19 September, 2012

Hadhramaut: women and tattoos, facial markings and the henna

Bedouin Tattoos and Markings
In ancient times and the olden days, to beautify or distinguish themselves, Hadhrami Bedouin women (and some men), like most wanderers of the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa - used to love facial tattoos and markings. This custom is now almost dead and it is extremely rare to find; it is very unlikely now to find a Hadhrami woman under fifty years of age, using such tattoos or markings. Hadhrami traditional tattoos and facial markings on women - like in other parts of the Middle East where similar tattoos and facial markings were/are used - have varied meaning. Some are indicators of tribal affiliations; for the superstitious, of which most olden time Bedouins are, some are supposedly magical in connotation to ward off evil; or for protection against: 'magic' or the 'evil eye' or jinns. And most were used as beautification.

Most of these tattoos and markings were dots or lines or geometric in shape; and mainly around the lips or the mouth; sometimes they are at the center of the forehead, between the eyes. Or on the nose. All these ancient tattoos are either black or blue in color. And the marks are permanent. The way the traditional Hadhrami tattoos were done, was by injecting kohl or some other dye in to the skin; or was done in a rudimentary method of pricking the skin and then rubbing in a mixture of smoke black or indigo. Milk was some times used in the mixture, oftentimes, to give an esoteric benefit. In Islam, it is haraam (forbidden) to either perform or have permanent tattooing or adornment marking of the skin; and that is the main reason, with the spread of Islamic knowledge and values among Bedouins, why such practices have disappeared.

Most Bedouin women of Hadhramout, and some men, still love using kohl around the eyes. Many use mascara, too. But it is the  henna, which is recommended for Muslims and which is in fact a temporary form of tattooing - which is now most preferred by women of all ages; be they Bedouin or modern women. To quote my previous post on the use of hinna: I do not know of any where else, except around Khartoum in Sudan, and some parts of India - where henna, botanical name lawsonia inermis; is so regularly used and highly regarded as here in Hadhramaut.