WASHINGTON — Janet Goldner,a presenter for the Smithsonian Institution's Folklife Festival,sat patiently as her feet were prepared by henna artist Aminata Doumbia,of Bamako,the capital of Mali.
Doumbia,23,has been working with henna art since she was 7 years old. She put pieces of adhesive tape in intricate designs on Goldner’s feet before applying the henna ink in the open spaces. Doumbia had given Goldner a book of patterns from which to choose.
“It's like choosing your hairdo or hair color … like a manicure and pedicure – just another way to be beautiful,” Goldner said. The ink washes off after about a month.
Henna art is popular among women in the West African country and commonly worn on their hands and feet at baptisms,marriage ceremonies and other special occasions.
Dark henna ink colors,including black,olive green and dark brown,blend with Malians’ smooth skin,made that way by their heavy use of shea butter.
Shea butter comes from mangifolia tree nuts,which are found in Central Africa.
Habeebah Muhammad,registrar at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Museum,has used shea butter as a skin treatment for more than 10 years.
“You can put it in your hair and on your skin,” she said. “It purifies the skin and heals wounds.”
Though it can be used to moisturize hair and skin,shea butter is simply that – butter. It's edible and can be used for cooking.
Soumata Sidi,a hairdresser from Gao,Mali,sat under a nearby tent displaying jewelry and traditional headdresses she had made. Each covering had symbolic meaning for a woman's status in society – depending on her age and the number of children she had.
“I am wearing ‘Zumbo' because I have several children,” Sidi said through a translator about the headdress she was wearing.
It was extravagant with bright beads strung on yarn the color of Mali's flag: red,black and yellow.
But the image of a beautiful Malian woman isn't just in her body art,headdress,jewelry and skin quality.
“You can recognize a classy,elegant woman by just her scent,” said Kadidia Ouologuem,of Bamako,through a translator. “Your house must always smell sweet to greet people.”
Haoua-Cheick Traore,Ouologuem's translator,also a Malian woman,held up a white,cotton-like,material made into a wrap-around garment that Malian women wear at night. They’re fastened with “hiplaces,” which are used like a belt to keep the nightwear on. It’s regarded as sexy apparel in Mali.
“You don't have to go to Victoria's Secret,” Traore said. “Just like we have necklaces,we have hiplaces.”
With the bedroom attire on display and Ouologuem's special incense aroma filling the tent,many observers asked the most common question of the day: Is this for sale?
Participants in the Malian festivities directed people to the marketplace on the grounds of the National Museum of American History,where CDs,jewelry,leatherworks,statues and even furniture were for sale.
David McDavitt,33,of Arlington,found his way to the marketplace after spending 2 1/2 hours in the Mali exhibits.
McDavitt was eyeballing a tama drum,an hourglass-shaped instrument played under the armpit.
“It's rare to find a good tama drum,” said McDavitt,an Afro-pop musician. “This one is disturbingly cheap – $22. You can pay a hundred dollars for a bad,tourist tama drum.”
Amadou Toumani Toure,president of the Republic of Mali,told spectators at the festival’s opening ceremony Wednesday that he wants travelers to visit his country for its people.
“In Mali,you will also meet women of legendary beauty,hardworking and proud men as well as children raised in the respect of family values,” Toure said through a translator.
The festival,which also features Scotland and Appalachia,continues through Sunday and July 2 to July 6.