Henna for brides and gazelles: Ritual, women's work and tourism in Morocco

Kelly Spurles, Patricia L.   Universite de Montreal (Canada) ProQuest Dissertations & Theses,  2004. NQ97895.

Abstract (summary)

Henna, a semi-permanent vegetable dye, is used in many contexts in Morocco, as in other Muslim societies. The hadith document the use of henna to relieve arthritic pain, and as a dye used by men to color the hair and beard, and by women to stain their hands and feet. This association of henna with Islam gave the plant the stamp of religious orthodoxy. However, the ritual use of henna, notably its use at marriage and burial, has much earlier roots, following a pattern of red ochre use in very early human society. Contemporary henna practices are strongly associated with ceremonies that mark calendrical and life cycle transitions. Applied to women preparing for marriage or childbirth, awaiting a male child's circumcision, and re-entering the community after a spouse's death, henna indicates (and conveys) the passage of individuals through dangerous states—a meaning that has been easily adapted to encompass the physical and social liminality that accompanies travel. In recent years, henna practices have been increasingly commoditized, particularly with the appearance of artisans who apply henna for domestic and international tourists in public markets. Conflicts between artisans and police, in particular, highlight both the socio-economic importance of this work and the salience of manipulating tradition in gaining/retaining control of cash earned in this high profit sector. Employing a cultural biography approach, this study breaks with impact-oriented evaluations of tourism to examine how meaning is embedded in newly commoditized rituals through (1) a survey of henna practices that identifies general characteristics as well as those specific to Muslim and Jewish Moroccan communities; (2) similarities and contrasts between contemporary local and tourist sector producers' technical and social knowledge relating to henna application; and (3) the social context of production. Data was drawn from participant observation among 15 local and 30 tourist sector henna artisans carried out over 18 months of fieldwork in Morocco in 1998, and 2000–2001. Contemporary practices are contrasted with descriptions drawn from the nineteenth and early twentieth century ethnographic records, with particular attention to French sources.

Indexing (details)

Cultural anthropology;
Womens studies
0326: Cultural anthropology
0453: Womens studies
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Gender; Henna; Morocco; Ritual; Tourism; Women's work
Henna for brides and gazelles: Ritual, women's work and tourism in Morocco
Kelly Spurles, Patricia L.
Number of pages
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 65/12, Dissertation Abstracts International
Meintel, Deirdre
Universite de Montreal (Canada)
University location
Canada -- Quebec, CA
Source type
Dissertation or Thesis
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
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