Supporting the tribes of Kenya

KOY BLOG

KISII (GUSII) SOAPSTONE CARVING PROJECT 

We are extremely excited to announce our newest partnership with the 'Gusii' tribe of Kenya!

Back in April this year, Alastair Scott (Co-founder of KOY) travelled from his family home in Nairobi, 8 hours South West to 'Kisii Land', which is where the Gusii tribe originates. 

Below you will see a picture of Alastair Scott shaking hands with Elkana Ong'esa, a soapstone artist who's work has been presented in museums around the world. 

As you may know, our clothing collections/designs are inspired by and named after tribes and communities in Kenya. These inspirations come from a variety of special tribal traditions within each community. 

Since the official launch of KOY Clothing in December 2016, we have learned so much, and with greater knowledge, comes greater responsibility. The more we have learned about cultural influences in fashion, the more we have realised that many brands around the world use cultural inspirations within their designs. Not all of those brands give recognition to the cultures which inspired them. This was a chance for us to try and change this mindset and demonstrate to others the value of cultural inspiration. We do this by giving 5% of every purchase to projects within the communities of Kenya that our products are inspired by.

For example, you may have seen/heard of our work with the 'Maasai' tribe in Kenya and Tanzania, whereby we made the first ever official agreement between a brand and a Kenyan culture, known as the 'Maasai' (Read more in 'Our Story' page). 

WHY SOAPSTONE? 

From our upbringing in Kenya (Alastair and Jimmy Scott), we have been surrounded by fascinating cultures, each one encompassing a unique heritage worth sharing with the world. In this case, we would like to share with you the inspiration being our 'Gusii' (Pink) collection.  Soapstone carving has been an old tradition in Kisii dating back to the 1700's, and it has developed a lot since then. Soapstone has a stunning natural pink colour shade, hence the pink colour of our 'Gusii' collection.  Elkana Ong'esa was brought up in a family of soapstone carvers and the art has been in his family for generations. 

He is quite a well-known artist now and has even produced pieces for many museums around the world. Mr Ong'esa has started a Museum in Kisii to educate people on, and preserve Kisii cultural heritage - including soapstone carvery. He is looking to move the museum to a bigger premises just outside the city as he is running out of space.  

Mr Ong'esa spends a lot of time training people in the art of soapstone carving (Kenyans and internationals) and he collaborates with the TICAH (Trust for Indigenous Cultures and Health).  

We feel this is a fantastic project to support as it provides work and training for the local Gusii people, in the hope for them to be able to carve and sell their own soapstone carvings. This project also helps to preserve cultural heritage and will eventually build Elkana his dream museum!

(Elkana's current museum)
We have worked with Elkana over the last couple of months to set up a separate legal entity for the Museum and open a bank account for it. We have now officially handed over the first 5% of our year one Gusii inspired product sales.  Elkana was so grateful for our offer of support, and we can't wait to see him again on December to hand over our second year payment.  There is a big Kisii cultural festival in August, which Elkana has kindly invited us to and this is when he plans to launch the new museum. We will do our best to make it to this event, so make sure you follow us on social media for updates!
MORE ABOUT THE GUSII
Mr Ongesa is very Knowledgeable on Gusii culture. He told us how every sub group within the Kisii has a totem animal - such as the Baboon, leopard and elephant. This is why many of his sculptures are of these animals. Your totem animal is sacred, they protect you, and you protect them. They have traditional songs and dances which they are supposed to perform if they encounter their totem animal in order to make peace with it/communicate with it.
He also told us about a traditional Gusii game called Ekoya (most people in Gusii nowadays think Ekoya is football) which involves hitting a ball made out of a local plant as far as you can, then the other team has to collect the ball before it stops moving, if it comes to rest then you get another go. The aim is to get as far as you can.

 

 

 

 

 

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