August 15, 2019 3 min read

Oh praise be to the hammock! Who thought of this marvelous craft? Whoever it was has saved millions of people from sleeping on floors, relaxing on rocks,nottaking that nap....we know we all love the hammock. Let's learn a little about this brilliant invention.


The hammock is known as the cradle of humankind. Its origins are in Central and South America. "Hamaka" is a word in Taino, spoken by the indigenous people of the Caribbean. It was first dreamt up by weaving together the bark of the Hamack tree. It's purpose was for sleeping, as it kept people off the ground and away from insects, stinging nocturnal creatures, and even prevented the spread of diseases by providing a clean, isolated place to rest. Hammocks have been dated back about 1,000 years, although it's highly likely they date back even further. Decomposition of the natural materials that were used are untraceable, so solid evidence of hammocks are based off the written and spoken word.


Anthropologists speculate that the Mayans were one of the first civilizations to use a hammock, along with other tribes in the area. They were used as beds, for traveling, children slept in them, and people were even buried with them. It's been found that hammocks were made from liana, agave, palm tree leaves, leather and animal hair, and later cotton. In 1570 it was recorded in Brazil that most of the beds were in fact hammocks, strung up inside the house.


Christopher Columbus arrived to the Bahamas and saw how hammocks were used by the locals, decided he liked that idea and brought a few back to Europe with him, claiming he discovered them. Just kidding. But this is when the hammock was first introduced to Spain, and they quickly spread throughout Europe, because, what an amazing idea. Europeans began to make hammocks from cloth and canvas, giving them a more insulated, warmer bed as opposed to the thin fibrous nets used in the warmer Americas.


Hammocks became especially popular with sailors and were used widely on ships during long voyages. They maximize space and alleviate sailors from having to sleep on the hard, wet floors. The swaying motion of the ship provided tremendous relief, allowing sailors to catch a longer sleep and get off the feces-ridden planks that festered with disease. What a breakthrough! Even better, hammocks were known to cure seasickness! A hammock swaying with the ship's motion helps equalize the rolling of the ship and can cancel out heavy motion sickness. And what do you know - it still does today, so try it out.


Travelers saw how practical hammocks can be, and they became popular with soldiers and explorers. The English and Spanish navies both chose the hammock as their preferred bedding, and it was used for the next 3 centuries and all throughout WWI and II. Soldiers in Vietnam were provided with hammocks on their departure, since they are space-saving and lightweight, and again very sanitary.


Hammocks reached the United States in the late 19th century. They were used by farmers and also caught on as a leisure item and were popular among upper-class families. Also in the 19th century, the British adopted the hammock into their prisons to save space and cut costs but soon realized that these hammocks ended up providing valuable materials to inmates who had some mighty good ideas for things to make.


Hammocks have long been known for centuries to prevent the spread of disease. They isolate a person and keep them safe off the ground, and mosquito netting can easily be wrapped around them, providing a safe, well-ventilated place to recover. Hammocks were a vital part of a plan to eradicate an outbreak of Yellow Fever during the construction of the Panama Canal, and it helped immensely. Tribal communities have used hammocks for this reason for centuries and still rely on it today as a comfortable and confined recovery place.


These days hammock are still heavily used across Latin America and Asia. They function well in tropical climates and they are easy to make in poorer regions of the world and certainly cheaper than a bed. Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia and Brazil all use hammocks commonly, and in Asia - Cambodia and Laos often use them for children's beds and as resting spots. Their practicality has been known for centuries, and it's introduction to the rest of the world has been a game-changer to relieve discomfort and disease. All hail the hammock! Go grab one today and kick up your feet, and be glad you're not sleeping on a sewage-ridden deck of a ship.

 

Written by Julia Akins


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