Social practices ceremonies and celebrations



Henna is one of the ancient legacies of the United Arab Emirates, where no home would be without the smell of the henna bush because of its importance to women in the past.

Before it was a decorative and aesthetic material, it was used in treating some diseases and aches. It is part of the rituals, ceremonies and adornment of women and girls.

Henna cultivation:

The types of henna differ according to the areas where it is cultivated, and therefore according to the environment in which the tree is grown. The best types of henna are those grown in the northern regions of the country, and the Al Batinah region in the Sultanate of Oman . The narrator, Sheikha Al Shamsi, recalls : “In the past, henna was cultivated on the outskirts of palm farms, where it was grown in the form of sticks. After cutting it, it would grow again better”. Henna generally grows faster in warm weather than in winter and is harvested before seed formation. The narrator, Shamsa Rashid Al Shamsi, explains: “In the past, henna was cultivated by the method of amed (meaning column) and it was grown at a length of approximately ten meters. It takes about two months to grow in the warm period, while growth is delayed by about 3 months in winter due to the cold weather”.

Preparing the henna mixture:

Regarding the preparation of the henna mixture, the narrator, Sheikha Al Nuaimi, indicates  that after cutting the henna leaves, it takes 3 days for it to dry and is kept out of the sun. It is then pounded and sifted in a light piece of cloth, known as a sheila or wegaya. The amount to be used is then taken, kneaded with boiling water and dry lemon, and left for a period of time before use. The narrator, Shamsa Al Shamsi, adds : “When it comes time to harvest it in the summer, it is dried in the yard for a day, goes through the process of “asf” , gets filled in “ywani” , and is preserved. Sometimes, it is distributed or given to people in need. If the henna is to be used by a girl or a woman, the henna leaves are pounded using a tool called the menhaz. It is then “sifted” using cloth and the desired amount is kneaded. The remainder is kept in boxes in and refrigerated to last for a longer period.

Decoration forms of henna:

Some of the traditional inscriptions are featured during national occasions and by grandmothers. Among the most famous inscriptions at that time were “ghamsa” in which the hand is dipped completely from the front and back with henna, “gussa” is done on the fingers and the half or the entire palm of the hand, “shera’a” is in the form of a triangle, “rawayeb” is done on the tips of the fingers, “tila” is a point in the form of a marble and “kazoa henna” is done the form of a kazoa bean.

Narrator Shamsa Al Shamsi states: The importance of henna can be observed in its many uses, including:

Headaches: A small amount of henna paste is placed on the head of the person (man) to cool off his head, especially in the summer, in addition to applying henna to the soles of the feet.
It is also used in the treatment of abdominal pain that afflicts women, especially pregnant women in the early months of pregnancy, as they would drink a medicine consisting of henna, mahleb and gum, left in a cup of water until the next morning. It would then be filtered, and the woman would drink it for a period of 4 days. This drink helps relieve colic and the pains that accompany pregnancy.

The narrator, Sheikha Al Nuaimi, explains : Henna has benefits for hair as it gives it shine and is a treatment for dandruff.
This is confirmed by the narrator, Al Hadh Al Kuwaiti : “The forefathers say, the henna of the day is adornment, the henna of the night is treasury (meaning remedy).”
The modern designs of henna have taken many forms and women have resorted to salons in order to obtain the latest designs that are mixed with local, Indian and Sudanese designs . However, the traditional designs still exist, and we see them on the palms of our mothers and at national events and heritage celebrations.


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