The Lamanitic Curse?

A critical review of the popular belief of what constitutes the Lamanitic curse.

by Kim Siever

I read my scriptures every day. Some days I read the Book of Mormon, some days the Bible. Most days it seems like I'm just going through the actions, not being able to truly focus. Maybe having two small children has something to do with that. But then, there are those rare occasions where I actually receive some insight, where some popular misconception is debunked. This article is a result of one of those times.

One evening, when my children had both gone to sleep and I was really able to concentrate and ponder on what I was reading, I was reading in the fifth chapter of the second book of Nephi. The chapter addresses the separation of the Nephites and the Lamanites and the Lamanites receiving a dark skin.

I had been taught for many years that the Lamanites had received darker skin than the Nephites because of their disobedience to the Mosaic Law; that they were "cursed" with a darker skin. While I didn't think much of it those first few years I was taught it, others later brought it to my attention how such a doctrine had racial overtones to it (viz., the indigenous peoples of the Americas had darker skin than Europeans because of a curse, thus suggesting inferiority to Europeans).

It was during this evening of reading in the above passage I received further insight into this popularly held belief. In particular, the first bell that went off with reference to a different definition of the Lamanitic curse was verses 20 and 21.1

You see, the cursing was being cut off from the Lord's presence, not the darkness of the skin. In fact, the darkening of the skin wasn't mentioned until after the cursing was stated. The darkness was nothing more than a sign, or symbol, of the curse. The Lord was displeased with the Lamanites for their disobedience to his law and knew that such actions would be detrimental to his people.2 The darkness itself wasn't what was loathsome to the people of God; it was the physical reminder of their disobedient nature that was loathsome.

However, this wasn't the only insight I received that night. There's a lot behind this curse. The Lamanites and the Nephites were still pretty young. Their leaders, Laman and Nephi, had both immigrated to the Americas with their father, and they were both still alive at this time. Laman and his brother Lemuel had both seen an angel; they had heard the voice of the Lord; they had felt the power of God; they had seen numerous miracles wrought through the faith of their youngest brother and their father.

Now these are powerfully spiritual experiences on their own, but combined they have tremendous consequence. If any of us were to experience these today, we would be overwhelmed at the love and spirit that would accompany them. To have that blessing removed from us would be indeed a terrible curse. For most of us, it would be incentive to repent.

What is interesting is the reaction of the Lamanites to this curse. They did nothing. Literally. They became an idle people.3 In effect, they responded by saying, "Fine. Then we will simply become lazy and get into trouble." In comparison, the Nephites were an industrious, hardworking people4.

When I take this contrast and compare it to the words of Abinadi regarding working six days per week and the phrase "work is a always a spiritual necessity",56 what comes to my mind is that in order to have the Lord's presence in our lives, to truly be His people, require work. We cannot be idle like the Lamanites of old. We need to be industrious like the Nephites of old. We cannot be mischievous like the Lamanites of old. We need to keep busy and work hard like the Nephites of old. For the Lord, perfectly spiritual, can only be present among spiritual people.


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  1. "Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me, saying that: Inasmuch as they will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence. And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity" (2 Ne. 5:20-21)
  2. "that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities. And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. (2 Ne 5:21-23)
  3. "And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety..." (2 Ne. 5:24)
  4. "And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance . . . And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cause my people to be industrious, and to labor with their hands." (2 Ne. 5:15, 17)
  5. "Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work." (Mosiah 13:17)
  6. Maxwell, Neal A., 168th Annual General Conference, April 1998.
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