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See also: Nephite, Jaredites, and Mulekites

The Lamanites /ˈl.mʌn.t/[1] are one of the people described in the Book of Mormon, a religious text published in 1830 by Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement. The Book of Mormon portrays the Lamanites as usually dark-skinned, wicked rivals to the usually lighter-skinned, righteous Nephites, both of whom are portrayed as descendants of Israelites who traveled to the New World by boat circa 600 BC. (Other groups from the book include the Jaredites, and Mulekites.) Historically, Mormons have identified the Lamanites as the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Polynesians, or some part of their ancestors. However, in the 21st century, Mormon scholars who favor a limited geography model have been disclaiming any significant genetic connection between Lamanites and any modern people. Because only Mormons consider the Book of Mormon to have an ancient historical basis, Lamanites are not considered to be a valid category of people by mainstream scholars.

According to the Book of Mormon, the Lamanites are descendants and followers of Laman and Lemuel, two rebellious brothers of a family of Israelites who crossed the ocean in a ship around 600 BC. Their brother Nephi is portrayed as founding the rival Nephites.[2] The book states that after the two groups separated from each other, the Lamanites received a curse of a "skin of blackness" so that they would "not be enticing" to the Nephites.[3][4][5] After the two groups warred over a period of centuries, the book says that Jesus appeared and converted all the united Nephites and Lamanites to Christianity. However, after about two centuries, the book says that many of these Christians fell away and began to identify as Lamanites,[6] leading some of the "true believers in Christ" to identify as Nephites.[7] Ultimately, the book describes a series of great battles in which the Lamanites exterminated all the Nephites.

Mormons beginning with Joseph Smith have historically identified Lamanites with indigenous Americans, and sometimes even Polynesians. Scholars outside Mormonism do not consider the term Lamanite as a category of real people, or accept the Book of Mormon as a valid source of ancient American history. Mormon scholars, representing a small minority view, have identified a few alternative locations in the ancient New World where they hypothesize Lamanites described in the Book of Mormon might have lived, the most popular of which is Mesoamerica. Some members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) thought that Lamanites were "the principal ancestors of the American Indians." In 2007, the church stated that Lamanites were "among" the ancestors of American Indians.[8]

Lamanites as described by the Book of Mormon[edit]

According to the Book of Mormon, the family of Lehi (a wealthy Hebrew prophet), the family of Ishmael, and Zoram traveled from the Middle East circa 600 BC to the Americas by boat. Some time after the death of Lehi (in the Americas), one of the sons of Lehi, Nephi, was concerned that his brothers were plotting to kill him; as a result, Nephi, his family, and his followers left and went into the wilderness. The followers of Nephi called themselves Nephites and referred to others as Lamanites, after Lehi's oldest son, Laman.[9]

The Nephites later discovered another civilization living in America, and the combined group also called themselves Nephites. According to the Book of Mormon, there were many interactions between the Lamanites and the Nephites; intermittent war, trade, and proselytizing transpired with varying degrees of success. God initially marked the Lamanites with a darker skin color to identify them and their state of wickedness. The Nephites were initially righteous, though over time, individuals and sub-groups defected and joined the Lamanites. Likewise, some penitent Lamanites defected to the Nephites.

Following the American visitation of the resurrected Jesus Christ, the Lamanites and Nephites coexisted for two centuries in peace (from circa AD 30 until 230); "There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God."[10] Eighty-four years after the coming of Christ, "a small part of the people who had revolted from the church" started calling themselves Lamanites.[6] After four generations this period of peace and cooperation between the two suffered corruption and decline as social and economic classes resurfaced. In the year 231, "[the] true believers in Christ" started calling themselves Nephites.[7] The Lamanites eventually became a larger portion of the population.

Ultimately, the Lamanites were successful in destroying the Nephites, in a series of wars from AD 326 to about 400.[11]

Zeniff describes them as:

"Believing that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of their fathers, and that they were wronged in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged while crossing the sea; and again, that they were wronged while in the land of their first inheritance, after they had crossed the sea" (Mosiah 10:12–13).

Zeniff also says that the Lamanites felt that they were wronged by Nephi, and thus swore vengeance against his descendants:

"[the Lamanites] were wroth with him [Nephi] because he departed into the wilderness as the Lord had commanded him, and took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, for they said that he robbed them.
"And thus they have taught their children that they should hate them, and that they should murder them, and that they should rob and plunder them, and do all they could to destroy them; therefore they have an eternal hatred towards the children of Nephi" (Mosiah 10:16–17).

Theories regarding modern descendants[edit]

Joseph Smith preaching to the Sac and Fox Indians who visited Nauvoo, Illinois on August 12, 1841.

