Syncretism Descriptive Essay
Syncretism is a fusion of opposed concepts that form an original and unique idea. The two types of syncretism characterize different sides of the culture and religion. Religious syncretism focuses on the eternal struggle between the good and evil and highlights the most prominent figures considered as syncretic ones. In its turn, cultural syncretism involves two or more notable cultures that by blending generate a completely new custom, belief, or philosophy. The reasons for such syncretic processes vary from immigrations and military conquests to marriages between representatives of two different groups, which later deliver a combination of very dissimilar cultures or religions. Cultural syncretic processes take place all over the world, and the United Arab Emirates is not an exception. The henna design is regarded as one of such practices that were adopted by the country. Therefore, this paper discusses the syncretic origin of the henna, its meaning, and spread in the UAE.
It is complicated to trace the history of henna due to the migration and constant cultural interaction. For this reason, the hardest task is to determine the time of the birth of the tradition. Consequently, it is obvious that the art of henna (or mehndi) is very ancient and has been practiced for more than 5000 years in India and Pakistan, as well as some countries in Africa and the Middle East (Chaudhri & Jain, 2009). However, according to some evidence, in the 7th century BC, Neolithic people used henna to decorate their hands in order to placate the goddess of fertility. Formerly, humans utilized this plant for dyeing their skin, nails, and hair. They also mixed henna with the fruit and leaves of other plants with the aim to obtain diverse shades of the color. Mainly, these plants included coffee, lemon trees, cloves, and indigo. Furthermore, people used henna for dyeing their cloth, including leather, wool, and silk (Bechtold & Mussak, 2009). People exploited the plant for cooling down their bodies in the deserts due to its natural characteristics. In addition, the paste had remained on the skin for a long time and given a cooling effect. In addition to such ways of the henna use, ancient people applied it in the house decoration. It is worth mentioning that initially, henna had no syncretic meaning, and both the affluent and the poor, who possessed no jewelry, used it for the decorative purpose. On the other hand, ancient people believed that henna gave them an opportunity to connect to the earths energy. They also applied it to uncover and develop their spirituality. Anthropologists revealed that Egyptian mummies had worn henna designs, and even Cleopatra herself had decorated her body with henna pictures. To prolong the strength of the color, people added sugar and oil to the paste (Chaudhri & Jain, 2009).
Traditionally, people use henna for special celebrations, birthdays, and weddings. The most widespread tradition is the Henna Night when a bride, all the family, and friends gather to celebrate the coming wedding. To make this day special, the nearest and dearest of the female rehearse their dance and music performances for months. At the same time, the bride gets large henna patterns all over her body: from her hands and feet to her elbows. Furthermore, this process is rather time-consuming; usually, a few artists do the henna design. As a rule, the guests get small tattoos on the backs of their hands (Lodi, 2014).
This wedding tradition has simplified through years; however, long ago, the form of the henna art differed from region to region. Furthermore, one should understand the difference between the mehndi design (spread in India) and henna design (spread in the Arab countries, and later adopted by the UAE). Diverse patterns have different meanings in each culture. For example, a certain design may denote fertility, wisdom, good health, protection, and mental enlightenment. Unlike the Indian mehndi that has thin lines with floral patterns covering hands, arms, shins, and feet, the Arab henna uses extensive and floral design only on the hands and feet. Indian patterns also comprise large shapes that are decorated with henna patterns rather frequently. Mehndi decorations are gaining popularity among people all over the globe. Furthermore, representatives of different nations require designs corresponding to their culture, for instance, Japanese hieroglyphs or Celtic knots (Griffin, 2007).
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In the UAE, henna is something more than just nice circular patterns. The reddish-brown dye is applied for painting barakah, in other words, the blessing on the skin, right before the Emirati wedding ceremonies. It is worth mentioning that each of the painted symbols has its distinctive meaning. For example, a peacock symbolizes beauty; a swan means success, and a butterfly is an indication of some transformation. Parrot is usually a sign of love, and flowers represent happiness and joy. According to the Emirati traditions, the henna party takes place at the family home. Usually, folklore Arabic drums, which are known as tablas, accompany the celebration. In addition, the participants of the night burn incense (bukhoor) to protect themselves from the evil. As a rule, there is also a perfume corner with samples for guests. Nevertheless, the tradition has modernized with time, but it still maintains the main sense of the wedding night (Lodi, 2014).
The wedding night is considered the most widespread tradition. However, the scientists distinguish other types of special celebrations that used to be hennaed. With henna designs, people celebrated engagements, the eighth month of pregnancy, and then the birth of a child, the 40th day after the birth of a baby, Epiphanies, circumcisions, and some Muslim religious holidays (Griffin, 2007).
In the henna painting, there are three major design styles. The Indian design is based on the intricate patterns of the curved feather-shaped figures. The second is the Sudanese design that has bold geometric angles. The third style, which is also spread in the UAE, is the Arab type of extensive patterns. Henna is safe, and there are rare cases of adverse reactions to it. Furthermore, the application of the paste is neither painful nor poisonous. Many people view it as a temporary tattoo that can be easily removed with water and soap. Henna is a simple method of drawing on the skin without needles. After the application, the pictures are orange but become darker and then acquire a yellowish-brown color. As well as in the other countries, in the UAE, henna tattoos may remain on the skin up to a month. However, the duration also depends on some factors such as the paste quality, type of the skin, and the time of the substance contact with the skin. For the skin, it is the most favorably when the paste stays in touch with it for several hours. In such a case, the color has a possibility to develop fully (Griffin, 2007).
As mentioned previously in the paper, people demonstrate an increasing interest in the henna designs today. Concerning the UAE, the country has adopted henna very quickly and absorbed all the peculiarities of this syncretic practice. Nowadays, in the country, henna is utilized as a natural accessory for women as it also used to be in the ancient times. Henna artists are sure that any female outfit will be incomplete unless there are some organic paintings on the hands. Everyone can notice a woman with henna at both a fashionable party and family dinner (Lodi, 2014).
Henna artists assert that a considerable number of clients interested in henna tattoos support the idea of customizing this art. Very frequently, they ask to paint particular names or quotes that might be incorporated into the design. Furthermore, more often one in the UAE can see a person with such words as hope, love, or freedom wrote with henna on their hands. In addition, it was more common for the country to use black henna instead of the red-brown one. However, the local government banned black henna due to frequent infections and allergic reactions to it (Lodi, 2014).
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Despite the fact that a new kind of henna designs flourishes, its traditional form also continues to develop. Henna artists personalize the patterns for each bride and create unique designs. They attempt to create a charming fusion of the traditionalism and modernity using skylines, the scene of the proposal, and some breathtaking images, as well as the portraits of a bride and groom. Such creativity makes each painting distinctive and, at the same time, preserves the syncretism and sacredness of the art (Lodi, 2014).
To conclude, syncretism is a fusion of diverse cultures when the nations exchange their beliefs and implement them into their communities. Henna belongs to one of the syncretic practices that have been used in many cultures for more than 5000 years. Initially, henna was used for different purposes varying from cooling down the body to decorating the houses. However, with time, it has acquired a deeper sense. Henna designs were widely applied during the wedding night and other celebrations; each pattern had its unique denotation. Furthermore, the UAE has also adopted henna into their culture giving it a special prominence. Despite the extensive usage in the ancient times, currently, henna artists claim it to be extremely popular among women. The variety of designs is almost infinite. The fascinating henna art is very rich and has no boundaries; thus, it will remain a tribute to trust, beauty, and happiness.