Swahili News

Kenya to Be Featured in the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

If you live in the DC area, be sure to visit this year's famous Folklife Festival, where Kenya will be a main feature. This free festival is held outdoors on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., between the Smithsonian museums. The dates of the festival are June 25th-June 29th and July 2nd-July 6th. 

According to the Festival's website, "visitors will be able to interact with exemplary craftspeople who work with everything from clay to soapstone to recycled materials, learn about important fossil discoveries by taking part in a model dig site from the Great Rift Valley, run with Kenya’s Olympic athletes, dance to both traditional and contemporary music from many regions of the country, discover how Kenyans live among and work with some of the most magnificent wildlife on the continent, and experience Kenyan life in the United States."

"All of this will take place in venues and spaces that reflect the creative and dynamic experiences of the Kenyan people, whether they live in urban or rural, coastal or inland environments."

Sounds amazing to us! And knowing the Smithsonian's high standard of quality, this will be an absolutely beautiful production. Please do visit if you get the chance and be sure to send us your photos!

Meeting with Paul Njoronge in Kenya

On our recent trip to Kenya, we had the pleasure of meeting with Paul Njoronge, who is the artist behind our popular Hand-Painted Rocking Birds. Paul is an amazing guy and one of the friendliest - and most fascinating - people you'll ever meet. Paul has dedicated his life to the study of Kenyan birdlife. He is intimately familiar with all of the bird species in Nairobi and beyond, and he uses this knowledge to recreate realistic bird sculptures.

Here is Paul pictured with Leslie, as they work on some new chicken designs. 

Thanks for working with us and spending the day with us, Paul!

Update 04/11/2014: We are devastated to learn that Paul passed away yesterday due to a complication with food being lodged in his throat. Paul was one of the kindest, smartest, and friendliest people on this planet. Our hearts ache for his loss. We will always remember Paul for his wonderful spirit and outstanding artwork. Our thoughts are with his family and friends. Rest in peace, Paul. We loved you.

Contest: Two Outdoor Dining Soapstone Sets!

Add some sunshine to your outdoor dining table with this trio of Fair Trade soapstone accessories! Valued at $40, each handcrafted set includes a Napkin Holder, Utensil Cup, and Tealight Holder. Two winners will each receive one set.

These colorful soapstone creations come to us from Kenya, where they are hand-carved from raw kisii stone and hand-dyed by artisans in Nairobi. Each piece is decorated with hand-etched sunburst designs. Gain up to seven entries to win! The contest will end at 4:30 PM on March 21st, 2014 and is open to all US residents.

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A special thanks to SweepsAdvantage, PinterestLucky Contests, Contest Girl, ContestBee, OnlineSweepstakes, and Reddit Contests for helping us to promote this contest!

Congrats to Kayci S. and Eric C. for winning this contest, and thanks to everyone who participated!

Valentine's Day Contest: One Dozen Soapstone Hearts!

Give a gift to be remembered with one dozen, 2" x 2" soapstone hearts! These Fair Trade hearts are a meaningful remembrance of love that you can give to many people you care about - or just that one special person. Each heart is a small sculpture and no two are the same.

The dozen hearts are hand-carved, hand-dyed, and hand-etched by artisans in Kenya. The hearts arrive in three vibrant colors and are a lasting gift of love that also show your support for Fair Trade products in Africa.

This contest is for US residents only. The contest starts at 10 AM PST on 02/02/14 and ends at 10 AM PST on 02/09/2014. Thanks for entering!

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A special thank you to PinterestLucky Contests, Contest Girl, ContestBeeSweepsAdvantage, OnlineSweepstakes, and Reddit Contests for sending us traffic for this contest!

A Video of the Making of Magazine Beads

We are proud to carry products by Dorcus Beads, a small co-op of Kenyan women who handcraft "magazine beads" using discarded magazines and promotional materials. This excellent video shows the many processes involved in the making of a magazine bead, starting with the cutting of thin strips of paper to the creative construction of the finished product. 