Many Latter Day Saints believe that the Lamanites comprise some part, if not the primary origin, of Native Americans. Some publications of the LDS Church have accepted this position,[12][13] although the church has stated its view that "[n]othing in the Book of Mormon precludes migration into the Americas by peoples of Asiatic origin."[14] The non-canonical introduction to the 1981 LDS Church edition of the Book of Mormon stated, "the Lamanites are the principal ancestors of the American Indians."[15] The wording was changed in the 2006 Doubleday edition and subsequent editions published by the LDS Church, stating only that the Lamanites "are among the ancestors of the American Indians."[16][17]

Many Latter Day Saints also consider Polynesian peoples and the other indigenous peoples of the Americas to be Lamanites.[12][18][19] A 1971 church magazine article referred to Lamanites as "consist[ing] of the Indians of all the Americas as well as the islanders of the Pacific."[20]

The existence of a Lamanite nation has received no support within mainstream science or archaeology. Genetic studies indicate that the indigenous Americans are related to present-day populations in Mongolia, Siberia, and environs,[21][22] and Polynesians to those in southeast Asia.

Some Mormon scholars[who?] now view Lamanites as (1) one small tribe among many in the ancient Americas, the remainder of whom were not discussed in the Book of Mormon, (2) a tribe that intermarried with indigenous Native American cultures, or (3) a tribe that descended with modern Asians from common nomadic ancestry, diverging prior to Lehi's departure from Jerusalem.[23]

Skin colors[edit]

Member of the Shivwits Band of Paiutes, in 1875, being baptized by Mormon missionaries.

In the Book of Mormon, Lamanites are described as having received a "skin of blackness" as means of distinguishing themselves from the Nephites. This "change" in skin color is often mentioned in conjunction with God's curse on the descendants of Laman for their wickedness and corruption, as seen in 2 Nephi 5:21: "And he had caused the cursing to come upon [the Lamanites], yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, and they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them."[3]

On the other hand, the Book of Mormon teaches that skin color is not a bar to salvation: God "denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile".[24] Elsewhere, the book condemns prejudice against people of dark skin: "O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God. Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins; neither shall ye revile against them because of their filthiness".[25]

Similarly, the Book of Mormon teaches that the color of one's skin has no bearing on one's status as a righteous or sinful person. One prophet declared to the Nephites:

For behold, thus saith the Lord: I will not show unto the wicked of my strength, to one more than the other, save it be unto those that repent of their sins, and hearken unto my words. Now therefore, I would that ye should behold, my brethren, that it shall be better for the Lamanites than for you except ye shall repent. For behold, they are more righteous than you, for they have not sinned against that great knowledge which ye have received; therefore the Lord will be merciful unto them; yea, he will lengthen out their days and increase their seed, even when thou shalt be utterly destroyed except thou shalt repent.[26]

The non-canonical 1981 footnote text of the Book of Mormon closely linked the concept of "skin of blackness" with that of "scales of darkness falling from their eyes", suggesting that the LDS Church has now interpreted both cases as being examples of figurative language.[27]

Several Book of Mormon passages have been interpreted by some Latter Day Saints as indicating that Lamanites would revert to a lighter skin tone upon accepting the gospel. For example, at a 1960 LDS Church General Conference, apostle Spencer W. Kimball suggested that the skin of Latter-day Saint Native Americans was gradually turning lighter:

I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today... The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised. In this picture of the twenty Lamanite missionaries, fifteen of the twenty were as light as Anglos, five were darker but equally delightsome. The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation. At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter we represent, the little member girl—sixteen—sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents—on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather .... These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated.[28]

This view was buoyed by passages such as 2 Nephi 30:6, which in early editions of the Book of Mormon, read: "[T]heir scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and a delightsome people".[29] In 1840, with the third edition of the Book of Mormon, purported translator Joseph Smith changed the wording to "a pure and a delightsome people", consistent with contemporary interpretation of the term "white", as used in scripture.[30][31] However, all future LDS Church printings of the Book of Mormon until 1981 continued from the second edition, saying the Lamanites would become "a white and delightsome people".[32]

Eventually in the Book of Mormon narrative, the labels "Nephite" and "Lamanite" became terms of political convenience, where membership was varied and fluid and not based on skin color. Within the first two centuries of the Nephites' thousand-year chronology, the prophet Jacob stated that any who were enemies of his people were called Lamanites, and any who were friends were called Nephites: "But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings."[9]

Changes to Book of Mormon chapter summaries[edit]

In December 2010, the LDS Church made changes to the non-canonical chapter summaries and also to some of the footnotes in its online version of the Book of Mormon. In Second Nephi chapter 5, the original wording was: "Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites are cursed, receive a skin of blackness, and become a scourge unto the Nephites." The phrase "skin of blackness" was removed and became: "Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites are cut off from the presence of the Lord, are cursed, and become a scourge unto the Nephites."[33] The second change appears in summary of Mormon chapter 5. Formerly, it included the phrase that "the Lamanites shall be a dark, filthy, and loathsome people". The new version deleted the phrase "dark, loathsome, and filthy" and now reads, "the Lamanites will be scattered, and the Spirit will cease to strive with them."[33][34]

