The Lamanites // are one of the four civilizations of the Book of Mormon, a sacred text of the Latter Day Saint movement, published in 1830 by its founder Joseph Smith, which purports to be an ancient history of God's dealings with people in the Western Hemisphere. (The others are the Jaredites, the Mulekites, and the Nephites.)
In the Book of Mormon's narrative, the Lamanites began as wicked rivals to the more righteous Nephites, but when the Nephite civilization became decadent, it lost divine favor and was destroyed by the Lamanites. Mormons have historically associated Lamanites with present-day Native American cultures, but there is no scientific or archaeological evidence for that to be the case or that Lamanites or any of the three other groups ever existed.
According to the Book of Mormon, the family of Lehi, described as a wealthy Hebrew prophet; the family of Ishmael; and Zoram traveled from the Middle East to the Americas by boat in around 600 BC.:p. 3 Some time after the death of Lehi in the Americas, Nephi, a son of Lehi, was concerned that his brothers, Laman and Lemuel, were plotting to kill him and so he, 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 Laman, Lehi's eldest son.
After the two groups separated from each other, the rebellious Lamanites were cursed and "cut off from the presence of the Lord." They received a "skin of blackness" so they would "not be enticing" to the Nephites.
The Book of Mormon describes the animosity that the Lamanites held:
The Book of Mormon also recounts that the Lamanites felt that they were wronged specifically by Nephi and so swore vengeance against his descendants:
After the two groups warred for centuries, the narrative states that Jesus Christ appeared to the more righteous Nephites and the Lamanites, who, by then, had converted in large numbers to righteousness before God. Soon after his visit, the Lamanites and Nephites merged into one nation and co-existed for two centuries in peace. The Book of Mormon further recounts, "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."
However, 84 years after the coming of Christ, "a small part of the people who had revolted from the church" started calling themselves Lamanites again. Those who remained were again identified as Nephites, but both groups were reported to have fallen into apostasy. The Book of Mormon recounts a series of large battles over two centuries, ending with the extermination of the Nephites by the Lamanites.
Historically, Mormons have identified the Lamanites as the primary ancestors of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Some publications of the LDS Church have accepted that position. However, the church has stated, "Nothing in the Book of Mormon precludes migration into the Americas by peoples of Asiatic origin." The non-canonical introduction to the 1981 LDS Church edition of the Book of Mormon states that "the Lamanites are the principal ancestors of the American Indians." The wording was changed in the 2006 Doubleday edition and the subsequent editions published by the LDS Church, to state only that the Lamanites "are among the ancestors of the American Indians."
Many Latter Day Saints also consider Polynesian peoples and the other indigenous peoples of the Americas to be Lamanites. A 1971 church magazine article claimed that Lamanites "consist of the Indians of all the Americas as well as the islanders of the Pacific."
The existence of a Lamanite nation has received no support in mainstream science or archaeology. Genetic studies indicate that the indigenous Americans are related to the present populations in Mongolia, Siberia, and the vicinity, 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 which are not discussed in the Book of Mormon, (2) a tribe that intermarried with indigenous Native Americans, or (3) a tribe that descended with modern Asians from common nomadic ancestry but diverged before Lehi's departure from Jerusalem.
In the Book of Mormon, Lamanites are described as having received a "skin of blackness" to distinguish them from the Nephites. The "change" in skin color is often mentioned in conjunction with 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" (2 Nephi 5:21).
On the other hand, the Book of Mormon teaches that skin color is not a bar to salvation and that 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." 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."
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, Nephi, declares 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.
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," which suggests that the LDS Church has now interpreted both cases as being examples of figurative language.
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.
That 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."
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. 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."
Eventually in the Book of Mormon narrative, the labels "Nephite" and "Lamanite" became terms of political convenience, and membership was both varied and fluid and not based on skin color. Within the first 200 years of the Nephites' 1000-year chronology, the prophet Jacob stated that any who were enemies of his people were called Lamanites and that 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."
In December 2010, the LDS Church made changes to the non-canonical chapter summaries and to some of the footnotes in its online version of the Book of Mormon. In Second Nephi 5, the original wording was the following: "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" and the passage was changed to "Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites are cut off from the presence of the Lord, are cursed, and become a scourge unto the Nephites." The second change appears in the summary of Mormon 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."
The 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. On the other hand, some believers in the Book of Mormon, such as Marvin Perkins, see the 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. 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."