Respect the Hammock, One of Humanity’s Greatest Creations

When Columbus stepped into the New World, Europeans began to see new and wondrous things they'd never seen before: tomatoes, pineapple, corn, cocoa, potatoes, and hammocks. Hammocks were so simple and comfortable you have to wonder why no one in Europe had thought of the idea before.

By the time Europeans made it to the mainland, hammocks were also fully established in the cultures of Mexico, Central America, and the hotter parts of South America. Their utility is obvious: They elevate the sleeper well above the ground, away from tropical insects and reptiles, and the woven netting maintains airflow—vital in the heat. They’re also incredibly portable. In the Caribbean, de las Casas described hammocks as being fairly stationary, attached to poles within a permanent house, but the form is versatile enough to serve those who live in one place as well as those who sleep somewhere different every night.

The hammock was likely the first human-created product (as opposed to a crop or mineral) that the European conquerors decided they simply must have. In the Spanish and Taíno War of San Juan–Borikén, or the Taíno Rebellion of 1511, the Spanish often took hammocks as spoils of war. Within 50 years of Columbus’s first journey to the Caribbean, hammocks had become the standard bedding on the ships of both the Spanish and English navies. They’re great at sea, swaying gently much of the time, and fully collapsible to take up as little precious space as possible.

The use of hammocks spread like wildfire, so it was no surprise that hammocks eventually earned themselves a bad reputation, or more accurately, those who used them were looked down upon. Read the history of the hammock at Atlas Obscura.

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