These changes are seen by some critics to be another step in the evolution of the text of the Book of Mormon to delete racist language from it.[33] On the other hand, some believers in the Book of Mormon, such as Marvin Perkins, see these changes as better conforming the chapter headers and footnotes to the meaning of the text in light of the LDS Church's 1978 Revelation on Priesthood.[35] In an interview, a former BYU graduate student suggested that the changes were made for "clarity, a change in emphasis and to stick closer to the scriptural language."[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Book of Mormon Pronunciation Guide" Archived October 22, 2016, at the Wayback Machine., (retrieved 2012-02-25), IPA-ified from «lā´mun-īt»
  2. ^ 1 Nephi 9:2
  3. ^ a b 2 Nephi 5:21
  4. ^ Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert Archived October 21, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. (1950): 73-74.
  5. ^ Tvedtnes, John A. (2003), "The Charge of 'Racism' in the Book of Mormon", FARMS Review, 15 (2): 183–198 
  6. ^ a b 4 Nephi 1:20
  7. ^ a b 4 Nephi 1:36
  8. ^ Stack, Peggy Fletcher (8 November 2007). "Single word change in Book of Mormon speaks volumes". Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 12 May 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Jacob 1:14
  10. ^ 4 Nephi 1:17
  11. ^ Mormon 8:3
  12. ^ a b Lane Johnson, "Who and Where Are the Lamanites?," Archived October 21, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. Ensign, December 1975, p. 15.
  13. ^ Book of Mormon (LDS Church edition), "Introduction" Archived November 9, 2010, at the Wayback Machine., stating that the Lamanites "are among the ancestors of the American Indians". Prior to 2007, the non-canonical introduction stated that the Lamanites were the "principal ancestors of the American Indians."
  14. ^ See LDS Church, "Mistakes in the News", taking issue with "DNA and the Book of Mormon", (February 16, 2006), Los Angeles Times.
  15. ^ "Introduction", Book of Mormon (LDS Church edition), 1981.
  16. ^ Stack, Peggy Fletcher (2007-11-08), "Single word change in Book of Mormon speaks volumes", Salt Lake Tribune 
  17. ^ "Introduction" Archived November 9, 2010, at the Wayback Machine., Book of Mormon (LDS Church edition), on-line version.
  18. ^ Spencer W. Kimball, "Of Royal Blood," Archived October 21, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. Ensign, July 1971, p. 7.
  19. ^ "The Church in the Lamanite World: Scanning the Special Programs Created to Meet Lamanite Needs," Archived October 21, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. Ensign, December 1975, pp. 16, 20–24.
  20. ^ "The Lamanites (Introduction)," Archived October 21, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. Ensign, July 1971, p. 5.
  21. ^ Merriwether, D. Andrew; et al. (1996), "mtDNA Variation Indicates Mongolia May Have Been the Source for the Founding Population for the New World", American Journal of Human Genetics, 59 (1): 210, PMC 1915096Freely accessible, PMID 8659526 
  22. ^ M. Raghavan et al, "Upper Palaeolithic Siberian genome reveals dual ancestry of Native Americans," Nature, (July 2013)
  23. ^ Stewart, David G. Junior (2006), "DNA and the Book of Mormon", FARMS Review, 18 (1) 
  24. ^ 2 Nephi 26:33
  25. ^ Jacob 3:8–9
  26. ^ Helaman 7:23–24
  27. ^ Marvin Perkins, "How to Reach African-Americans" Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.,
  28. ^ Conference Report, October 1960; Improvement Era, December 1960, pp. 922–23.
  29. ^ 2 Nephi 30:6
  30. ^ Smith, Joseph (1840). Book of Mormon (3rd revised ed.). Nauvoo, Illinois: Robinson and Smith. p. 115. Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  31. ^ "White Archived October 22, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.", Def. 6, Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language (1828): "In a scriptural sense, purified from sin; sanctified. Psalm 51."
  32. ^ The 1841 and 1849 European editions (printed by the Twelve Apostles) were the Kirtland second edition with Anglicized spellings. Future LDS editions continued from the European editions until a major reworking in 1981, which adopted Smith's 1840 edit. See: Crawley, Peter (1997). A Descriptive Bibliography of the Mormon Church, Volume One 1830-1847. Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University. p. 151. ISBN 1-57008-395-9. Retrieved 2009-02-12. 
  33. ^ a b c d Fletcher Stack, Peggy. "Church removes racial references in Book of Mormon headings" Archived October 22, 2016, at the Wayback Machine., Salt Lake Tribune 2010-12-16.
  34. ^ 1 Nephi 12:23
  35. ^ Marvin Perkins, "Changes To LDS Scripture Headings & Footnotes" Archived October 22, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.,, 2011-02-07.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]