Tonga Stools | Mark Phiri's artefact of the month Back
03 November, 2015
Tonga stools are one among hundreds of stools still being used in rural African villages. These particular stools are named after the Tonga people who originated in South Africa and overtime migrated north. Nowadays, this people group is referred to as “Tsonga” in South Africa, in Zimabawe – “Tonga”, and in Malawi and Zambia – “Batonga”.
Traditionally, only the head of the household could own and take his place on a Tonga stool – women were prohibited from sitting on stools. Just by observing a man’s chair you can easily weave together a story about the owner and his position in the wider community. These chairs are surprisingly comfortable, used for rest, work and during traditional meetings.
While most Tonga stools fall in the same general style, they come in variety of designs, which are often geometric in form. However if you’re lucky enough you may find the maker has carved an animal into a chair.
Each stool is made from one solid piece of wood – usually a hardwood like teak or ironwood to ensure longevity. Tonga stools are African heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation. Very rarely you may see a softwood Tonga stool – usually an indication that the artist was still an apprentice.