The shape (form) of a mask and its color are usually so specific to a certain
tribe that those two are regarded the key parameters to locate the mask’s
origin. The craftsmen have to follow certain traditional requirements regarding
the shape or colour of their sculptures. In ethnic art the colour was always vegetable,
sometimes mixed with sacrificial blood or some magical substance. It was applied
to the mask during special rituals in order to ensure its magical power. A wax
substance was often added to the colour to achieve, after some rubbing, a glossy
finish. The Dan tribe of Ivory Coast use a “mud bath” technique, in
which the mask, buried in the mud adopts its specific colour. Sometimes masks
are blackened by burning. Black and white pigments are applied by the Boa people
of DRC to masks used during war related ceremonies.
In different tribes different colours have different meaning. Kaolin, white
colour, can be a symbol of death, spirit or daylight but also good fortune.
Charcoal, black, symbolizes evil. Ochre, red – is used to mark a celebration
of life. Yellow ochre and blue lye are also used.