In 2017, a college student of Indian descent accused me of cultural appropriation. Her complaint: "She's white. She's not allowed to do henna because henna originated in India".
The university took her on her word and ceased rehiring me. I furnished henna's multi-cultural history but the damage was already done.
The irony... Am I Indian? No, I'm Sicilian. Archaeological textual evidence first puts henna in Sicily well over 1,000 years ago.
The misinformation plaguing henna's history continues to cause systemic discrimination in the artist community creating financial loss and personal stress.
The following timeline employs only scholarly textual sources (as opposed to pictorial theories) to document henna's history. Such conclusive evidence discredits any accusation of cultural appropriation assailed upon those with Sicilian, North African, Jewish, Greek or Middle Eastern ancestry.
For more on my ancestry and heritage, visit my History of Henna page.
"3400 BCE: The first mummified bodies with hennaed hair are buried in Egypt."
"1184 CE: Christian women in Sicily henna their fingers to celebrate Christmas."
"1200-1650 CE: Persian artists depict elaborate, detailed henna patterns in miniatures and manuscript illustrations."
"1231 CE: Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, brings Jewish dyers from Djerba to Sicily to grow henna and indigo."
1243 CE: A pre-marriage henna ceremony is referenced in a Jewish wedding contract from Egypt."
"1526 CE: The rule of the Mughal Empire begins in India, and facilitates the spread of henna traditions from Persia."
SOURCE: Some Important Dates in the History of Henna, Noam Sienna (2).
NOTES: (1) This event is an abridged documentation of henna's historical appearances (earliest finding, body art uses and dye crop).
(2) I had the honor of attending Noam Sienna's The Ancient History of Henna conference presentation, Windsor Locks, Conneticut, USA, 2014.
http://www.hennabysienna.com/henna-history-timeline.html (Link includes additional countries and cultures.)
"Accounts of a payment made to Naṣr Mawlā ibn al-Zubayr concerning trade in bales of indigo and henna between the cities of Tunis, Tripoli and Palermo. Mentions the names Maymūn and ʿUṯmān followed by a list of the traded items".
SOURCE: University of Cambridge, Cambridge Digital Library
"Ibn Hauqal (1), a geographer from Baghdad who visited the Island, found market gardens around Palermo (2). There were hundreds of mosques in the city, more than any other city except Cordoba. Palermo had a population of about 100,000 people.
"Muslims planted here lemons, bitter orange, sugar cane, cotton, mulberries, date palm, silkworm, papyrus, flax, olives, pistachio nuts, and melons. Rice was first cultivated here by Muslims, a new variety of wheat introduced. Henna and indigo were cultivated for coloring."
SOURCE: Intellectual history of Islamic Sicily 831-1072, Zakaria Virk, Toronto, Canada (p 3)
NOTES: (1) Ibn Hauqal (Hawqal) was an Arab Muslim writer, geographer, and chronicler who traveled from 943 to 969 CE. His work, Ṣūrat al-’Arḍ, was written in 977 CE.
(2) Palermo is the capitol of the island of Sicily.
"Even the Christian women at Palermo assumed the dress of Muslim women, wore oriental ornaments, put henna on their fingers, and used oriental perfume".
SOURCE: Intellectual history of Islamic Sicily 831-1072, Zakaria Virk, Toronto, Canada (p 6) www.academia.edu/6551884/Intellectual_Hisoty_of_Islamic_Sicily_831_1072
"The Christian women of this city follow the fashion of Muslim women, are fluent of speech, wrap their cloaks about them, and are veiled. They go forth on this Feast Day dressed in robes of gold-embroidered silk, wrapped in elegant cloaks, concealed by colored veils, and shod with gilt slippers. Thus they parade to their churches, or their dens, bearing all the adornments of Muslim women, including jewelry, henna on the fingers, and perfumes."
SOURCE: Travels of Ibn Jubayr, Recollections of al-Madinah [Palermo], the Capital of Sicily, (p 330) Ibn Jubayr, (translated by Ronald Broadhurst).
"Further east in these plains along the northwest coast was the town of Partinico (1), which was situated on a low plain with productive land. It produced cotton and henna for the textile industry, in addition to legumes." (p 80).
"This is supported by a map of Sicily from the twelfth century that revealed a mill in Palermo for grinding leaves into henna. (99)" ..."99 Jeremy Johns, "The New "Map of Sicily" and the Topography of Palermo," in Nobiles Officinae: Perle, filigrane, e trame di seta dal Palazzo Reale di Palermo, vol. 2, ed. Maria Andaloro (Catania: Giuseppe Maimore Editore, 2006), 310." (p 188).
SOURCE: Commerce and Coexistence: Muslims in the Economy and Society of Norman Sicily, Timothy James Smit, University of Minnesota.
NOTES: (1) Partinico is a town in the city of Palermo, Sicily.
Evidence is added as reliable sources are gathered. Further expansion on the history of henna is being compiled and will be posted once the data is organized, in particular the controversial Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra, India. Your comments and questions are welcome.