Henna has been used throughout Africa, India, and the Middle East for thousands of years.
For centuries, mehndi — the art of henna painting on the body — has been practiced in India, Africa, and the Middle East, where the henna plant is believed to bring love and good fortune, and to protect against evil. Mehndi is traditionally practiced for wedding ceremonies, during important rites of passage, and in times of joyous celebration. A paste made from the crushed leaves of the henna plant is applied to the skin, and when removed several hours later, leaves beautiful markings on the skin that fade naturally over 1 to 3 weeks.
Henna Use in the Past
Besides being the key ingredient in mehndi, henna has also been used to dye the manes and hooves of horses, and to color wool, silk, and animal skins, as well as men's beards. Studies of mummies dating back to 1200 BC show that henna was used on the hair and nails of the pharaohs.
Ladies: please be aware that as you walk through the main square, you may be approached by women who ask you to have a henna tattoo and before waiting for your answer, you may find yourself tattooed up to your armpits before you can blink your eyes. So in order to avoid being demanded for a rather large amount of money (like 200 dirhams), make it quite clear if you don't want it. A reasonable sum for a couple of minutes work is 20 dirhams – but it's up to you to negotiate.
Before having a henna treatment you should know that it will stain your clothes, towels, bed sheets etc. If this happens, and the riad sheets are stained we are obliged to throw them away. If you want to have a tattoo, we would ask that you please do it on the day of your departure, or we will need to charge you for any damage (sheets 252 dirhams each, towels 120 dirhams each), which of course we do not like to do.
If it's too late and you have had the henna treatment, we do have a way of preventing the sheets from being stained and we ask your cooperation in this – we simply cover the area with a plastic bag and then put over a knee-hi to keep it in place and also make it more comfortable for you. Please ask the staff for assistance and requisite materials!
We thank you for your understanding.
Postscript: A friend of ours has now opened Henna Café Marrakech, where apart from good food, coffee and other refreshments are served, they also do henna treatments in comfortable, relaxed surroundings – much better than standing in the square. They also use only organic henna so there should be no allergic reactions to dyes often included elsewhere. Their website is www.hennacafemarrakech.com and they are to be found on the Rue Bab Doukkala – over the road from the sentries at Dar el Bacha, on your left-hand side opposite Mustafa Blaoui's emporium. The address is 93, Arset Aouzal Souikat and telephone 06 56 56 63 74.
The café is run as a non-profit enterprise and offers free courses (English, music) to local residents paid for with proceeds from the café. Worth a visit.