The largest number of masks are made of wood because of the natural abundance of forests. The carver often selects the different kinds of wood with various consideratians in mind.
First, the African believes that the tree is living matter with a soul, so it is best suited to carry a life source. Second, he believes the tree possesses an inhabiting spirit. Before the tree is cut down, the carver often consults the diviner (spiritual guide), undergoes purification ceremonies, and offers a sacrifice to appease the spirit of the tree, in advance. As soon as the tree has been cut, the carver sucks some of the sap to achieve a brotherhood with the tree. Then he would leave it, for a day, so that the tree’s spirit could find a new home elsewhere. The carver also believes that this spirit or force is transferred to the carving and increases the masks power.
The talents of the carver resemble a master technician whose strong intuitive feeling for the wood itself, its grain and structural patterns, all play a role in the mask’s creation.
Usually the fresh or green, soft wood is carved, then palm oil is rubbed in to slow down the drying process. Most of these masks are stained or colored with vegetable and earth dyes. The carver then softens the surface with organic materials such as leaves, animal skins, and sandstone. Often the surface shows sacrificial blood; this blood increases the power of the mask with its vital energy.
A mask maker may add to his wooden mask other materials, such as cloth, raffia, cowries shells, beads, teeth, bone, berries, vegetable fibers, and pieces of metal.