The use of Henna for body art is several centuries old at least. It originated from the people of ancient Egypt and India but is also found to grow in Nigeria, this form of temporary tattoo is used for religious ceremonies, wedding festivals, and for simple body adornment.
What is Henna (lalle?)
Henna is a plant which grows in the tropical climates of Africa, northern Australia, and southern Asia. In Nigeria its locally known as “Lalle”. Its leaves contain a pigment lawsone which combines with proteins to cause staining. Because of this staining quality, Henna has been used throughout the ages to dye hair and create body art designs.
Origin of Henna (lalle)It is thought that Henna/Lalle originated in the deserts of India when the people living there discovered that covering their hands and feet with colored paste from the Henna plant helped them to feel cooler. It wasn’t long until a creative individual began making intricate designs with the colored paste instead of just smearing it on. Then a creative person began to make designs and this grew and began to take on meaning. Eventually brides began to decorate their feet and hands with henna as part of their wedding rituals. In northern Nigeria much older women like our grandmothers use it to die their grey hairs and do simple henna/lalle by just smearing it on their hands and feet such as our grandmothers.
The henna only lasts tops 2 weeks which is actually appealing to many people because it allows them to change to another design of their choosing for the next 2 weeks. Just because a henna tattoo is temporary does not mean that it is quick and easy to apply. It takes just as long as a regular tattoo especially if the design is drawn freestyle by the artist.
The first step in getting a henna powder is to dry out the leaves then grind them to fine powder , sift to remove small fibers .Then a small amount of henna powder is mixed with an acidic liquid such as lemon juice or just plain water until a thick paste is formed. This mixture should be allowed to sit for several hours until it turns brown and the liquid begins to separate. This paste is then pushed through a fine mesh then transferred to a Ziploc bag (thick plastic bag) which acts as an applicator when the tip of a corner is cut off.
Here are some exotic designs done on Nigerian brides by Nigerian henna artists.