The gems of Africa are equal parts varied and fascinating. East Africa, in particular, remains one of the leading producers of precious gemstones. As long as industrial and artisanal mining remains a significant economic aspect of the continent's local economies, consumers around the globe continue to enjoy the prized gems of Africa. Rubies, sapphires, and even the exotic tanzanite are all found in East Africa, but how much, of what quality, and how does Swahili play a role in it all? Let us examine the cultural and economic significance of East African mining and gems and find out.
Although the title of this article is "Swahili Stones," it will cover East African countries that do not speak the language predominately (such as Ethiopia).
Yakuti comes from Arabic and means "sapphire" or "ruby" in Swahili. Sapphires and rubies are just some of the precious stones found in East Africa. Tanzania has been known to have rubies since the early 20th century, but modern discoveries are nothing short of beneficial to the developing economies of the entire region. Tanzania alone produced tons of rubies and sapphires between the years of 2004 and 2008. Kenya had its share of ruby and pink sapphire. In the first half of 2008, Rockland Kenya Ltd. produced hundreds of kilograms a month. Most were sent to Thailand to be cut. Ethiopia's sapphire output during this period was negligible at best.
Amethisto is a common, semi-precious gemstone found around the globe. Although East Africa is not a significant producer of amethyst, there are several localities, and Madagascar has plenty of sources. From 2010 to 2014, Madagascar produced over 450 metric tons of amethyst. Kenya produced around 68 metric tons of amethyst per year, although this declined to about 24 metric tons by 2016. Most of its gemstones, including amethyst, are sent to be cut overseas. Tanzania produces gem-quality amethysts from Morogoro and the Handeni District. Some of its amethyst may have hematite inclusions, giving it a reddish hue. Ethiopia also produced amethyst; however, its 2010 amount is dwarfed by its neighbors. Lastly, Rwanda has produced substantial quantities of amethyst since 2015.
Opal is a gorgeous stone found around the globe. Of the East African countries, Ethiopia is probably the largest producer. Production of Ethiopian opal between 2012 and 2015 increased steadily from 14 metric tons to over 64 per year. Despite the high production, gemstones are a tiny slice of the greater Ethiopian economy.
Tanzanaiti is an East African gemstone at its core. Why? Because it is produced only in Tanzania! More specifically, the only known locality is Merelani. Tanzanite production has increased since its discovery. The production of tanzanite gemstones increased from 2015 and 2016 by 1.6 metric tons. For a rare stone that is not too shabby.
Tsavorite is a gorgeous green garnet variety that is somewhat common in East Africa. Other garnets are mined in East Africa too. Green garnet production in Kenya was a consistent 1.2 metric tons. The major producer of tsavorite in Kenya is the world-famous Scorpion mine. Although its operations halted due to a murder case in 2009, it resumed operations as if nothing changed several years later. Red garnet fluctuated a lot from 2012 to 2016, however, with a low of 380 kilograms and a high of 15 metric tons. Tanzania produced about 10 to 11 metric tons of garnet per year between 2012 and 2016. Of this number, some of it is tsavorite mined in Merelani.
Diamonds are one of Africa's greatest natural resources. Tanzania produced 246 thousand carats between 2012 and 2016 per year on average. Of that number, about 15% were gem quality and the rest were for industrial purposes.
We hope that this article was a little insightful into how the production of precious and semi-precious gemstones in East Africa is vital to the economies of the region. The next time you see tumbled amethyst or a faceted sapphire, it may have come from East Africa.
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