Malay weddings aren’t complete without henna. Malay culture isn’t the only one to include henna in its rites and rituals. Henna is an ancient tradition practised by many ancient cultures, and is an integral part of weddings and childbirth for Hindu as well as Muslim cultures.
I had hoped that one of the benefits of marrying out of my own culture would be that I would be allowed to skip some of the more tedious rites, but (un)fortunately, my aunts and cousin would have none of it. So whether we liked it or not, henna became part of our wedding.
After the aqad nikah (marriage) ceremony, Vin and I both sat down for my cousin Ija (Kak Long) and she meticulously applied the ritual henna on our digits. Well, Vin only had to have the three fingers on his left hand hennaed. I had to have all of my fingers, parts of my palms, toes and feet hennaed. Traditionally, this should have been done even prior to the aqad nikah ceremony, but what with our running around Sitiawan and Kuala Lumpur, there had been no time to do this before the aqad itself. Mak Lan, Vin’s Malaysian foster mother and our long time friend, neighbour, surrogate mother when ours was not available, gave us the henna (inai in Malaysian) which she had obtained on a trip to Mecca. We ended up getting the henna after the aqad, but in time for the reception the next day.
I must also mention that Vin made his aqad vows in the Malay language, and only needed to say it once before it was pronounced legal! I digress. Back to the henna. We were told to add instant coffee to the henna when we mixed it into a paste, but we forgot the coffee so the henna ended up being more orangy and apparently was not as startlingly bright as it could have been.
Look at our hands and feet carefully in this picture, which was taken at our wedding reception on May 21st, 2005 – you can even see Vin’s left hand stretched out and the hennaed fingertips:
Then while we were on our honeymoon, Vin took more pictures of the henna on my hands and feet. My dad had specifically asked that my cousin apply the henna in a traditional Malay manner, and did not want designs drawn all over my hands and feet. She complied:
[[image:henna01.jpg:View of my palms:center:0]]
The next two are of my feet – notice the henna lining the sides of my feet. Believe me, it was 5 AM before I could go to bed the night before the wedding reception, because I was sitting at the kitchen table like a statue, fingertips, toenails and sides of feet pasted with henna, probably getting a little buzz off of the henna smell (just kidding!).
[[image:henna02.jpg:Feet in Redang’s powdery sand:center:0]]
[[image:henna03.jpg:Don’t tell me if my feet are ugly…I know they are. I’m just trying to show the henna:center:0]]
Unfortunately, at our 3-month anniversary we were not in beautiful Pulau Redang (Redang Island) but we were at home in Ohio. So the backdrop of the pictures turn from lovely white sand to the carpet in our living room. 😉
You can see how my toenails are growing out and that only my big toenails are still mostly orangy. Some of the smaller toenails are back to normal, and only the tips of others are still visibly orange. What henna does is it dyes the fingernails and toenails and you wait until it grows out for it to go away. Henna applied directly to one’s skin fades pretty quickly. There is definitely no more henna on the sides of my feet.
[[image:henna04.jpg:Feet in carpet:center:0]]
Here are my hands again. Only the tips of my nails are hennaed now, making it look like a funky french nail polish:
In retrospect, I am glad that we did have a wedding with all the bells and whistles (and henna), and now that the henna is going away, I am feeling a little sad. In Malaysia, they say that we are newlyweds only as long as the henna lasts. We just celebrated our 3-month anniversary on Sunday and looking at my hands and feet reminded me that we have had a wonderful first 3 months and that although the henna might be fading, our happiness continues on.