An interesting African hide covered stool or table (“nta za nyao”)

An interesting African hide covered stool or table (“nta za nyao”)

Code: 10515


H: 30cm (11.8")W: 39cm (15.4")D: 39cm (15.4")


An interesting low stool or table (“nta za nyao”)
East Africa, "Siyu" style, probably Swahili people, Tanzania or Kenya

Polychrome painted, turned wood and animal hide
20th Century

This low stool, or nta za nyao, has lathe-turned wooden legs in the Siyu style (named after the Swahili town of Siyu in what is now Kenya). Swahili stools are often made from a soft mangrove wood (mtu (avicennia marina)) for the legs and more durable hardwoods such as mkoko mangrove (rhizophor murconata) for braces and pegs. The tightly strung leather hide has been stretched and shrunk into place over the carcass of the stool. The legs are painted in the “classic Siyu color triad of white, red, and dark brown”. (Hussein 2018, 165) Swahili stools were not used just for sitting but could also serve as tables or steps and their usage was also an expression of hierarchy which extended beyond their utilitarian function. There is an old Swahili proverb which states “The one who sits on the stool must be obeyed” (Akikalia kigoda mtii).

This particular pattern of stool was sometimes encountered by European travelers who returned with them as souvenirs. 


Hussein, Athman. 2018. “Reflections on the Artistry and History of Swahili Carved Doorframes in the Collection of the Lamu Museum.” In World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts across the Indian Ocean, edited by Prita Meier and Allyson Purpura, 163–73. Champaign, IL: Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion.

Catalogue 61, "East Africa", Palmer Museum of Art, Penn State University