Describing colors seems like a straightforward concept, regardless of the culture or language. In my mind, I imagine a process of naming a color in English and then finding the appropriate translation in the target language. For example, in Spanish, the color blue is azul and the color green is verde. It seems simple enough, but the reality is far more complex, especially when we begin to compare the English language with indigenous languages.
A recent BBC documentary examines the difference in color perception across cultures, and what they discovered is not as simple as one might think.
Researchers visited the Himba people of northern Namibia and asked them to describe the color of various natural objects. Much to my surprise, they said the sky was black and the water was white. But these are not simply different color names; the researchers found that the Himba have totally different categories of color. They also found that the way people categorize color even affects their ability to perceive differences between them. For example, the Himba have words to describe multiple shades of green, and as a result, they were able to perceive these differences much faster than Europeans. In contrast, the Himba do not have separate words to describe blue and green. For them, these two colors fall within the same category, and so the Himba were less able to tell them apart.