Recently, while re-reading the original Dune series for the umpteenth time, something caught my attention. In the first book green is the color of mourning among the Fremen:

"Chani came down the lane opened there, her elfin face set in lines of grief. She had removed her stillsuit and wore a graceful blue wraparound that exposed her thin arms. Near the shoulder on her left arm, a green kerchief had been tied. Green for mourning, Paul thought. It was one of the customs the two sons of Jamis had explained to him by indirection, telling him they wore no green because they accepted him as guardian-father."

This is still the case in the second book, Dune Messiah:

"Colors played upon the unprotected psyche: Paul's green throne had been cut from a single Hagar emerald. It suggested growing things and, out of the Fremen mythos, reflected the mourning color. It whispered that here sat he who could make you mourn -- life and death in one symbol, a clever stress of opposites."

In the third book, Children of Dune, this has changed:

"Alia still wore the yellow for mourning, the color of the sterile sun."

There are multiple other references to the yellow of mourning in the same book but no explanation for the change. At first I thought that it was because green was the color of House Atreides, but the passage from Dune Messiah shows that Paul preferred to play on that. Could it have been Alia who changed the traditional mourning color after Paul's disappearance into the desert? Alia with her preborn awareness understood the power of symbols every bit as well as Paul; it seems that she would have made no change to the traditional symbology in that regard.

The only other thing I can think of is the cultural shift among the Fremen after Paul's jihad and the acceleration of Liet-Kynes' program to change Arrakis into a green planet. Perhaps seeing their dreams begin to take shape and green plants growing openly caused the Fremen psyche to see green as a color of life. The yellow of the hot sun does make sense as color of mourning for a desert people. However, the more green there is on the planet, the more Fremen seem to lose their traditions, disciplines, and values. So again, green for mourning is still in a way appropriate.

Has anyone else any thoughts about this?

  • 5
    ...or Frank Herbert just forgot...
    – Paulie_D
    Sep 9, 2016 at 17:19
  • 1
    at least from the quote you provided alia isnt saying yellow IS the color for mourning, but its the color shes choosing to wear for mourning, because its the color of the sterile sun, it could just be another color, or her choice of color specificly
    – Himarm
    Sep 9, 2016 at 17:30
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    Good thought, but I don't think that is the case either: "Alia wore the yellow of Arrakeen mourning, the color of the burning sun from Fremen history." And Ghanima says, "We wear the yellow of mourning. When I exchange it for the black of a Fremen betrothed, will that fool anyone?" Sep 9, 2016 at 17:33
  • 4
    @KirstenShowers "he was a master" - you mean like when he gets Gurney and Duncan mixed up?
    – OrangeDog
    Sep 9, 2016 at 18:28
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    I found this thread, where a couple of explanation are: green and yellow are the colours of mourning to different cultures on the planet, and, green is the colour of death rather than mourning and being misinterpreted by Paul. Is this worth writing a new answer about?
    – Mr Lister
    Oct 11, 2018 at 10:14

2 Answers 2


There is no canonical reference to a change of custom, per se. Ghanima's comments about yellow being the Fremen colour of mourning, and the fact that Ghanima and Leto both would have clear memories of what that colour should be regardless of Atreides meddling, suggests that no change was really intended--that this was simply an error on Herbert's part, having mis-remembered or completely forgotten the earlier reference to green being the colour.

Frank Herbert wrote without the benefit of word processors or wikis. Even The Dune Encyclopedia (1984), which might have helped him had he chosen to use it himself as a reference work, had not been created yet when he wrote Children of Dune (1976). He had to rely on his own memory and any notes he might have made as to the details of Fremen culture, or else be willing to back and re-read his way through all his own past work to find it.


I suspect green may have been associated with mourning because it fits with the Dune-used expression of giving water to the dead (crying) -- and green plants flourish with water. Desert could be seen as showing qualities of emptiness and deprivation or loss from which tears come. (Though tears do contain salt and I am not sure if they are dilute enough to actually nourish plant life.) Not sure about yellow as a mourning color. I don't have a ready association for it.

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