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Chair (Kiti Cha Enzi)

Wooden chair with woven cotton seat, back, footrest.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • Wooden chair with woven cotton seat, back, footrest.


19th century


Lamu, Kenya
Eastern and Southern Africa

About this artwork

This style of high-backed seat with bone and ivory inlay, known as a “chair of power” or “grandee’s chair” (kiti cha enzi), is a graphic reminder of the complex history of international trade and conquest in the region known as the Swahili Coast. As early as the first century, the region’s natural harbors invited exchange with partners in the Persian Gulf and Western India. Later the Portuguese, Omani, and British imposed their authority on its inhabitants. With each conquering state, newly imported goods and practices took root as symbols of authority and power among the Swahili elite. The upright form of the kiti cha enzichair bears strong resemblance to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century chairs imported from Portugal and Spain, as well as to Portuguese- and Spanish-influenced examples made in India. Comparisons have also been made with chairs from the Mamluk period (1250–1517) in Egypt. In any case, the Swahili version is clearly the result of foreign influences that have been artfully synthesized and reshaped by local artisans. Most such chairs in collections today date from the nineteenth century and were made in large, specialized workshops. They could be found conspicuously displayed in wealthy households along the Swahili Coast into the first half of the twentieth century.


On View, Gallery 137


Arts of Africa




Chair (Kiti Cha Enzi)


Kenya (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Wood, ivory, and cotton fiber


125.7 × 75.6 × 72.4 cm (49 1/2 × 29 3/4 × 28 1/2 in.)

Credit Line

Purchased with funds provided by Marshall Field V

Reference Number


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Extended information about this artwork

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