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We offer Soapstone carvings from Kenya, Zimbabwe and Vietnam

   Kenyan Soapstone            Shona Sculpture from Zimbabwe            Vietnamese Soapstone  

Kisii Soapstone Carvings from Kenya

Zanzibar offers an ever changing selection of fairly traded soapstone items from Kenya, visit our gallery for the best selection.

Contrary to its name, soapstone is a metamorphic rock, quarried just like marble or granite. It is soft and easy to carve, having hardness about half the way between chalk and marble and is similar to pipestone.

It can range in age from 300 to 400 million years. As the talc in soapstone is soft to the touch, it gives one the smooth feeling of rubbing a piece of dry soap. Thus the name was derived as 'soap' stone. No, you can't wash with it, nor will it produce any suds.


Soapstone has been used as a carving medium for thousands of years by many indigenous cultures for tools, figures, and containers. Kisii stone is a specific type of soapstone used by the Kisii people, a community of Bantu speakers who inhabit the Kisii districts is mined mainly in the Tabaka Hills in western Kenya and near the border with Tanzania, Africa. 

Kisii stone typically exhibits coloration ranging from creamy white to yellow to red to dark grey, depending on the mineral(s) present in the stone.  Originally they carved this material into pots for carrying fat, which was massaged into the skin as a safeguard against the elements.


Zanzibar Trading Company and our affiliates work in Kenya with an extended collective of talented kisii stone carvers and painters. The carvers are members of the international fair trade association, IFAT. Using a limited number of tools, the carvers mine the soapstone in large blocks, then pare off smaller chunks for carving. Using a small knife called a kisu, the carvers quickly and efficiently liberate both realistic and abstract animal and human figures from the stone. For the export market, carvers have also begun to carve an extended selection of functional shapes, including bowls, plates, candleholders, boxes and photo frames.

All of our soapstone items are crafted by indigenous people, who use no power tools and incorporate only natural dyes and pigments. Each work of art is fairly traded, with the artisans receiving a significant portion of the retail price. 100% of the profit from our soapstone is donated to the Makindu Childrens Center, an orphanage for children whose parents died of AIDS complications; such children are outcasts in African society.


To read a complete article on soapstone, click Kenyan Soapstone

Shona Carvings from Zimbabwe

Shona sculptures, named for the people (Shona tribe) who traditionally carve these contemporary soapstone and serpentine carvings are well known and highly collectable. From the country of Zimbabwe, Africa, Zanzibar offers several artist's works. We also have access to larger, museum and collector quality as well as historical (pre 1970) pieces by well known, published master artists. Please inquire!

After quarrying the raw stone with hatchets, the sculptors use crude chisels and hand-made carving tools to "release" the spirit trapped in the stone. Next, they polish the stone with sand and beeswax. Finally, they heat it on a fire to bring out the brilliant colors. Picasso was an admirer of early Shona sculpture; now evidence is surfacing that he was influenced by it, too.

The Shona School has been developing since the early 1950's and is, according to NEWSWEEK magazine, probably the most important art form to have emerged from Africa during the 20th century. (Shona art commands international acclaim and is well represented in travelling and permanent exhibitions from Tokyo to London and New York).

Zanzibar carries Shona sculptures from a variety of Zimbabwean artists. These talented, self-taught men and women are struggling to get by due to the hard economic times in Zimbabwe. We are helping improve living conditions for these artists and their families by providing them a stable source of income with a fair and consistent market for their work. For a complete article on Shona Sculpture, including its history, about the artisans and how to care for your Shona sculpture,
click here

All pieces are outright purchased from our artisans, paying fair living wages and adhering to strict fair trade guidelines.  Additionally, a percentage of all sales are put into an Artist's Trust, established to help individual artists and artists' cooperatives to develop their skills and businesses.


Soapstone Carvings from Vietnam


to learn about our Vietnemese Carved Soapstone & Verdite Boxes, click here