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A while back, I read about some severe criticisms of Americans using Mehndi
designs, made by those who practice it and who believe these designs to be
very private and sacred. It was directed at Hollywood stars who were using
the actual ceremonial designs for nothing more than decorating their body.
I know almost nothing about Mehndi except that it is beautiful and
intriguing. I too was considering using this in my classrooms, knowing my
students would also be fascinated, but when I read about their vehement
objections, I decided I'd wait until there is time to research it more first,
to make sure I was not slapping a religion or culture in the face. If my
memory is correct, I believe the problem stemmed from the tradition that
these designs, once placed on the hands, feet, etc., were forbidden to be
viewed by anyone else.
I know the practice comes from more than one group of people, so there is
probably no agreement on how its use by outsiders is viewed. Can anybody on
the list give some background on this religious aspect of Mehndi? Would just
insisting that students use their own original designs be sufficiently
respectful? Or is it more than that?
I can't help but think of some of the "Native American" projects my kids have
come home with that I think would make any self-respecting American Indian
cringe. Not all of them are cheesy, but certainly some. I'd hate to teach
about a culture without also encouraging respect and understanding of it.