They say that variety is the spice of life, and for good reason. As a hammock enthusiast, one of life’s greatest pleasures comes from regional variations. From northern Mexico to southern Brazil, there’s plenty of latitude to choose from. Over the past few centuries, each region in Latin America has developed distinctive designs based on locally-sourced materials. That’s why, depending on where you travel in Latin America today, you can find hammocks made from threads, strings, ropes, cotton or mesh.
But how did such regional variations develop? The answer is simple: each method of fabrication leads back to the culture that created it. Just as hammocks are unique cultural creations, so too are the materials used to fabricate hammocks—they are products of their specific environment.
The first hammocks — 100% organic
No one knows who first invented the hammock, but there’s little doubt the indigenous people living in Central America’s jungles had a head start since they had a big incentive to sleep up off the ground. European explorers found hammocks made from bark, carefully stripped off and woven into wide sections to be suspended between tree trunks. Later recordings detailed uses of the sisal plant as well as palm branches. These hammocks were all 100% organic.
The “Mayan” Hammock – threads, strings and ropes
The Mayans were an advanced civilization found in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize before Christopher Columbus arrived in the new world. Their reign lasted nearly 1000 years—evidence of their power remains in massive monuments left behind in the jungle: Chichen Itza, Palenque, Copan and Tikal. Though the Mayan empire is now long gone, the reputation of Mayan hammocks lives on.
To be correctly labelled a Mayan design, the hammock must be made of loosely-woven threads, strings or ropes. This style promotes maximum air flow around the body and ensures its user can sleep well in the humid climate.
Colombian/Brazilian hammocks – cotton to the core
Colombia and Brazil have similar ideas when it comes to lounging. Their hammock styles are almost identical. Compared to the fish-net style that characterizes Mayan hammocks, Colombian and Brazilian hammocks are downright luxurious: soft, wide cotton cloth, making them a tempting place to relax in (at least when temperatures cooperate). Brazil’s long history of cultivating cotton made it a viable option for production, earning the Brazilian hammock a reputation for comfort and style.
Venezuelan hammocks – well suited for jungle living
Living near the equator, Venezuelans have had to make their peace with intense heat, stifling humidity and incessantly buzzing insects. Their hammocks offer a tight weave that still lets air flow while keeping biting bugs at bay. The key feature of the Venezuelan hammock is the diagonal sleeping position, made possible because of the widely woven panels.
Which material is right for your hammock?
The hammock you end up selecting will be based on what you want it to do for you. If you’re a jungle trekker or a bushwhacking explorer, you will do well to choose a tight mesh design to keep out the mosquito’s. If you’re a sailor, on the other hand, you’ll want a rugged canvas design that will harness the ocean’s motion to your advantage, rocking you gently to sleep.
However, if you’re like most of us and are in the market for rest and relaxation, then it’s a tight race between the Mayan hammock and the Brazilian hammock. If you live in a sweaty place where it’s all about airflow, then a Mayan hammock is likely the right choice for you, as the wide gaps will keep you cool. However, most of us living in more temperate climates will settle on the Brazilian hammock—the elegant weave patterns and bold colors make it a sure-fire winner for your home or backyard.There are many ways to sit in a hammock. How many of them do you know?