A brief trip to Morocco more than a decade ago led to a life changing discovery for an Australian woman, writes Suzanna Clarke.
When Oriel Paterson made her first - and as yet only - visit to Morocco in 1996, she had no idea that it would shape the course of her life. She is now runs a business called Henna Harem in Australia, which does temporary henna "tattoos" for thousands of people each year.
Between clients at the Woodford Folk Festival on the Queensland Sunshine Coast last week, Oriel recalled her brief trip to the Maghreb. "My partner (Drew Minton) and I didn't have much money, so we hitch-hiked around Morocco. We went to Chefchaouan, stayed a week in Fez near the Bab Boujeloud, and spent a few days in Marrakesh and then the Atlas."
During her travels, Oriel was struck by the henna designs worn by Moroccan women. "I thought they were beautiful, and wanted to bring them back." Born in Kenya, she had lived in the United Arab Emirates as a child, before the family went to live in Australia. "I have memories of the souks, and the geometric designs," she says.
Oriel had completed a degree in art history and anthropology, and while she was pregnant with the first of her two daughters, decided to begin her own business offering henna tattoos as a way of combining her interests.
She felt it was important to give people a taste of what she had experienced in Moroccan culture.
"It's important to create an atmosphere, like the nurturing environment and sense of family people have there," Oriel says.
During the course of the week-long festival, the curtained and cushioned Henna Harem tent was always abuzz with women, men and children either waiting, having designs created or sitting until they dried. Firstly, they selected a symbol from a book and then it was neatly painted on their hands, feet or shoulders by one of a dozen young female employees.
"It's a healing thing to do, and that inspires me to keep doing it," says Oriel. "It's very intimate, dealing with people's skin. Sometimes they confide their problems to you. And the symbol that they chose says a great deal about their personal symbolic language.
"The plant itself has power. It's considered a protection from malevolent spirits. It's also medicinal and works as an anti-fungal. You can use it to treat things like tinea."
Like a pasha's court, Henna Harem is nomadic, constantly traveling Australia and setting up at major festivals, market days, weddings and private events.
"One day, I would love to come back to Morocco," Oriel says.
Henna Harem can be hired for public or private events. You can contact them HERE.
Henna photos copyright Henna Harem 2012.