Elon University’s Asian-interest sorority, Kappa Phi Lambda, hosted an information session about the South Asian practice of henna art to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Month. The session included a presentation on the history behind the cultural use of henna, followed by henna art for all to participate.
Academic chair of Kappa Phi Lambda, junior Lindsey Mathew, led the session with a brief presentation on the background of henna, including different names and various styles depending on the region.
Mehendi is another name used for henna — which can be used interchangeably, according to Mathew. Henna is made from the dried powder of the henna tree, which is then added to water to turn into a paste. This has been made for thousands of years in India, Pakistan, parts of the Middle East, and West Africa, Mathew mentioned.
Mathew mentioned the longer you leave the paste on your skin, the longer it is likely to stay. She says that henna typically lasts for around one to four weeks. Henna is not only used for skin — it can be used to dye hair as well.
Traditionally, henna can be seen on Indian brides and promotes good luck, Mathew said.
“Mehndi is used for bridal parties. It's associated with positive spirits, good luck, and help. It's also used in celebrations like religious ones such as Diwali or Holi,” Mathew said. “It's overall associated with good luck, positive spirits, beauty and protection for people.”
Treasurer of Kappa Phi Lambda, sophomore Alex Gaines, said it is important to educate others on Asian American and Pacific Islander culture especially as the month of May — AAPI month — approaches. Spreading the cultural teaching of henna is something Kappa Phi Lambda has been doing for many years at Elon University, even before becoming an official sorority, Gaines added.
“I know a lot of people know about it or have seen it, but they don't necessarily know about the history of it, or the fact that it is also spread around a variety of different cultures,” Gaines said.
Mathews also said being able to spread her culture at Elon is a great opportunity — especially because her peers are very excited to learn. From her own past experiences, she felt as though people did not appreciate or understand Indian culture.
“I feel like there's a lot of misunderstanding about lots of aspects of Indian culture. When I was a kid I'd go to school with mehndi patterns on my hands, and I got made fun of,” Mathew said. “I feel like the more people understand different aspects of culture and the more people can be there and be respectful about it, the more people understand.”
The next and final event celebrating AAPI month is a movie screening of “Weathering with You” at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. April 28 in Turner Theater.