The Uncertain History of the Hammock

Who made the first hammock?
During his 1492 voyage, Columbus found “wonderful arrangements of nets” in the homes of native peoples in modern-day Cuba. This marks the earliest known appearance of the hammock in our written record.

The actual birth of the hammock was probably many hundreds of years before that.
Reconstruction of the Cuban homes where Columbus may have found the “first” hammock.

On other Caribbean Islands, Central America, and modern-day Brazil, European explorers continued to find native peoples using hammocks. Dozens of native tribes encountered by the Spanish and Portuguese explorers apparently used them.

There’s a misconception out there that when Columbus and other explorers encountered native peoples in the New World, all of them were using hammocks. But in many parts of the Carribean and South America, that doesn’t appear to have been the case.

Among indigenous peoples in the Caribbean, hammocks were a luxury owned only by the wealthiest natives. Columbus found his hammocks only in the biggest, most luxurious native houses in Cuba.

A contemporary of Columbus, Bartolome de Las Casas, confirms the idea that hammock use was exclusive to wealthy natives on the island of Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti/Dominican Repbublic):

“Those that have the most plentiful Estate or Fortunes, the better sort, use Net-work, knotted at the four corners in lieu of Beds, which the Inhabitants of the Island of Hispaniola, in their own proper Idiom, term Hammacks.”

Another Spaniard, Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes, provided even more specific details of hammocks he encountered among natives in the Carribean, including this rendering:
Hammock Illustration first published by Oviedo y Valdes in XVI Century 
Oviedo y Valdes remarked that natives would change the amount of rope attachments from the hammock bed to the tree in order to achieve a specific width.
Natives along the Brazilian coast also furnished Portuguese settlers with hammocks beginning in the mid to late 1500s. The Portuguese called these “rede de dormir“, which translates to “fishernets for sleeping.”
We also learned from the Portuguese that Brazilian natives used looms with horizontal frames to weave their hammocks. All of Designed for Outdoors’ hammock products are also woven on vertically-framed looms.
Hammock use among native Brazilian tribes appears to have been more widespread, suggesting that in mainland South America, almost everyone very likely owned a hammock and slept in it every night. These hammocks’ closest modern relatives are located here.(The hammocks on that page without spreader bars are probably the closest designs to more widely used, economical Brazilian hammocks.)
The hammocks encountered by Columbus, Las Casas, and Oviedo in the Caribbean were likely more elaborate: anchored at each corner to preserve the shape that modern hammocks create with a spreader bar.
I think it’s quite possible that hammocks were developed by the migratory group of early humans that migrated to what is now South America and the Carribbean, before even the first century A.D. Unfortunately, cotton decomposes rapidly, leaving little archaeological evidence to help confirm that theory.

9 Responses to “The Uncertain History of the Hammock”

  1. Sébastien

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  2. Poleta

    Wow! Such awesome vital information in regard to a hammock, I love traveling in different places, I remember there were awesome days when I’d just travel with a hammock for the fun of it and it was fantastic.

  3. Amelia Clayton

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