An Afro-Portuguese High Back Armchair from Zanzibar

Zanzibar/East Africa

19th Century

Kiti cha enzi
Chair of Power

This chair is one of a matching pair. The other is to the right on the gallery page, No. 1170/2541

These hardwood chairs inlaid with ivory and bone were made in workshops on the islands of Zanzibar, Pate and Lamu for the houses of wealthy merchants. Although displayed in pairs or larger sets they were reserved for visiting dignitaries and very important family members.

The armchairs bears a striking resemblance to Mudejar style chairs of the 16th and 17th centuries from Portugal and Spain and some would no doubt have been brought to the East coast by Iberian traders of the time; comparisons have also been made with furniture from the earlier Mamluk period in Egypt so it is likely that Swahili speaking artisans developed this particular style from both these influences.

British Museum
Art Institute of Chicago
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon, Portugal

Africa: arts and cultures Edited by J. Mack pub. The British Museum Press, 2000
The kiti cha enzi and other Swahili chairs J de V Allen pub. African Arts 3 1989
Os Construtores do Oriente Portugues exhibition Portugal 1998 pub. Porto 1998
Mobiliario Portugues Bernardo Ferrao pub. Porto 1990
Via Orientalis exhibition catalogue Brussels 1991

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