Sleeping Nets

When you add it all up, we spend approximately one third of our lives sleeping. Many cultures designate a space for this occupation – a room just for closing our eyes – complete with furniture, bedding and black out curtains to ease our transition into the land of nod. But bar the odd sick day, our bedrooms remain largely uninhabited for the remainder of our waking hours. It is worth remembering that this arrangement isn’t necessarily adopted in other cultures. In fact a bed and bedroom is far from the only way to get a good night’s rest.

Hammocks are prevalent throughout much of the Caribbean, as well as Central America and parts of South America. Heat is part of the reason. High temperatures, even at night, dictate a preference to sleep outside rather than inside. Creepy crawlies are another reason. Hammocks have long offered protection against unwanted poisonous visitors in the night by suspending their occupants out of harms way above ground and in the fresh air.

The hammock’s arrival in Europe is attributed to Christopher Columbus. Early devotees were colonial sailors who found the portable, packable hammock ideal in cramped ships quarters. Not only did sailors benefit from being suspended above decks often troubled by rodents, but they also enjoyed a better night’s sleep thanks to the hammocks ability to absorb the motions of a rocking boat. Today advocates cite the pleasure of sleeping under the stars and the support provided by its cradle-like shape as reasons for the hammocks continued popularity.

In the Columbian town of Cabo de la Vela (Spanish for Cape of Sails) near the border with Venezuela, hammocks represent a precious gift exchanged at symbolic moments throughout an individual’s life including birth, adulthood, and marriage. On La Guajira peninsula hammocks are referred to as chinchorros, a Spanish term that also refers to a fishing net or small fishing boat. Hammocks in this region represent a serious financial investment. Woven with macramé or crochet embellishment, patterns are so complex that it can take four to six months to make a single hammock. The first hammocks were likely made from tree bark; later sisal and other natural fibres such as cumare, a climbing vine; even unravelled and re-twisted flower bags have provided materials for making hammocks in the region. Today the majority are made from cotton imported from Brazil.

Instead of our weekly ritual of washing sheets, here people wash the whole hammock. Sight of drying hammocks – much like our sheets on a laundry line – creates a dizzying array of patterns. These vibrantly coloured textiles provide both decoration and function seen here suspended inside local huts made from yotojoro, an indigenous cactus that grows abundantly in Cabo de la Vela. For anyone lucky enough to find themselves in this remote region and in need of a nap, Nelson Sepulveda stayed at Kayuusipaa, Cabo de la Vela at La Guajira, Columbia. Contact Maria Conception Ospina/CONCHI +57 311 542 04 27.

"Sleeping Nets" now out in the current issue of Selvedge Magazine pp 22-27.
Photography by Nelson Sepulveda.