"The beds in which they slept, which they called hamacas, were in the form of a sling... and they tie them to a post each, from one to the other, and they remain so suspended in the air, and so they lie down in them, it's a good bed and clean in an area where it's not cold... and it weighs less than eight pounds and you can carry it under your arm. After all, it is very suitable for on the go.”
- Barolomé, contemporary and friend of Columbus
As is often the case with inventions, they are often invented by different people at different times on different continents without the other inventor noticing. This is also the case with our hammock, whose origins cannot be fully identified.
Some 19th-century authors credited the invention of the hammock to an Athenian politician as early as 400 BC. lived. Other ancient writers also mention the use of hanging beds to improve sleep or health.
And even medieval drawings from the 11th and 14th centuries show early forms of the hammock. As can be seen, these are made of a strong fabric, probably linen or cotton. So it could also be that it was this English type that eventually spread through the European navies.
On the other side of the globe in Central and South America, hammocks were just repurposed fishing nets instead. Fish were caught with it during the day and slept in it at night. You were not only protected from potentially poisonous animals and crawling things, but you were also cooled evenly from all sides, a great advantage in the high temperatures. It is debatable whether either the Mayans or the Incas are responsible for this grandiose invention.
On the high seas
The hammocks only became really popular in Europe after the Spanish conquest of the New World. Christopher Columbus observed the Indians in the Bahamas in their strange, hanging beds as early as 1492 and also brought some of them back to Europe.
At first, the mats were mainly known on ships after the multitude of their advantages had been recognized. Not only do they balance out the waves at sea, they also save a lot of space, since they can be stacked at different heights and they can be quickly dismantled and stowed away. Before the introduction of naval hammocks, sailors were frequently injured or even killed when falling from their moorings or rolling on the decks in heavy seas.
(CC BY-SA 3.0 | https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5339840)
Even as late as 1904, the definition of the hammock in Meyer's Konversations-Lexikon was "the hanging bed of the sailors of warships", noting that "a well-tied hammock also serves as a life-saving device, as it can float for hours".
In the late 19th century they were also used for children in the dormitories of poorhouses and in prisons - to save money and space.
The latter was once again the reason that even hammocks were used on spacecraft; precisely to use the available space when the astronauts were not sleeping. During the Apollo program, beginning with Apollo 12, the lunar module was fitted with hammocks to allow the commander and pilot to sleep between lunar walks.
For us in Europe and the USA, the hammock has become primarily a place of relaxation. The turnaround probably came in the 1960s, when the cheap mass production of cotton fabrics made the hammock affordable and popular.
Nowadays it is mainly used for pure relaxation in the garden or for excursions in nature, but in recent years it has also experienced a real trend in camping, where it is used instead of a tent.
But even if we in the western world associate the hammock with vacation and relaxation, over 100 million people worldwide still use the hammock to sit or sleep; especially in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America.