The history and origin of the hammock


„… han inventado los idios el dormir colgados el aire, sobre una red”
(“the Indians invented sleeping suspended in the air in a net”)
-Jesuit Father José Gumilla (1741)

The exact origins of the hammock are lost in the dark.
All that is known is that it was used by peoples in Central and South America as a place to sleep when Europeans came to the Americas 500 years ago.

Both the Incas and the Mayans are each credited with the invention.


How long have hammocks been around?

Since hammocks rot completely, only guesses can be made about the age of the hammock. There are nevertheless a few archaeological findings that point to an approximate age of the hammock

Votive hammock from Colombia (700-1500 AD)

A direct reference to hammocks before the time of Columbus, is the votive hammock made of gold wire from Colombia.

The votive hammock can be seen today in the Museo de Oro in Bogotá.

Vessel from Guanacaste, Costa Rica (0-500 AD)

One sees the relief of a woman with a child in a hammock.

Further evidence is available in indirect form, for example in the form of impressions on pottery showing the weave pattern of a hammock, because these often served as a base for potters.

Pottery from Tabasco, Mexico (600-900 AD)

Another cylindrical pottery depicts a high-ranking Mayan personality in a hammock lined with jaguar fur.

Apparently the noble Maya held court in hammocks and were also transported in them, e.g. on war campaigns.

Now on display at the Museo Antropología, Villahermosa, Mexico.

Bartolomé de las Casas (1484 – 1566), theologian and also called “Apostle of the Indians”, contemporary and friend of Columbus

As an explorer of a new world, how do you describe the hammock?

Navigators after Columbus, travelers, missionaries, officials, and adventurers repeatedly mention the hammock along with other oddities of the South American continent.

Only with the description they struggled a little. Thus she compares Barolomé to a slingshot:

“The beds they slept in, which they called them hamacas, were of the shape of a slingshot … and they tie them to one post each, from one to the other, and they get caught in the air that way, and that’s how they lie down in it, it’s a good bed and clean, in a place where it’s not cold … and it doesn’t weigh eight pounds, and you can carry it away under your arm.

Finally, for on-the-go, it’s very suitable.”

Brazil: White woman carried in hammock by slaves (1630)

What were hammocks used for?

  • All pre-Hispanic representations show the hammock as a means of transport or prestige object of the advanced civilizations rather than as a place to sleep.
  • Originally, a net was used. This could be used for fishing during the day and for sleeping at night.
  • Hammocks were used in the past for children in the dormitories of the poorhouses – to save space
  • At the end of the 16th century. the hammock was integrated into the European navy. As late as 1904, Meyer’s Großes Konversationslexikon defined the hammock as the “hanging bed of warship sailors”, emphasizing that “a well-tied hammock also serves as a means of rescue, as it can float for hours”.
  • Today, over 100 million people still use the hammock as a place to sit and sleep; especially in Latin America, Africa as well as Southeast Asia.


Armando Reclus

Engineer Armando Reclus (1843 – 1927)

Warning about the hammock

Panama report by French engineer Armando Reclus:

The hammocks are deceitful, far more dangerous than the climate, prostitution or alcohol!

You can find them everywhere, in all the rooms of the houses or among the trees in the forest.

It seems as if they attract you, invite you to gently sway in them; in the weakness and during the heaviness that takes over the body after a meal.

One stretches out in it with such satisfaction, after a trip to the woods!

Where better to fight any inconvenient thoughts than in this airy bed, while following with your eyes the bluish spirals of cigar smoke?

You unfortunates whose souls are not yet temperate enough to resist the effeminacies of these places of doom, for soon enough you will spend days there, too feeble to rise; the first duty is for all who wish to preserve their physical strength and morals to declare war on the hammock.

The ruler who will have sufficient power to proclaim a law leading to the immediate annihilation of all hammocks would do the greatest service to the country, worthy always to be reminded of the realization of moral and material improvement for the country.

(Source: The World of Hammock Book)

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