Rowan University students learned about the history of henna, its cultural significance, and how to draw their own personalized designs during a virtual event hosted by the Rowan Arabic Culture Club (ACC) on Wednesday, February 24.
Following the introduction of the event, where ACC described itself as a group formed four years ago to promote Middle Eastern culture and break down associated stereotypes, the event began with a presentation on the history henna.
Amna Sweilam, an ACC event organizer, explained that henna is a dye that comes from a plant. It is created by taking the leaves of the plant, compressing them into a powder, and mixing them with water. Natural acids, like lemon juice, are then used to change the color of the henna.
Originating in Egypt nearly 9,000 years ago, henna is most often used to decorate skin, color hair and nails, and stain fabrics.
“Henna is important to our culture because we use it on celebratory occasions – most often at weddings,” Sweilam said. “It symbolizes good health and prosperity in marriage.”
After the training session, ACC member Faiza Zaman demonstrated the use of henna to the participants, while sharing technical tips.
“When you want to use henna,” she explained, “the first thing you want to do is practice your lines. “
Zaman continued to advise beginners, stressing the importance of drawing the henna design first, before putting it on your or someone else’s skin. As well as providing in-depth practice, it will save time when placing the henna design on a person.
When it comes to designs, Zaman recommended starting with a dot and filling it in for a simple look, stating that a basic flower is a good design for beginners because it’s hard to mess everything up. She then demonstrated the process, starting with a dot and extending it, adding petals and leaves.
“You don’t want to go too complicated when you are starting out,” she said. “So try to do some basic shapes. “
Zaman also explained that different designs work best with certain types of hands, saying floral designs are often more appealing to those with longer fingers.
In addition to the design suggestions, Zaman noted that the henna tube, or “piping bag,” should be held at the end – that way you have more control over how much product comes out. She also recommended keeping cotton swabs and tissues with you to correct any mistakes you might have along the way.
Following the virtual presentation and the demonstration, the participants had the opportunity to create their own henna, thanks to the gift bags provided to them.
The bags, set up by ACC secretary Halie Hicks, contained a tube of henna, popcorn, Arabic ma’amoul cookies and apple juice, and could be picked up at the student center before the event. Photos of henna designs created by various participants were featured on the club’s website. Instagram Account @rowanacc.
Although ACC has hosted several events in the past, Hicks noted that they’ve never hosted anything like an interactive henna party. The event was a success, attended by 49 people, a record for the organization.
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