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The Night of the Henna

by: Albert Khabbaza, MD, New York

Few days before the wedding, it was customary in the Iraqi Jewish society to have a ceremony called the night of Henna - something roughly equivalent to shower in the USA. It was arranged by the family of the bride as a symbol of separation of the bride from them and only close family members were invited. It was customary to use Henna - a red orange solution of leaves of certain trees on the fingers of the bride - so that the colour would remain for a few days.

But the most happy part of the ceremony was the special songs and music. The "Deqqaqa" - a professional woman musician who sang and played on the drums (Neqqara). She was assisted by a small group of women who also sang in response and played a large tambourine (Daff).

Although it was considered shameful for any woman to sing or play any instrument in the Jewish community, the night of Henna was an exception because, probably, it was originally an occasion for women only. It was even approved by the Iraqi rabbinate.

Another occasion when it was not considered shameful for a woman to sing, even in the presence of men, was at home when the mother put her child to sleep and sing the famous lullaby - "Dillilloli".

Some of the songs at the night of Henna were:

Ghannu ala elbaidha. Sing for the brightness, (of the white flower) meaning, the bride.

Yabu elwared. Oh, the father of the flowers. It was addressed to the father of the bride as the bride was described as flowers.

Yabu el henna ma jouz menna. Oh, the father of Henna, I will not leave you alone.

But the most famous one is

It is a very long song - part of it is:

Afaki, Afaki ala elfan le'emeltainu

Ana t'abtu wana shquaitu
Ala l'hadher akhedhtainu
Sheftainu walad alkaif
Berritainu menni bilsaif
Twessalti b'abu yousef
Ma a'aref ash t'amtainu
Enti qelti aridu
W'hewi amru ma beedu
Rabbi ye'eteq wlaidu
Hewi elli yesaleenu







Bravo bravo for the artful trick you used.

I toiled and suffered and
You took him ready made.
You found him a very good boy
Separated him from me by sword.

You begged Abu Yousef.

I do not know what
you had fed him.

You said I want him.

And he was helpless.

G-d bless his son.

He who will console him.

Note that in this song, the mother of the groom complained that her son was taken away, or "stolen" from her and blamed (not seriously of course) both the bride and her mother.



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