The Samoan word for colour is lanu. When we refer to each colour in Samoan, we like to say the word lanu first and then add its description. For example, lanumūmū is the Samoan word for red. Why does mūmū describe red? Well, I know that mū is the Samoan word for burn or burnt, which is related to the idea of fire, and fire is mostly red, right? The Samoan word for blue is lanumoana. Why moana? Moana is also the Samoan word for ocean, which is…you got it…blue. 

Let’s look at a few more colours in Samoan, and I’ll add a thought (if I can) about how we may have come up with the word for each colour.

Red The colour of something burning
Blue The colour of the ocean
Green The colour of unripe things
Orange The colour of oranges
Yellow ?
Purple The colour of violets
Pink Pīniki = pink
Brown ?
Grey The colour of dust
White ?
Black ?

When you can omit the ‘lanu’

It’s always appropriate to say ‘lanu‘ at the beginning of a colour word, but for some colours, it’s okay to omit it.

Let’s look at the colours lanumoana (blue) and lanumeamata (green). The word moana is a commonly used by itself to mean ‘ocean’.  Likewise, meamata is also a known word which means ‘unripe things’, like fruits and vegetables. When we’re referring to these colours, it’s important to include the lanu bit at the beginning or else we won’t know that you’re talking about the colour (and not, for example, the ocean). 

Other colours don’t have that problem, for example, lanusamasama and lanupa’epa’e.

While samasama and pa’epa’e do have meanings, they are obscure and not generally known (I don’t even know what they mean). These words are not commonly used to refer to anything other than a colour, so if you like, you can remove the ‘lanu‘ part when you refer to these colours. For example, I could say, “Aumai le ipu pa’epa’e” or “Bring the white cup”.

For beginner Samoan speakers, how do you know which colours must include lanu and which don’t need to?

In the colour chart above, for any colour that has a question mark where the meaning should be (because I don’t know the origins of the word part after ‘lanu‘), it’s perfectly okay to omit ‘lanu‘ when you say them. SO…





…are all okay without lanu

Your Turn

In the comments below, list your 3 favourite colours in Samoan. You can use this sentence prompt:

O lanu e sili ou te fiafia i ai o [lanu], [lanu] ma [lanu]. | The colours I like the best are [colour], [colour] and [colour].

If you don’t know the Samoan words for your favourite colours (because we haven’t listed them above), tell us in English and we’ll look for a translation for you.