A Yemenite Hinneh

My daughter was recently married and wanted to embrace her Yemenite roots. To this end it was very important for her to have a hinneh (or henna) ceremony as is practiced in Yemenite communities. However, we were not part of a Yemenite community in New Jersey. We did not know of a Yemenite community in the Florida destination that we chose either. So, the challenge began to understand what is important in the hinneh ceremony and how we can keep the tradition alive, staying true to her father’s heritage, without the infrastructure.

I’ll admit, it is a bit ironic that we were doing a hinneh at a destination wedding. In Yemen the hinneh ceremony was created as a farewell to the bride.  Transportation was difficult, and most women worked within their own houses or small community. This ceremony was meant to be the loving send-off to the 12-year-old girl getting married that may never see her family again, or at least not on regular intervals. Yet here we were celebrating this custom, celebrating the rich Yemenite heritage, at a destination wedding in Florida for our 25-year-old daughter who lives across the country in California.

Throughout history customs have changed to adapt to circumstances. We were able to create our own version of this ancient practice while keeping the spirit of the ceremony. Live drummers and singers were not available, but the ancient poetry in Hebrew and Arabic emanated from the mixer DJ’d by a family member. We explained to the Hungarian, Kurd, Polish, non-Jewish, etc. guests the meaning behind the ceremony, and some of the Yemenites were happy to learn the meaning behind a custom they celebrated without knowing why. Everyone joined in the Yemenite step, the small modest movements that the women would dance. Then, as it was a modern interpretation, both men and women danced the larger dance steps traditional to men. We celebrated the marriage of the bride and groom and their new life within the beauty of the heritage.

Some of the practices have been diluted. Today at most hinneh ceremonies we do not have the kabbalistic and traditional symbolism painted on the bride with henna. Instead, it has become a tradition to paint a dot on the palm of each participant. The mother, or elder female relative, is the one to begin the ceremony by grinding the henna and mixing it by hand (full disclosure; we ordered henna painting pre-mixed through Amazon) and continues with the candle and flower baskets followed by the drumming and music. The costume is the same as it was for that 12-year-old girl back in San’a, Yemen.

The sentiments, if not the venue, were the same. We were sending our daughter off with the knowledge that friends and family love her and wish her well on her next journey in life.


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