According to the Book of Mormon, a Lamanite is a member of a dark-skinned nation of indigenous Americans that battled with the light-skinned Nephite nation. Although mainstream archaeologists, geneticists, and historians do not recognize the existence of Lamanites, adherents of the Latter Day Saint movement typically believe that the Lamanites comprise some part, if not the primary origin, of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, as well as the Polynesian people).

The Book of Mormon describes the Lamanites as descendants of Laman and Lemuel, two rebellious brothers of a family of Israelites who crossed the ocean in a boat around 600 BCE. Their brother Nephi founded the Nephite nation. The Lamanites reputedly gained their dark skin as a sign of the curse for their rebelliousness (the curse itself being the withdrawal of the Spirit of God), and warred with the Nephites over a period of centuries. The book says that Jesus appeared and converted all the Lamanites to Christianity; however, after a couple hundred years, they fell away and eventually exterminated all the Nephites. By the end of the Book of Mormon, the Lamanites were defined less by their skin color than by their lack of Christianity. Many Mormons believe that the Polynesian people originated from the descendents of Hagoth who led his people off on a ship and was never heard from again. Although Hagoth was a Nephite, these Mormons regard Polynesians as Lamanites.

The existence of a Lamanite nation has received no support within mainstream science or archaeology. Genetic studies indicate that the indigenous Americans are primarily from north Asia, and the Polynesians are from southeast Asia. This has led many Mormon apologetic scholars to hypothesize that the Lamanites were a small nation that merged with the indigenous Asiatic population and left no clear traces surviving into the modern world that have yet been discovered. Within the culture of Mormonism, indigenous Americans and Polynesians are still often called "Lamanites", but the practice is waning.

Lamanites as described by the Book of Mormon

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, overheard that his brothers were plotting to kill him, so Nephi, his family, and his followers left and went into the wilderness. The followers of Nephi called themselves Nephites. The followers of Laman, Lehi's oldest sons, were called Lamanites.[1]

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."[2] Eighty-four years after the coming of Christ, "a small part of the people who had revolted from the church" started calling themselves Lamanites.[3] 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.[4] The Lamanites became a larger portion of the population until, some time after AD 400, the Nephite people were destroyed in a series of large wars with the Lamanites.[5]


Modern descendants

Many Latter Day Saints believe that the Lamanites comprise some part, if not the primary origin, of Native Americans. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) appears to accept this position,[6][7] 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."[8] The introduction to the 1981 LDS Church edition of the Book of Mormon stated, "[T]he Lamanites are the principal ancestors of the American Indians."[9] 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."[10][11] Many Latter Day Saints also consider Polynesian peoples and the other indigenous peoples of the Americas to be Lamanites.[6][12][13] A church magazine has referred to Lamanites as "consist[ing] of the Indians of all the Americas as well as the islanders of the Pacific."[14]

The statement in the 1981 introduction to the Book of Mormon was controversial. Based on genetic and archeological data, mainstream scientists have concluded that Native Americans are primarily descended from the prehistoric inhabitants of East Asia. For this and other reasons, many Mormon scholars 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, or (2) a tribe that intermarried with indigenous Native American cultures.[15]

Skin colors

In the Book of Mormon, Lamanites are described as having a "skin of blackness" caused by God's curse on the descendants of Laman for their wickedness and corruption: "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."[16]

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".[17] In fact, prejudice against people of dark skin was condemned: "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".[18]

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.[19]

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, early editions of the Book of Mormon contained the passage: "[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".[20] In 1840, with the third edition of the Book of Mormon, the wording was changed to "a pure and a delightsome people" by Joseph Smith, Jr.,[21] who claimed to be the translator of the book. 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".[22] In 1960, LDS Church 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 weredonating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated.[23]

In the Book of Mormon, the labels “Nephite” and “Lamanite” ultimately became political terms of convenience, where membership was varied and fluid, and not based on skin color. At one point one writer stated that any who are enemies of his people are called Lamanites, and any who are friends are 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."[24]


  1. Jacob 1:14
  2. 4 Nephi 1:17
  3. 4 Nephi 1:20
  4. 4 Nephi 1:36
  5. Mormon 8:3
  6. 6.0 6.1 Lane Johnson, “Who and Where Are the Lamanites?,” Ensign, Dec. 1975, p. 15.
  7. Book of Mormon (LDS Church edition), "Introduction", stating that the Lamanites "are among the ancestors of the American Indians". Prior to 2002, the introduction stated that the Lamanites were the "principal ancestors of the American Indians."
  8. See LDS Church, Comments on the News, taking issue with "DNA and the Book of Mormon", (February 16, 2006), Los Angeles Times.
  9. "Introduction", Book of Mormon (LDS Church edition), 1981.
  10. Peggy Fletcher Stack, "Single word change in Book of Mormon speaks volumes", Salt Lake Tribune, 2007-11-08.
  11. "Introduction", Book of Mormon (LDS Church edition), on-line version.
  12. Spencer W. Kimball, “Of Royal Blood,” Ensign, July 1971, p. 7.
  13. “The Church in the Lamanite World: Scanning the Special Programs Created to Meet Lamanite Needs,” Ensign, Dec. 1975, pp. 16, 20–24.
  14. “The Lamanites (Introduction),” Ensign, July 1971, p. 5.
  15. Thomas W. Murphy (2001). "Lamanite Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics". Mormon Scripture Studies. 
  16. 2 Nephi 5:21
  17. 2 Nephi 26:33
  18. Jacob 3:8-9
  19. Helaman 7:23-24
  20. 2 Nephi 30:6
  21. Smith, Joseph (1840). Book of Mormon (3rd revised ed.). Nauvoo, Illinois: Robinson and Smith. p. 115. Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  22. 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. 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.,3772. Retrieved 2009-02-12. 
  23. General Conference Report, October 1960; Improvement Era, December 1960, pp. 922–923.
  24. Jacob 1:14


  1. Walker, Ronald W. (1993), "Seeking the 'Remnant': The Native American During the Joseph Smith Period", Journal of Mormon History 19: 1–33,,14491 .

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