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Hammock, a woven portable bed hung from posts or hooks, originally produced by indigenous peoples from crude cotton or palm fibers, also known as hamaca in Spanish and rede in Portuguese. The use of the hammock in Latin America was first recorded by Pero Vaz da Caminha in 1500 in his description of a Tupiniquin home. He used the word rede, or fishing net, for its similarity in appearance. Christopher Columbus also appropriated the term after noting its use among the Taíno-Arawakian peoples in the early 1500s. Europeans soon adopted the design after discovering the advantages of a portable, washable, ventilated bed that elevated the user above the rodents, insects, and floodwaters of the tropics.

Hammocks flourished throughout most of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America (especially within the Amazon Basin), with the exception of Chile and Argentina (where their use was limited) and Bolivia. They were not documented elsewhere in the world by the earliest explorers. Scholars are still undecided as to the place of origin of the hammock. The foremost Brazilian authority, Luís da Câmara Cascudo, believes that they were invented by the Arawaks (though many scholars favor the Caribs), who passed them on to the Tupi.

Particularly in colonial Brazil, beautifully woven linen or silk hammocks with floor-sweeping overhangs became symbols of wealth and prestige. The Portuguese employed hammocks of many sizes as delivery tables and cradles, nuptial and trysting beds, porch rockers, offices, and coffins for the dead. Hammocks called taboca or palanquíns carried by two slaves were also used as transportation. They are now used principally by the poor of the North and Northeast, where they are produced manually and industrially.

See alsoCaribs; Tupi.


Luís Da Câmara Cascudo, Rêde-de-dormir: Uma pesquisa etnográfica (1959), and Dicionário do folclore brasileiro, 3d ed. (1972).

Additional Bibliography

Dantas, Cristina, Antonio Carlos Werneck, and Pedro Ariel Santana. Artesãos do Brasil. São Paulo: Editora Abril, 2002.

Schmitz, Hubert. Manufacturing in the Backyard: Case Studies on Accumulation and Employment in Small-Scale Brazilian Industry. Totowa, NJ: Allanheld, Osmun, 1982.

                                  Gayle Waggoner Lopes

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ham·mock / ˈhamək/ • n. 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.


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hammock XVI (hamaca, hammaker; hamack, -OCK XVII). — Sp. hamaca, of Carib orig.; the ending has been assim. to -OCK.