First Advisor

M. Ann Bennett

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Anthropology






Henna (Dye)



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, viii, 126 pages)


Since gradually replacing red ochre as a dye in ancient Egypt, henna has been cultivated throughout the Middle East and North Africa Traditional uses dealing with body art and medicine were associated with traits commonly connected with the color red, the dichotomies of life and death, good and evil. Today, these traits have all but disappeared while henna's use as a cosmetic dye, an embellishment, has remained prevalent in some regions. There can be no doubt that many uses and symbolisms attached to uses have gone unrecorded, been forgotten, and are irretrievable. The purpose of this research was to preserve that knowledge which still exists concerning previous uses and current practices in the Middle East and North Africa.

Data gathered from publications indicates that the once traditional belief that the ability to purify and protect from evil was emanate in henna was acknowledged as recently as twenty years ago. Personal interviews conducted with fifty informants revealed that, with the exception of the Zar Cult in Egypt, present day users of henna make no association between henna and purification or protection from evil.

During the Middle Ages, henna was a common ingredient in medicines believed to be beneficial in the curing of various skin diseases and internal discomforts. Knowledge of medicinal uses today is confined to a few regions where external application is still practiced, but internal use is rare.

Henna's association with the rite s of passage and other occasions was once common. Staining the hands and feet of participants in ceremonies with henna was a tradition . Today the Night of Henna, a ritual dyeing of the bride-to-be's hands and feet, is the only widely recognized traditional use of henna.

Henna as a cosmetic dye for hair may be gaining in popularity in the Middle East and North Africa due to it s use in modern products. Women in Morocco, Pakistan and the Arabian Peninsula continue to use henna as a cosmetic stain on feet, hands and nails. This continued use may be attributed to pride in tradition and modern methods of application.


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