Zanzibar Dowry Chest

Zanzibar Dowry Chest.

PRESENTING a STUNNING EXAMPLE of an Early 20th Century Zanzibar Dowry Chest from circa 1920.

The chest is in the classic shape and design of what is commonly known as a ‘Zanzibar Chest’………but it was most likely made in the Middle East…Probably Oman.

Oman is geographically close to the island of Zanzibar.

It has heavy ‘Moorish’ influences, as does a lot of furniture from North Africa, the Middle East and Indo-Persia. The classic ‘Zanzibar Chest’ was decorated with brass studs in ‘Moorish’ patterns and styles….some were made using bone inlay.

The chest would have been made as a ‘Dowry Chest’ for keeping and storing the Bride’s valuables before and during marriage (mostly arranged marriages thereby requiring the payment of a ‘dowry’).

The ‘Chest’ was designed to sit against a wall or most likely the end of a bed. The back of the chest is undecorated.

It sits loosely on 4 decorated and separate legs or columns….these can be removed and the chest rested on the floor or on a table etc.

It is made of a Middle Eastern hardwood…possibly olivewood.

This is a TRULY OUTSTANDING example of a chest of this type!

It has highly decorated panels, a highly decorated front locking plate, highly decorated hinges and a brass plaque (presumably the makers label…apologies but I cannot read Arabic). It has to heavy brass handles on each side for lifting and carrying.

Most Zanzibar Chests were simply highly decorated on the outside and plain on the inside. This one is special, in that it has 5 small drawers with handles at the base. It also has a lidded compartment and shelf, on the inside.


Zanzibar (/ˈzænzɪbɑːr/SwahiliZanzibarArabicزنجبار‎ Zanjibār) is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania in East Africa. It is composed of the Zanzibar Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, 25–50 kilometres (16–31 mi) off the coast of the mainland, and consists of many small islands and two large ones: Unguja (the main island, referred to informally as Zanzibar) and Pemba Island. The capital is Zanzibar City, located on the island of Unguja. Its historic centre is Stone Town, which is a World Heritage Site.

The name Zanzibar is derived from the Persian zang-bâr signifying “black coast”.[5]

Zanzibar’s main industries are spicesraffia, and tourism.[6] In particular, the islands produce clovesnutmegcinnamon, and black pepper. For this reason, the Zanzibar Archipelago, together with Tanzania’s Mafia Island, are sometimes called the “Spice Islands” (a term also associated with the Maluku Islands of Indonesia).

In 1698, Zanzibar came under the influence of the Sultanate of Oman.[19] There was a brief revolt against Omani rule in 1784. Rather than a form of colonization in the modern sense, this was an invited sphere of influence. Wealthy patricians invited Omani merchant princes to settle on Zanzibar, rather than the former conquering the latter. In the first half of the nineteenth-century, locals saw the Busaidi sultans as powerful merchant princes whose patronage would benefit their island. Many locals today continue to emphasize that indigenous Zanzibaris had invited Seyyid Said, the first Busaidi sultan, to their island. Cultivating a patron-client relationship with powerful families was a strategy used by many Swahili coast towns since at least the fifteenth century.[20]

In 1832,[15]:page: 162 or 1840[21]:page: 2,045 (the date varies among sources), Said bin Sultan, Sultan of Muscat and Oman moved his capital from Muscat, Oman to Stone Town. After Said’s death in June 1856, two of his sons, Thuwaini bin Said and Majid bin Said, struggled over the succession. Said’s will divided his dominions into two separate principalities, with Thuwaini to become the Sultan of Oman and Majid to become the first Sultan of Zanzibar. The brothers quarrelled about the will, which was eventually upheld by Charles Canning, 1st Earl Canning, Great Britain’s Viceroy and Governor-General of India.

Until around 1890, the sultans of Zanzibar controlled a substantial portion of the Swahili coast known as Zanj, which included Mombasa and Dar es Salaam. Beginning in 1886, Great Britain and Germany plotted to obtain parts of the Zanzibar sultanate for their own empires.



  • Arabic origins
These chests were also known as “dower chests” in the Middle East. “The more than 300,000 surviving documents in the Cairo Genizah are one of our richest sources of insight into daily life in Egypt from the ninth to the 19th centuries. Among them are numerous marriage contracts, and almost all refer to a dower chest. For it, we see two names used: The muqaddimah[4] was specifically for the bride’s personal possessions; sunduq, which normally came in matching pairs, were for other goods. They were not usually elaborately decorated, except in the case of the ruling class.”



Zanzibar Dowry Chest

Provenance: Bought at Auction..

Dimensions: 28.25″ tall, 50″ wide and 22″ deep

Condition: In SUPERB ORIGINAL CONDITION throughout.


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