Henna tattoos: a brief history and my Tiwi henna tattoos

Henna tattoo design from //www.hennatattoos.co.nz/photo-gallery.html
Henna tattoo design from http://www.hennatattoos.co.nz/photo-gallery.html

Henna has been used for hundreds of years for cosmetic purposes in Africa especially in Egypt, North Africa, and in the Coastal areas which have had arabic influences. Henna tattooing in Muslim wedding is an important ceremony. Young unmarried girls are not allowed to have henna designs. When a woman is getting married then she is decorated so that she can look beautiful for her husband on her wedding night. After marriage she is allowed to apply henna designs to attract her husband’s attention.  Bridal henna tattoos usually cover the whole body.


A bride with her tattoos done for her wedding. Picture from the internet.

Henna by itself or with black dye is usually mixed with water, lemon juice or strong tea into a paste that can be applied. The henna is then applied to the skin using a stick or a plastic cone. The henna is then left to dry and then the dry paste on top is brushed or it peels away.

Every time I go to the coast I must get a henna or piko tattoo. A piko tattoo is black dye mixed with henna that is applied to the skin. I usually ask my friends who I am staying with to recommend somebody. Sometimes I ask the hotel I am staying at to let me know where the best henna designers are. The locals usually know the best tattoo designers.

This time at Tiwi Beach was no different. We had some two local male cooks who were preparing our meals. I requested them to get me somebody to do my henna. After a lot of haggling (the first lady refused to come because it was not a mzungu – apparently they pay around 20 – 30 dollars for simple henna designs) we got somebody willing to do it for a more reasonable price. Usually it is 300 for simple designs on either both your legs or hands. I wanted to do both my feet and hands and another friend wanted her legs done so we bargained.

Here is part of the process and also my designs once they had dried.



drawing 1


flower 2

hand 1

hand 2 leg leg 1 leg 3


Photo credits for my henna tattoos. Shiko_ Msa for the after pictures and Mombasa_girl for the photos during the henna piko application.

Facebook Comments