A Brief History of Hammocks

The History of Hammocks

Hammocks; you see them everywhere so we often take them for granted but how did hammocks get their start, where did they originate from? Welcome to your brief history of the hammock.

Hammock origins

Although it’s impossible to know with complete certainty when the first hammock was created, a lot of anthropologists believe that the hammock originates from Central America and was devised more than 1000 years ago.

The name is derived from the Taino people who were an Arawakan Indian Tribe of the Caribbean Islands.   The Taino word for fish nets was “amaca” (meant to describe the general look of their cotton hammocks) and the through interpretations by Spanish explorers and though time the name became what it is today, hammock.

A great many Indians in canoes came to the ship to-day for the purpose of bartering their cotton, and hamacas, or nets, in which they sleep.” -Columbus

The first hammocks were simplistic; they were comprised out of plant fibers and tree bark. The reason why the Maya and many other indigenous cultures wanted to opt for a suspended bed like this is that they wanted to separate themselves from animals and insects that prowled on the ground at night.

There wasn’t much safety to be had with a regular bed placed directly on the ground, so using a suspended bed was a big improvement. The indigenous population even used small fires under the suspended bed to stay warm throughout the night.

It wasn’t until after Columbus’ expedition to North America and the Caribbean that Europe was introduced to hammocks. In fact, hammocks were very popular in the Bahamas in 1492, so Columbus brought some back to Spain.

Just as indigenous crafts like hammocks were influential to those in Europe Columbus, in turn, introduced new cloth materials to the natives as well. He brought canvas, cotton and other cloth materials to the New World and many of these materials were integrated into the subsequent hammocks.

It was with this mixing of cultures and crafts that allowed for hammocks to be changed and improved upon. Eventually, this would all lead towards the modern hammocks that we recognize today.

According to a Portuguese historian Pero de Magalhaes Gandavo, most of the beds in Brazil were hammocks by 1570, mostly thanks to their efficiency.

Naval use

According to the Portuguese historian, Pero de Magalhaes Gandavo, most of the beds in Brazil were hammocks by 1570 and by 1590, more and more sailing ships started to add hammocks for the sailors. The great thing about hammocks on ships is that they work very well in that setting.

Beds on the floor of a ship was challenging at best. There was no stability in the constant rocking of the ship which resulted in numerous injuries. Once hammocks reached Europe, it was only a matter of time until ships started to incorporate hammocks into their below-deck layout.

sailors dream on hammock

Additionally, there was a limited space that prevented the installation of bunks. As a result, hammocks were the most common type of bedding used in ships for many years to come. And while newer ships did employ the use of hammocks as well, they did create better beds in the longer term.

Hammocks in the Navy and NASA

Hammocks saw widespread use in naval warfare throughout WWII. Because these ships had to accommodate a large troop capacity hammocks, were the perfect space-saving solution.

Even today, you still have plenty of sailors that prefer hammocks over bunks, just because they offer a much better night’s sleep on a heaving ship.

sailors prayer in a hammock

Farther down the road of US history, you can see how hammocks made their way into the American space program. They were used on various space crafts, and for good reason; they do not require a lot of well…space and you can easily store them when not in use.

hammocks in space

In fact, the lunar module from the Apollo program had hammocks that allowed each crew member to sleep with relative ease.

Modern use

Throughout the years, hammocks became more and more popular. Nowadays, you can find a wide range of uses for hammocks, but there is also a wide range of hammock types on the market.

They are mostly suitable for backpacking, but you can easily install one in your home as well. Some even include mosquito netting which is an excellent investment.

Most hammocks are created from a thin material and that makes them extremely useful for the day trips. There are some models that come with their dedicated metal or wooden structure.

Types of Hammocks by Culture

  • Brazilian hammocks were used created using carefully woven, heavy fabrics. Their primary focus was and still is durability. Moreover, the materials used were designed to keep the owners warm even during the cool days and summer evenings. They remain among some of the best, most stable hammocks.
  • Nicaraguan hammocks were very simple. They were designed to enjoy the weather, so they are constructed of nylon and breathable cotton. This means you didn’t have long term durability with them, but they were suitable for outdoor use.

“I have two hammocks, one Mayan and one Guatemalan, both family size because I like to lie in them perpendicular.” -Mark Ruffalo

  • Mayan hammocks were designed as rugged hammocks with a very loose netting. They were done in a great combination of colors and had the ability to adapt to various body sizes and shapes.
  • Venezuelan hammocks were the ones used on ships. They used naval canvas, so they are known for the simplicity and durability that they can provide.

Although the general hammock design remained largely the same, the reality is that more and more manufacturers are willing to get creative and design unique hammocks!

You can find nylon hammocks, crocheted hammocks, hammocks on frames, traditional hammocks, hammock tents and so on. Thanks to the fact that they can help you rest and relax off the ground you will find more people are setting them up in and around their home.

The hammock design persists even after 1000 years but as you can see these great suspended beds are constantly evolving based on our needs. It will be exciting to see how the hammock design will change as we go forward but its not hard to image that the future is bright for hammock enthusiasts!

cats on a hammock

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply