MIKE SPRINGR/Staff photo
Twelve-year-old Anna Whitten shows her freshly painted hand during a special "Henna Night" event Friday evening at the T.O.H.P. Burnham Library in Essex. Over a dozen girls, from the 6th to the 12th grades, gathered to enjoy treats and choose from a selection of designs for Mandy Roberge, a Leominster-based henna artist, to paint on their hands. An ancient form of temporary body art, "henna" refers to a dye derived from a tree of the same name. Dried henna leaves are mashed into a paste and mixed with liquids (Roberge uses lemon juice and various oils) to create a temporary dye that binds with proteins in the skin. The practice has been a part of cultural traditions across a wide area, including North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and other parts of the Near and Middle East, including the Indian Subcontinent. When the Essex children were finished having their hands painted, Roberge advised them not to touch the dye for at least 10 minutes. After that, she said, the patterns can be expected to last for two or three weeks -- even with normal hand-washing.