, friends, and neighbours gather around her, chant folkloric songs and dance while a specialist lady, called hennayah, apply the henna on the bride’s hands and feet.
In many other celebrations, henna is omnipresent. The two Muslim festivals, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Ad’ha are two essential celebrations in which women like to use henna. They used to apply the greenish mud-like paste to their hands and feet a couple of days before the Eid and continue re-apply it intermittently for several days until they obtain a reddish brown colour. Young girls also enjoy using henna and imitate the grownup in beautifying themselves with this natural substance.
To obtain the henna dye, women used to grind henna dried leaves, put the powder in a pot and add boiled dried lemon to make the paste. Lemon juice helps in making the paste colour brighter. Nowadays, some chemical substances are added to the paste to get black or dark brown colour, which is considered by some a negative addition to this ancient tradition.
There are many types of henna plants, such as the Indian, Shami, Baghdadi and Shaeka. The Indian henna is considered to be the best and richest, and many women prefer it for it gives the dark reddish colour. Omani and Emirati henna is imported from Pakistan, and there is also the Sudanese red henna.
Hand decorating in Qatar and the rest of the Gulf region can take many forms one of which is rawayeb, consisting of covering all joints of the hand fingers and a line passing across the middle of the palm. Qas’a consists of stripes from the tips of the fingers down the palm. Ghamsa is to totally cover the hand until the wrist. As to bayerj, it consists of drawing small triangular shapes. There are also the traditional forms such as stars, circles, Arabic letters… etc.
In the past, forms of henna were different from nowadays and had specific names to designate each one. Qussah and abu baytan were specially used by brides and young married women, while single girls used to opt for ghamsa likewise for older women. The latter also do jooti, a total covering of their feet.
At present, women opt more for sophisticated and beautiful paints. Any part of the body can be adorned with henna, and many women prefer to stretch the painting up to their shoulders and upper thighs, and from both sides.
As any other else, henna beautifying has seen changes in tools and methods. Instead of using tissue, combs and matches in the process of painting, beauty salons now compete in using the latest innovations in henna adorning, offering a wide range of catalogues full of designs and paintings, easily applicable by special cones.
Henna is also praised by Qatari women for hair colouring and conditioning, and is still used to overcome the most known cases women face in treating their hair (especially when adding lemon to the paste), such as hair loss, white hair and moisturizing. Henna is also considered a much safer way to colour the hair, compared to chemical cosmetics, since it contains a colouring agent, Lawson (Lawsonia inermis). Other medical uses of henna comprise the treatment of ulcerations, purulence inflammation, cracked heels and freckles.
Women tourists visiting the Heritage Village in Doha usually feel curious to drop at the Henna Stand, where a number of hennayahs offer beautiful hand paintings to women desirous to test this ancient yet modern way of woman beautification.