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Morocco Henna Tattoo Traditions

by Hassan El Amrani on 10/04/16

Henna is a flowering shrub, native to the Mediterranean regions. For thousands of years, its leaves have been dried, ground, and formed into pastes and then used to dye skin, hair, and fingernails, as well as fabrics like wool, silk, or leather. It's fairly certain that henna was developed in northern Africa and later introduced to Asia and India. In Morocco, the use of henna is traced back to the Berber culture.

Henna is not simply an adornment or alternative to permanent tattoos. In Moroccan tradition, henna worn on the body provides good luck and joy, as well as protection from illness or from the evil eye. It was and is often used in many celebration rituals including marriage, circumcision, and the Eid-al-Adha, for example.

Henna designs range from simple floral or geometrical patterns on a single body part, to much more intricate and elaborate patterns that extend from the extremities down the limbs. Based on the region of Morocco, designs vary as well. In the north, it is common for henna to be elaborate patterns of intertwining leaves, for example. In the south, henna is often layered over the fingertips, and on the entire palm of the hand or soles of the feet.

Many tourists enjoy experiencing a henna tattoo as part of their culture immersion. Your guide can assist in identifying a local person who specializes in this art. Tourists are encouraged to avoid "black henna" (which is not necessarily derived from the henna plant) because the dye may cause skin irritation and can contain harmful additives. Always opt for traditional henna, in which the paste is made simply from the ground leaves mixed with water, tea, or lemon juice (and sometimes sugar). Henna tattoos can last from days to a couple of weeks, depending on the skin type, duration of time the paste is left on the skin, and potency of the henna leaves (which can vary by the season).


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