Growing up in Waterville, Maine, Ameena Khan ’14 said she and her female relatives would apply henna the night before Eid and for weddings. “It’s a great time for women to get together, gossip and eat in a social setting,” she said. Khan’s family is originally from Peshawar, Pakistan.
Although the tradition is for women in the Middle East, South Asia and North and West Africa to decorate their bodies with henna for a religious holiday or special occasion, Khan recently decided to offer a henna night for students just for fun. The date she selected for the event, Feb. 27, was an ordinary night on campus.
“It’s a nice way to unwind,” Khan said. “You’re focused on the henna patterns. You stay focused on something other than studying!”
A handful of students were gathered around a table in Daggett Lounge where the henna dye and some patterns had been scattered. They were bent over their own hand or someone else’s hand, making delicate, pretty swirls and shapes. Khan said you can’t really go wrong with henna. “The beauty of henna is you can make any pattern and it turns out beautiful,” she said.
Women use henna paste — which comes from the henna plant — to decorate their hands, feet and arms. The patterns are typically floral, geometric or organic designs, in keeping with the Muslim proscription against depicting human or animal forms in art. The stain lasts a couple of weeks, and Khan said the image indicates good luck and good health, particularly if it remains bright.
Photos by Dennis Griggs