African textiles, £10.99
Height: 133.000 cm
Width: 76.000 cm
Depth: 65.000 cm
Given by Mrs Cave
AOA 1962, Af 3.1
High-backed chair, kiti cha enzi
Swahili culture, Zanzibar,
19th century AD
This kita cha enzi (literally 'Chair of Power') represents the culmination of several centuries of development in Swahili furniture. Such chairs were made only in Mombasa and on the islands of Pate, Lamu and Zanzibar. The austerity of pre-eighteenth-century chair decoration gave way to the flamboyance of nineteenth-century designs, and ultimately the kita cha enzi. This example is distinguished by its angular form, ebony frame, elaborate string panels and ivory or bone inlays.
Even though most wealthy families would possess at least four pairs of these chairs, sometimes many more, they were reserved for the use of visiting guests, dignitaries and very important members of the family. Others would use the low wooden beds or mats on the floor. However, the Swahili chair in its various forms was not the exclusive property of the rich and powerful. Although the finest and most ornate examples would be found in the stone-built houses of wealthier families, smaller, less embellished versions fulfilled similar functions within the mud- and thatch-built houses of the poorer families of the town.
J. Mack (ed.), Africa: arts and cultures (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)
J. de V. Allen, 'The kiti cha enzi and other Swahili chairs', African Arts, 3 (1989)