x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

9. Wood dowry chest or mandoos, c1900

To mark the nation's 40th anniversary, we feature 40 historic objects.

40 Wood dowry chest or mandoos. c1900.
40 Wood dowry chest or mandoos. c1900.
We know nothing about the identity of the bride who received this wooden dowry chest, designed to hold the most precious possessions in her marriage. Its current owner, Dr Ahmed Khoori, estimates that it dates from around the turn of the 19th century, placing the box in the time of Zayed the First, the grandfather of Sheikh Zayed, who ruled between 1855 and 1909.
It is likely though, that this box came from the Northern Emirates. Khoori, who lives in Abu Dhabi, purchased it in Sharjah in the late 1970s. He has a private collection that includes several mandoos, but thinks this is the oldest. Made from a hardwood, mostly probably teak, it is decorated with brass nails in what Khoori calls "a very special design. It's not over-decorated, just made simple. But it is a unique design".
The box would have been made in India and shipped to the Gulf for sale. The small shelf at the top right of the mandoos is all that remains of an interior box for the most valuable jewellery. Dr Khoori believes that the right end of the dowry chest has also been replaced some time in the past.
Aside from the general wear and tear, one clue to the object's age is the four feet nailed to the bottom. These have been added to protect the bottom from humidity, meaning the box would have rested on an earth or sand floor, perhaps in a traditional palm-branch arish.
The dowry box is still part of married life in the Gulf and, ancient as it is, its purpose is still instantly recognised.
"If you go back 60 or 70 years ago, it's the only wooden box we used to have in the house," says Khoori. "It was used by the ladies to keep their most expensive clothes and jewellery in. I don't think there was any house in the Emirates, especially on the coast, without a mandoos."