History with Jimmy: Swahili Furniture

Swahili is one of the rich cultures in Eastern Africa. Not only has the language crossed borders but also aspects of art and design that have inspired various spaces in Kenya and beyond. Let’s take a look at the history behind this awesomeness.

The Swahili people, who are inhabitants of the East African Coast, are found in Kenya and Tanzania. Though Bantu, in their ancestral roots, the expression of their culture and Architecture has been moderated by Arabic and Persian influences.

Today, we will consider Swahili furniture. Furniture used by the Coastal Swahili people, has been built using mvuli, podo and other hardwoods found in the immediate interior forests, just off the Coastal belt. The craftmanship, was handled by carvers, who learned the trade from their Fathers. Carving of furniture is a heritage, and master carvers are renown and respected in the Coastal communities. The Swahili have masterful carvers in their midst, and they are also complemented by carvers from the Makonde tribe, whose origin is Msumbiji, or Mozambique, as it is known in English. Kamba carvers, are also adept at coming up with masterpieces of furniture.

Worth noting is that, Swahili furniture is always functional, much as it is also aesthetically pleasing. Thus, Swahili peoples have Sofabeds, Beds, Chairs, Tables, Stools and even the renown Mbuzi, which is a Kitchen tool. These pieces may seem limited, but it is important to remember that, such a complementary set met the needs of the Coastal peoples. It is only in ancient days, when the Sultans had control of the East African Coast, that there was a burgeouse class, even so, this was limited to the Family of the Sultanate.

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Swahili inspired chairs


The framework of traditional chairs were made of wood, while the seat pan and backrest were made of interwoven strands of palm fronds. The tapestry resulting from the weaving would be composed of intricate hexagonal patternwork. Modern chairs, still have a wooden framework, but the woven tapestry is composed of plastic strands.

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Sculpted table with planed top



Swahili and Lamu tables, are sculpted from logs and planed planks joined together. Logs are used to come up with the legs and framework for the top, while planed planks compose the top.

The legs of the table, usually have intricate floral patterns engraved upon them, the same pattern work is replicated on the four sides of the top’s framework.

Stools are complementary to tables, and these would often be made, to function as convenient places to place food or drinks.

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Shaded sofa-bed


This is a sofa, with a deep seat pan. What that means is that, the depth of the sofa, allows one to use plenty of pillows to support one’s back if it is to be used for seating, which is seldom the case.

As the name suggests, this sofa is meant for lounging. Given that the weather at the coast is hot and humid, inhabitants would often take siestas on such sofabeds.

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Queen Sized Swahili inspired bed


Beds would be made entirely of wood. The outstanding aspects of the bed are the bed heads, which are composed of sculpted pieces of geometrical and intricately curved pieces. The bed heads would often have four poles, at each corner, to allow for a netting to be erected to cover the bed.


This is a furniture piece which has a dual function, though its primary purpose is to prepare coconuts, by grinding away at the flesh, i.e. The inner white of the coconut. The user seats on it and uses the pointed centre of the front piece, to grind at the half open coconut piece.

Share your Swahili lifestyle experience on the comment section below or on the Facebook page. Also take a look at a similar article on our Swahili Store Review.


Author: odoloyce

I love style!

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