They are also called tattoos but I prefer using the word drawings because I always associate tattoos with so much violence and where I come from we don’t call them tattoos; just drawings. I saw women in my community doing henna drawings as young as I could remember and I was really fascinated.
I started doing my own drawings on paper at a very young age and I remember the first person I did henna drawings on I was around 7 years old. No one taught me how to draw, I just did it and until now there are so many henna artists in my community who started just like me, they were not taught they just picked up a pen and started drawing.
Doing the Henna art is not my profession, it's a hobby. The henna
drawings we do are all flower patterns and we do them off-head, directly, we don’t use stencil. Only women do the drawings on their hands. It is completely different from the tattoos they do in the US, they are henna drawings which means they are temporary, they last for only 2 weeks. They do not represent any gang members; we don’t even have the gang culture in Kenya.
They are done specifically for beauty - by women for women - during celebrations and not to intimidate people. Any woman can apply henna drawings anytime they feel like, but a bride must have henna drawings. The henna is applied on top of your skin and when it dries, it comes off and leaves a colour pattern. It is not painful at all; it is just like when someone draws on your skin with a pen.
Natural Henna is a green powder made from dried leaves of a henna plant which when applied turns skin or hair to reddish brown, could be dark or light, if it turns to any other colour, it is not natural henna. Black henna is not natural, it is part henna mixed with chemicals. Unlike the natural henna black henna may cause adverse or allergic reactions to some people when it comes in contact with skin. Black henna turns black when applied.
In Kenya, this culture is specifically practiced by the people living along the coastal line.
Photos Source: http://www.hennacaravan.com/