HPJ Clicking on an image will open another window. You can use the second window to scroll through all the enlarged images associated with this article

The Henna Page Journal
The Functions of Henna Traditions during the Childbirth and Postpartum Period
Catherine Cartwright Jones
Page 8 of 9

Previous Page Next Page
Front cover

Though the formal religious practice may be established in the host country, the social network and implements necessary for popular religious ritual may be unavailable (McCarthy and Barnett, 1997). Popular religious rituals often require implements rarely available outside of a country of origin: indigenous plant and animal products may only be imported where there is a community large enough to make such economically practical. Henna, rice flour, live rams for sacrifice, kumkum powder, kohl, incenses, mustard oil, talismans, amulets and similar articles used within ritual performance may not be available, and if found, there may be no practitioners capable of performing the rituals. An immigrant woman may thus be unable to access the rituals she regards as necessary for purifying and reintegrating her into society after giving birth. This has been considered contribute to the elevated and prolonged postpartum depressions observed among immigrant women (Williams and Charmichael, 1985). The immigrant’s lack of the usual support network to perform popular religious rituals following birth has been associated with the elevated maternal psychiatric morbidity in their host countries (Upadhyaya et al, 1989, Watson and Evans, 1986)

[1] Rangoli, also known as Mandana, Alpona and Kolam, are designs executed by women using rice flour, turmeric, spices, flowers, or henna on domestic floors and walls. The designs are auspicious and have ritual significance for the occasion. They purify the domestic space, honor and invite the presence of a deity. In the case of birth patterns, the soul of the child is welcomed with these patterns and directed to the proper place.

[2] Bishmillah allahu akbar ‘ala ----In the name of God, God who is Great ---(the name of the child) ben (son) or bent (daughter) – (of so and so)

[3] Zgrit: a North African and Middle Eastern loud, shrill celebratory ritual exaltation done by women. The sound is made by loudly singing a high note while flicking the tongue back and forth across the upper front teeth. The Zgrit is intended to frighten away evil spirits. Women in an Amazigh house trill a zgrit seven times at the birth of a son, three times at the birth of a daughter.

Hennaing a woman after she gives birth is a traditional way to deter the malevolent spirits that cause disease, depression, and poor bonding with her infant. The action of applying henna to a mother after childbirth, particularly to her feet, keeps her from getting up to resume housework! A woman who has henna paste on her feet must let a friend or relative help her care for older children, tend the baby, cook and clean! This allows her to regain her strength and bond with her new baby. She is also comforted by having friends who care about her well-being, and is helped to feel pretty again. It’s a comfort to have feet beautified when you haven’t seen them for several months. The countries that have these traditions have very low rates of postpartum depression.

This paper is illustrated with traditional henna patterns from Morocco and Rajasthan to be applied to a woman’s feet after childbirth.

    Previous Page

Next Page

Back to the Cover

    [Home] [How] [Why] [What] [Where] [FAQ] [Forum]