Tabaka Soapstone Making

 Tabaka Soapstone


Tabaka, Kenya is home to the only soapstone producing community in the whole of East Africa due in large part to the fact that the only soapstone quarries are located here. Soapstone is largely comprised of mineral talc and is found near the convergence of tectonic plates. Some scientific thing happens between the plates to create the right conditions for this type of soft and soapy feeling stone.

Soapstone mining and carving has been going on in Tabaka, Kenya since 1885. Soapstone carving is closely associated with the Kisii people because this is the only place in Kenya where soapstone can be found. The heat resistant stone is carved locally for tourists who buy the products in the main markets of Kenya, and exported to several countries both inside and outside of Africa.

The bedrock covers 25 square kilometers and runs 800 feet deep. Soapstone is a soft stone consisting mostly of talc, a metamorphic rock. Crude tools are used to break the stone out of the quarry which is where the production process begins.

Residents of Tabaka have informally organized themselves around the production of these handcraft products and you can see how it all works by clicking here.

The entire soapstone quarry resting under the clouds.

The owner of the quarry took a break from his carving and joined us for a photo.

The quarry is empty today, save this one man, because of a funeral.
When someone passes away, the entire community attends
and all work comes to a grinding halt.

A few people work under the shade tree while they break the stone to ordered sizes.

The men work with the larger, just-cut pieces of stone to roughly shape them.

These men are preparing sculptures from rough cut stone.

Under the bench, the rough cuts are waiting for these men to make tribal masks.

Rough cut animal hinies (Hippo, Elephant, Rhino).

After the rough cuts, the ladies use water to help them smooth and shape the stones.

Little pockets of ladies work together as they enjoy one another's company.

Pr Vincent encourages the women.

Everyone works together in a very organized and systematic manner,
though no evidence of any leader or record keeper exists.

Shops are filled with sanded and ready-to-paint soapstone products.

This mama was so helpful to us as we toured the small community.

Waiting to be painted.

Soapstone everywhere.

After sanding and storing, orders arrive and products are painted.

Drying chess pieces and waiting for detailing.

Detailing with a marker.

After the product orders are ready, they're carefully packed and shipped.
This order is going to Zanzibar, likely for tourist mementos.
About 8 little worships line both sides of the road in Tabaka.

All the workers in these shops coordinate their efforts.

I've never seen anything quite like it!