A hammock is a type of bed consisting of a rectangle of fabric or mesh suspended from its two extremities, ending in handles or rings, which are secured to riggings or hooks that are generally fixed to walls or under leafy trees so that people can lie down to sleep or rest.
The use of hammocks is very ancient and is a hereditary custom of indigenous Brazilians. They called the hammock ini. It was on 27 April 1500 when Pero Vaz de Caminha, a Portuguese sailor, scribe on the fleet of Pedro Álvares Cabral, who without knowing the name used by the Indians, called this type of bed for the first time ‘rede de dormir’ or sleeping net because of its similarity to a ‘rede de pescar’ or fishing net.
Primitive hammocks made by indigenous women were resistant with simple stitching and large mesh, which is why they resembled fishing nets.
Half a century after their discovery, hammocks were already being used by agricultural colonists and the majority of the Jesuits. In Colonial Brazil the hammock was widely used as a means of transport from long trips. They were put on the shoulders of slaves who supported them with a pole. This type of hammock was called a ‘serpentina’.
In the poorest areas of Northeast Brazil, it was customary for the dead to be transported in hammocks, known at the time as ‘rede de defunto’ (net of the deceased).
The hammock’s weaving technique was perfected by Portuguese women. Hammocks became used more and more in the towns, settlements and sugarcane plantations, especially to make transport easier. All that was required was to roll them up and put them on your back, considering wooden beds were heavier and until then not manufactured in Brazil.
The advent of looms (devices for weaving) enabled the manufacture of more compact fabrics, hammocks with fringes and verandas, making them more comfortable and ornate.
Hammocks were used for over four centuries and were ever-present and indispensible in Brazilian life. They were used from birth until death.
Gilberto Freyre in his book Casa Grande & Senzala (The Masters and the Slaves) said that many Brazilians, when young, slept listening to the brooding creak of the hammock supports.
In only a few regions nowadays, mainly in the North and Northeast, is the hammock used for sleeping.
In the large urban centres, hammocks are more of a decorative object in residences and serve as a point of reference for regional customs. They are hung up on terraces, porches and balconies of homes and apartments, beach and country houses, generally to rest or snooze, but almost never to sleep at night.
Brazilian production of sleeping hammocks is estimated to be a million units. The largest producers are the States of Ceará, Pernambuco, Alagoas and Piauí.
Brazil exports sleeping hammocks to various countries.
There are also a large number of clandestine factories made up of small artisanal groups. Every Northeast Brazilian state has dozens of these nucleuses faithful to the old, handmade ways.
It is a particular industry in which made-to-order hammocks are woven with extremely careful and slow workmanship, embroidery and silk trimmings. They are works of patience and pristine finishing. Craftsmen are the producers and sustainers of these types of hammocks, called ‘redes de presente’ (gift hammocks).
Recife, 25 March 2004.
(Updated on 14 September 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.
CASCUDO, Luís da Câmara. Rede de dormir: uma pesquisa etnográfica. 2. ed. Rio de Janeiro: FUNARTE/INF:Achimé; Natal: UFRN, 1983. 244p.
REDE de dormir. In: ENCICLOPÉDIA Mirador Internacional. São Paulo: Rio de Janeiro: Encyclopaedia Britannica do Brasil Publicações, 1995. v.17, p.9654-9655.
how to quote this text
Source: ANDRADE, Maria do Carmo. Hammocks. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <https://pesquisaescolar.fundaj.gov.br/en/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.