For the first time whilst visiting shrines in the Chiadme region I had come across stalls selling items either as souvenirs or for consumption at the shrine as part of a ritual. The shrine was in a small village called Sidi Abdeljalil some 3 kilometres from Talmest where the bus had dropped me. I then travelled to Sidi Abdeljalil by calèche, where the driver of the horse drawn cart allowed me to take the reins whilst he smoked a pipe of kiff.
The road was bumpy and twisty and the horse had a mind of its own. The minimal instructions I had received were woefully inadequate and I was relieved to pass the reins back following his smoke.
The shrine looked over a small dried up river and I entered a covered passageway similar to the one at Sidi Ali and made my way to the entrance only to be met by an older man who welcomed me and insisted I drink tea with him.
He was the stallholder selling traditional items for the shrine. Reminded again of the link between spirituality and henna, I was fascinated to it see again, and in its natural leaf state. A great pile of henna leaves was next to a set of scales. Syringes and pattern templates for its application in its liquid form were also available to purchase.
Henna comes from the Lawsonia inermis plant which is native to northern Africa, western and southern Asia, and northern Australia, in semi-arid zones and tropical areas. It does not thrive where minimum temperatures are below 11 °C (52 °F) and temperatures below 5 °C (41 °F) will kill it.
Whole, unbroken henna leaves will not stain the skin. Henna will not stain skin until the lawsone molecules are released from the henna leaves. However, dried henna leaves will stain the skin if they are mashed into a paste. The lawsone will gradually migrate from the henna paste into the outer layer of the skin and bind to the proteins in it, creating a stain.
Since it is difficult to form intricate patterns from coarsely crushed leaves, henna is commonly traded as a powder made by drying, milling and sifting the leaves. The dry powder is mixed with one of a number of liquids, including water, lemon juice, strong tea, and other ingredients, depending on the tradition. Many artists use sugar or molasses in the paste to improve consistency to keep it stuck to the skin better. The henna mix must rest between one and 48 hours before use in order to release the lawsone from the leaf matter. The timing depends on the crop of henna being used. Essential oils with high levels of monoterpene alcohols, such as tea tree, cajuput, or lavender, will improve skin stain characteristics. Other essential oils, such as eucalyptus and clove, are also useful but are too irritating and should not be used on the skin.
In Morocco the paste is commonly applied by a syringe.
In Morocco, henna is applied symbolically when individuals go through life cycle events. Moroccans refer to the paste as henna and the designs as naqsh, which means painting or inscription. In Morocco, there are two types of henna artists: non-specialists, who traditionally partake in wedding rituals, and specialists, who partake in tourism and decorative henna. Nqaasha, the low-end Henna specialists, are known for attracting tourists, which they refer to as gazelles or international tourists, in artisan slang.
For Moroccans, a wedding festival can last up to 5 days, with 2 days involving henna art. One of these days is referred to as azmomeg, and is the Thursday before the wedding where guests are invited to apply henna to the bride. The other henna ceremony occurs after the wedding ceremony, called the Day of Henna. On this day, typically an older woman applies henna to the bride after she dips in the mikveh to ward off evil spirits who may be jealous of the newlyweds. The groom is also painted with henna after the wedding. During the groom’s henna painting, he commonly wears black clothing, this tradition emerged from the Pact of Umar as the Jews were not permitted to dress similar to colorful Muslim dress in Morocco
However more of henna in a future post. Following the tea from the kind man, I negotiated my way past electronic signs and ranks of hanging shoes into the courtyard of the old Marabout shrine.