What is a hammock?
I know, I know, I know you know what a hammock is. It’s that big, musty, ropey thing that you loved to swing in when you went to visit your grandparents way back when. But did you know the humble hammock has a colorful history as the bed of choice for indigenous peoples of the New World? Or that, today, they are quickly becoming the relaxation choice for people worldwide? Allow us to enlighten you as we present: Hammocks Explained.
A brief hammock history
Hammock is defined as
a bed made of canvas or of rope mesh and suspended by cords at the ends, used as garden furniture or on board a ship.
It comes from the native Caribbean Taino word, hamaka, which was easy to pronounce by the Spanish when they arrived and inquired about the Taino’s unusual sleeping arrangements. As it turns out, the hamaka was the go-to bed for native people from Mexico to South America. Europeans were fascinated by the concept upon the return of the Spanish conquistadores. The Spanish call them “hamacas”, and they were the subject of much curiosity when the English navy found them strung up on captured Armada galleons. Not being one to incorporate foreign words without a fight, the English settled on the word as we know it. The “hammocks” were left behind as useless artifacts in the way of the gold they were there to re-steal (because we all know that the Spanish didn’t exactly borrow that gold from the New World).
Hammocks were rediscovered and became a staple on US Navy service ships during WWII as a comfortable space saver, then saw their popularity decline as the post-war men-of-the-house decided they would prefer beds. In the late-1970’s the hammock started making inroads into the suburban home as the chic “new” backyard/poolside/patio furniture to have, along with the beanbag and anything made of plastic.
Fast forward to the last 15 years and you will see that younger people have been realizing how relaxing, entertaining and useful hammocks are. In fact, one could say that hammocking has turned into a mini cultural revolution led by technological innovation by under-30’s who say, “why can’t I hang a hammock here?”
“Here” being, everywhere of course.
Types of hammocks
Since then, the definition of the hammock has stretched far beyond the canvas beds strung up on ships.
Travel hammocks are quickly becoming a an integral part of university life. Students commonly tote their lightweight, small hammocks in their backpacks, ready to string up whenever the need arises.
Camping hammocks are now giving tried and true tents a run for their money, offering more comfortable shelter at a fraction of the weight and size. At the very least they offer more options for setting up with rocks, sticks and ever-so-slight inclines affecting your sleep no more.
Tree tent hammocks have been described as what was born from a tent, a hammock and a spaceship coming together. They offer a true suspended tent experience, though admittedly they carry more tent and spaceship DNA than they do hammock.
Then there are yoga hammocks, which are simple designs that take the yoga practice to the next level. Imagine a yoga workout by Cirque du Soleil hopefuls and you might get an idea.
And of course, who can forget the good old-fashioned, lazy-sunday lounging hammocks that our grandparents used to pull out for us kids? Even they have gotten fancy and, dare I say, new-fangled.
If one were to go back to the roots of hammocking, one would find a sleeping tradition thousands of years old. It was a New World technological innovation that, unlike the bow and arrow or wheel or written language, did not arise anywhere else among the world’s civilizations. However today the ancient hanging bed has been launched into the 21st century and will continue to evolve at a head-spinning rate. Sometimes even the experts need hammocks explained.
Let it, I say. I’ll be right here, lounging in mine, happy as a Taino on the beach in pre-Columbian Cuba.