Archaeological findings confirm the first evidence of henna as dye on hair, toes and fingertips was 5,000 years ago on mummified remains in ancient Egypt in 3,400 BCE.
Documents show the cultivation and trade of henna for use as dye, perfume and medicine expanded from Egypt throughout the Mediterranean Basin. In the east: Arabia, Syria, Cyprus, the Levant and Babylon, and to the west: North Africa, Sicily, Morocco and Iberia. Beyond the Mediterranean henna trade also spread to Western, Southern Central and Southern Asia.
Textual evidence shows henna body art customs spread with Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism.
Little-known fact: Henna designs depicting paisleys, peacocks, mandalas and floral strips are a modern creation originating in the 20th century. Before this, henna designs were comprised of lines, stripes, squares, circles or solid coverage on the hands and feet.
Henna belongs to many ethnic groups. For centuries henna body art has played an integral part in cultural and religious life in the Mediterranean Basin, western/ central Asia, Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Hinduism.
Henna was introduced to Sicily by Arab Muslims between the 9th - 12th centuries CE. The use of henna in Sicily ebbed but the flow is returning, albeit in an imported style. However, the Arabic motifs are still en vogue across the island as evidenced in fashion, architecture, ceramics and cart decoration.
Henna is part of my heritage. My ethnicity is an Old World melting pot of Pole, Bohemian, Sicilian, English, Celtic and Norman with mixed religious ancestry of Christianity and Judaism.
I embraced henna and made it my career. I have no issue with anyone doing henna body art as long as they respect its historical and multi-cultural significance and use safe henna. Henna is a beautiful medium that relaxes the senses and brings joy and that should be available to anyone. I welcome all to enjoy henna.
Fun bit of nerdy trivia: The Sicilian side of my family is from Palermo and Enna. As the oldest surviving town in Sicily, Enna was founded by the Siculi tribe around 1,200 BCE, then called Henna.
Throughout Sicily's history Enna's name was translated by colonists and conquerors into their own language (castrum, castro + qasr mean camp, fort):
Henna (Sicanian, 1,200 BCE),
Enna (Greek, 705 BCE),
Castrum Hennae (Roman, 132 BCE),
Castro Yannis (Byzantine, 535 CE),
Qaṣr Yānih/ Jannis (Arabic, 859 CE),
Castrogiovanni (Norman, 1087 CE),
Enna (Italian, 1927 CE).
The fun part? Jeanette (my name) is variant of the names Henna, Yannis, Jannis and Giovanni.