HAMMOCKS, the ancient bedding so humble that it doesn't rate an entry in any encyclopedia, are still hanging around.
The hammock, essentially, is an open bag of cloth, web or rope that's suspended above the ground. As the subject climbs into it, his weight is amortized along the suspending lines, and even a relatively fragile-looking string hammock can suspend hundreds of pounds.
The good news is that hammocks are relatively cheap and comfortable, and give homeowners another choice -- other than futon -- for a spare or guest bed. When not in use, they roll up into tiny bundles. The Journal of the American Medical Association also gives hammocks high marks for back support.
Where hammocks are most likely to be used in the Hawaiian home, though, is in the lanai or family room, where they serve as recliners or casual chairs. Unlike recliners or other furniture, there's no "footprint" underneath the hammock, making it easier to move around and vacuum beneath. And, if need be, you can also use them to hoist your food out of the reach of bears.
There are many styles of hammocks, ranging from a kind of stiff lawn furniture with their own suspension racks -- these are seasonally available at outlets like Sears, Kmart and Costco -- to tiny units for hikers than can be rolled up and stuffed into a
The state of the art in recreational hammocks, though, come from Central and South America, where hammock-sleeping is still a way of life. Generally, hammock styles are called by their country of origin, and where most are still made:
"Costa Rican" hammocks are fish-net affairs of knotted ropes.
"Mayan" or "Yucatan" hammocks are complex weaves of colorful stretchy strings.
"Brazilian" hammocks make use of cotton fabrics and artistic macrame decorations.
The primary source for hammocks in Honolulu is Swing Song at Aloha Tower Marketplace, although camping outlets like Hawaii Outdoor World also have a wide selection.
Prices may vary for similar products, so shop around. For example, the extra-large "Mayan" at Swing Song is $99, and at Hawaii Outdoor World it's $79.95, but a basic Costa Rican knotted hammock is $59.95 at Hawaii Outdoor World and a similar hammock is $24.95 at Swing Song.
Ironically, the biggest seller at Swing Song isn't a bed; it's a hammock "chair."
"It doesn't look like it could hold all that much, but it will hold up to 500 pounds," said Swing Song assistant manager Jason Serikaku, stretching his less-than-500-pounds in the chair. The chair is made of 300 feet of fishing trolley cable cord, a nylon and cotton mix that holds up well in Hawaiian weather.
"It'll stretch out to seven feet, so its like a recliner that supports your whole body," said Serikaku. "It hangs from one point, a beam in your house or a tree limb, and comes complete with everything except the hanging chain."
It comes packed in a tube, and Serikaku said it's often sold to bicyclists.
The hammock that amazes customers is the large Mayan made of two miles of colored cotton cord. "We have whole families climbing into the Mayan and having their picture taken," said Serikaku. "It holds a lot more than it looks like it will, and there are rarely two that are identical -- they take two weeks to weave."
The most expensive hammocks are the "Fantasy" series from Brazil, which have complex knottery and are crocheted of 100-percent cotton. "Because of the cotton, they're also the softest," said Serikaku. The Fantasy is $199 for a single and $250 for a double.
As for why people buy hammocks, Swing Song's Helen Quintos, another assistant manager, says, "It's relaxing, like being cuddled as a baby. There's just something about being suspended that's neat. People tell us they really like the sensation of floating.
"And they're fun and flexible. I live in a studio apartment and they're a real space saver."
To install a hammock:
Screw hooks solidly into wall joists, studs or ceiling beams.
Keep the anchor points about 12 to 13 feet apart and at least 5 five off the ground.
Because hammocks swing, it's best to run them diagonally across a room instead of against a wall.
All hammocks are more comfortable if you lie in them at somewhat a diagonal angle. The "spreader" bar at the head of many hammocks is mainly a matter of taste.