Bangladesh Artisans

Undugu_KenyaTravel to the Tabaka Hills in western Kenya, and you’ll find a densely populated region dotted with tiny parcels of land barely big enough to grow food needed to feed each family.

And that’s exactly the problem.

With so little uncultivated land remaining, many people within the local Gussi tribe are unable to support themselves with the subsistence farming they’ve always relied on.

Enter kisii. (Pronounced KEE-see.) The popular local soapstone is named for the Kisii language spoken by the Gussi tribe. It’s not easy to come by though. The Tabaka Hills region is the only place you’ll find it in Kenya. Incredibly soft, yet heavy, kisii comes in a wide variety of colours ranging from mottled pink, to grey and beige. And it’s perfect for carving.

In fact, hand-carving kisii stone into objects such as our Happy Hippo Sculpture or Cat and Mouse Set now enables more families to earn an income, build permanent homes, improve their plots of land, and send their children to school.

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RS6237_100_3082“Soapstone carving is our mainstay and fair trade guarantees sustainable work that makes a big difference in our livelihood,” explains Robert Ombasa, a local artisan.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the process:

  • Miners work in four-hour shifts at one of the six quarries around Tabaka.
  • Each piece of Kenyan kisii soapstone is chiseled loose and then lifted to the top of the mine with metal chains.
  • The large rocks are then taken to town to be sawed or axed into smaller chunks ready for carving.
  • Men do the initial carving, using a large knife – called a “panga” – to form rough shapes and a smaller knife to carve intricate details.
  • Women sand-wash, sun-dry and paint each piece. Coloured patterns are produced by dyeing with ink, paint, and shoe polish, then sealing the colour with beeswax.
  • The surface is scored, allowing the natural stone to shine through.
  • Finally, women rub the carvings with a soft cloth, applying a clear wax to accentuate the stone’s natural lustre.

Notice something missing? Right. Without an electrical power supply in or around the villages, the excavation, mining, carving, and polishing of kisii stone are all done by hand!

Our kisii carved soapstone is fair trade and entirely hand-made.


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