This Mexican icon is often what the imagination brings to mind when we dream of being on the beach. With good reason. Swaying in the wind with the sound of the waves, a good book and a cool drink are as soul-soothing as it gets. Hammocks are also often the first piece of furniture we expats own. It's where we hang out at the end of the day, take a siesta, contemplate life.
Origin of Hammocks
The first hammock was invented by the inhabitants of Central and South America and its main purpose was to serve as a resting tool. The weaving of hammocks comes from the tradition of fishermen weaving fishing nets. A hammock is woven with a thin cord using a tight “triple weave” that creates a lattice when pulled apart.
Although there are a couple of theories, it is generally thought that the word “hammock” comes from the Taino Indian culture from what is today Puerto Rico. The word referred to a fishing net.
The first hammocks are reported to have been woven from sisal fiber. Sisal fiber is derived from an agave plant and is valued for cordage because of its strength, durability, ability to stretch. It is resistant to deterioration in saltwater. Today sisal is used to make bags, rugs, clothes and even footwear but rarely hammocks. Hammocks today are woven with nylon, cotton or a mix of threads. Nylon hammocks are the least comfortable, especially in the heat, but are longest wearing.
There are different types of hammocks: “thick cord” and “thin cord.” The thick cord is for trips or outings, it's heavy and resists heavy weight and shocks. The thin one is for daily use, usually hanging in homes and is more comfortable.
The weave size varies and can determine the level of comfort. The weaving technique gives great flexibility and elasticity. The tighter the weave, the more comfortable it is and therefore, the more work and material that has gone into making it. The prices for tighter woven hammocks will be higher. Also, different design work and colors will affect the price. Usually handmade, each one is a unique piece.
The special weave of the Mexican hammocks provides a comfort that is very different from other types of hammocks. Your back is kept flat in these types of hammocks provided it is hung correctly. The hanging of a hammock uses a rule of thirds. More on that in a following article.
Hammocks come at all price points. Simple, single woven hammocks may be found for 600-1000 pesos while double weave, heavier hammocks can easily go for 3000 pesos.
Hammock Culture Today
People continue using hammocks across Mexico, Central and South America. In Mexico, the hammock culture can be found all along its 10,143 km of coastline, even though Mexicans all over the country use them. As they are suspended, they offer some protection from insects and animals. The hammock culture generally refers to cooling off in the hammock for siesta time or simply passing the heat of the afternoon relaxing while hard, outside work generally happens early in the morning and later in the afternoon and evening and in some places later into the night. In the state of Yucatan, almost all Mexicans own a hammock, it’s a tradition.
Most Mayans sleep in hammocks in the house. And guests can always set up their hammock in a corner of the house. Traditional Mayan homes have anchors in all walls of the house to hang hammocks.
Hammocks are popular up north too. They are light, affordable and comfortable and great for camping as an alternative to tents.
For many families, the Mexican hammock trade is their source of income. By buying a handmade hammock, you are providing economic support for families and villages.