Object Name: Chair of power (kiti cha enzi)
Culture: Swahili peoples
Place of Origin: Zanzibar, Tanzania
Medium/Materials: Wood, ivory, string
Dimensions: H: 123.0 cm (H: 48.4 in)
Credit Line: Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Steve and Linda Nelson.
Accession Number: X89.367
Swahili chair, kiti cha enzi (“grandee’s chair”), with ivory inlay. Chairs like this, probably inspired by an Egyptian model, were in use in Swahili courts by the early 17th century.
Throughout the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, artists along the Swahili coast carved chairs from ebony and inlaid them with ivory. This style was once characteristic of wealthy households in Zanzibar and Lamu and may date to the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century. A foreign prototype from Egypt likely inspired this form of Swahili coastal chair. Kiti cha enzi means ”chair of power” or ”grandee’s chair,” suggestive of its function as a marker of status and power. High-ranking officials sat on such chairs during formal occasions, and the chairs were also offered to visiting foreign dignitaries as a gesture of respect.
Source: Ross, Doran H. (1992), Elephant: The Animal and Its Ivory in African Culture, Los Angeles, UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 310.
See also: Marla C. Berns, World Arts, Local Lives: The Collections of the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, 2014.