You'll find several of these extremely eco-friendly products on our site under the Jewelry and Fashion page. One of our best sellers is the Magazine Bead Coil Bracelet. You'll also be pleased to know that these special women donate all of their proceeds to community betterment. The beads are truly beautiful on multiple levels!

Contest: $135 African Batik Bag & Accessories!

Contest time! This week we are giving away two sets of our famous Batik Travel Trio (retail value of $135 a piece), which includes a large 16" x 17" Shoulder Tote, 57" x 38" Beach Blanket/Table Cloth, and and 9" x 9" Zippered Pouch.

These beautiful, Fair Trade products come from Tanzania where they are handcrafted by a women-run workshop called Marvelous Batik. This small business is internationally known for its one-of-a-kind fabric and impressively handcrafted, textile products that are often featured in high-class hotels and interior design magazines.

The Shoulder Tote is lined with canvas for durability, and you can use it as a shopping bag, gym bag, or beach bag. The large Beach Blanket is also canvas-lined and is a great accessory for camping, lounging on the beach, or displaying in the home. The Zippered Pouch can be used for, well, anything. The blanket and pouch fit neatly inside the tote for easy transport. 

The contest starts at 12 PM PST today and ends at 12 PM on 01/20. The two winners will be randomly given one of the two pictured designs: Seahorse Batik or Yellow & Orange Floral Batik. This contest is for US residents only. Thanks for entering our contest and good luck! 

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Shea Butter: Know the Difference

Over the last decade, shea butter has become a "must-have" ingredient for both low- and high-priced cosmetics and lotions. In fact, the next time you are in the grocery store or mall, look at the ingredients list of most lotions and you will likely find shea butter listed among them. Pure, handmade, African shea butter is indeed a miracle substance that can used to treat a variety of skin ailments, beautify the skin and hair, and even be used as a cooking oil. It is this near mystical reputation that has created a global frenzy for shea butter, with most consumers considering all forms of shea butter to be of the same superb quality. 

Of course this is not the case. Did you know that 80% of Africa's shea exports are currently sold as raw nuts that go to large industrial processors in Europe? Because of shea butter's recent popularity in cosmetics, global demand for the product is being met through industrial means. We can't say this is a "bad thing" because it is simply the way supply and demand works in a global economy. However, the mass export of shea butter nuts from Africa does mean that 1) pure, unrefined, naturally made shea butter is more difficult to acquire and 2) African women's livelihoods are being affected. 

For generations, women in Ghana, Sudan, Burkina Faso, and many other African countries have passed down to their daughters the techniques for manually harvesting and processing shea nuts into a butter that retains all of its nutritive properties. The process of making shea butter is intensive and involves cracking the nuts with rocks, crushing the pieces with giant mortars, roasting the nuts in small batches while constantly turning them so they do not get too hot, grinding of pressed or roasted nuts, clarifying the oil with spoons, and finally collecting and shaping the butter. 

Industrially, elsewhere in the world, a mechanical sheller is used and the refined butter is extracted with chemicals such as hexane. What is hexane? Besides being a constituent of gasoline, hexane is used in the formulation of glues for shoes, leather products, and roofing. Hexane is also used to extract cooking oils from seeds, for cleansing and degreasing a variety of items, and in textile manufacturing (Source: Shea Butter Wikipedia and Hexane Wikipedia). 

In other words, yuck! Personally, this blogger does not want to be rubbing hexane on her face, but I - and you if you are reading this blog - do have access to the real deal: 100% pure, naturally processed African shea butter. Purchasing real African shea butter is also crucially important for many rural women who depend on shea butter for income. In fact, shea butter is such a critical form of income for many African women that is commonly referred to as “women’s gold.” 

Okay, enough preaching. We just started carrying a fabulous line of shea butter from West Africa and wanted to share some of our pics from our recent trip. Hopefully you can see the hard work and traditional techniques that make this shea butter a cut above anything you can buy in a grocery store or even the most expensive European and American skincare products. Thanks for reading!


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