Kurdish Jewish Bride's 
Lel Hinne Bedulge
"the False Henna Night"
copyright Catherine Cartwright-Jones c 2003
Kent State University'
Kurdish Jewish families had two "night of the henna" celebrations before a wedding.  The first henna was on a Thursday night, and the second was at the close of the Sabbath.  The first henna night was to fool the demons that might intend to harm the married couple, so it was called "the false henna night" or "lel hinne bedulge".  People believed that malevolent spirits, the "evil eye", would come to a wedding and bring bad luck, infertility, and misery to the marriage. Therefore, they fooled the spirits by having a "false night of the henna" to throw them off, and had an excellent excuse for another round of partying!

Thursday morning, women brought henna powder to the groom's house.  They mixed it with tepid water and  smoke, the sour herb used in zatar. They left the henna paste in a bowl until evening. 

The families took a gift of henna powder to the aga, the local Kurdish leader, to get permission for the wedding. They took three bowls of henna and three cakes of soap on a brass platter, covered with silk cloth, to the village leader.  A young man carried this platter on his head, accompanied by musicians and a procession of family members.  When they arrived at the aga's house, the aga's servant came to the door and asked: "For whose wedding is this henna?"

The family told the servant who was to marry, and asked if the aga would give permission.  The aga usually accepted the henna gift and permitted the marriage, unless there were disagreements between the families in particular, or Jews and Muslims generally in the village.  If the aga refused the henna, the procession went back to the groom's house without music, and the aga sent a servant to tear the musician's drumheads ... to make sure there would be no wedding!  The family then tried to make peace with the aga through bribes or other amends, because no wedding could take place without his permission. 

If the age accepted the henna and approved the wedding, the musicians played in his courtyard, and his servant took the henna to the aga's wife. The aga gave the musicians a gift, usually a garment. 

Muslim Kurds presented henna to the aga in the same way to get permission for their weddings.

The Jewish groom's procession went to Muslim Kurdish friends and gave them bowls of henna.  They asked if the aga had accepted the henna, and if so, they did too .. and also gave the musicians a gift.  The henna was also an invitation to the wedding!

When the procession of musicians and family returned to the groom's house, they retrieved henna paste and took it to all the bride's relatives who used it to henna the hair of all the little girls in the family.  This continued through Friday and Sunday, because any little girl who didn't get her hair hennaed for the wedding would be very upset.

That same Thursday evening, men went to the groom's house and women went to the bride's house.  One of the girls from the groom's family asked several people from the party to help bring the henna from the groom's house.  They carried the henna in a procession, with musicians, singing "the henna is coming, the henna is coming!".  A young, strong, tall man carried two big bowls of henna over, and little boys tried to snatch the henna bowls from him.  When the bride heard them coming, she veiled and secluded herself from the visitors

The bride's mother and friends unbraided her hair, and then hennaed it.  They hennaed the bride's hands, then their own hands. 

When the bride and her relatives were hennaed, the remaining henna was taken back to the groom's house.  His family hennaed his hands, his feet to the ankles, his forelock and his sidelocks.  The groom's male friends and relatives hennaed their hands. 

The couple celebrated their "real" night of the henna during the evening after the following Sabbath.

Additional material on Kurdish Jewish marriage traditions is in "The Jews of Kurdistan" by Eric Brauer.

The Jews of Kurdistan
Erich  Brauer, completed and edited by Raphael Patai
Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1993

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