Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hammocks and Malaria: NYT July 12, 1881

Please indulge me to blow you away with an article I dug up while researching hammock history. If you live in the Yucatán, most likely you have and appreciate your hammock(s). You may find this interesting even if you don't have a hammock or live in México. It is long, but what could I possibly cut out? The first paragraph makes it sound like a horrible disease! It just gets more and more bizarre!

The New York Times, Published July 12, 1881


The hammock is steadily diffusing itself over the piazzas and the front yards of our country. A few years ago the hammock was rarely met except at the South, where it is endemic all year round. A few isolated cases of hammock occasionally manifested themselves in Philadelphia, New York, or Chicago, but they were too few to create any alarm. Now we find hammocks wherever we go, and they are ruining the health and morals of the American people at a rate which must make every intelligent man tremble for the future of the Republic.

The hammock is, perhaps, fair to the eye, but it is deceitful above all things and desperately crooked. No matter how easy and luxurious it may seem during the first five minutes that one occupies it an aching back and weary legs are the sure result of lingering in its lap. It is more treacherous than any beast of the field. Unless the greatest care is taken it never fails to throw its occupant out. Nature has mercifully constructed woman with back hair, as a protection against hammocks, so that when she falls out of a hammock and alights on her head she seldom sustains injuries that are fatal to herself; but even the strongest man who walks down a street bordered by Summer cottages and listens to the dull, monotonous sound of female heads striking on the piazza, and has his helpless eyes dazzled by red, pink, or parti-colored flashes that shoot into the air like the swift and evanescent auroral streamers, cannot but have his holiest feelings harrowed to a most painful extent. When a full-grown man drops from a hammock he is either stunned, in which case his wife rushes out and begs him to tell her if he has hurt himself, or he rises up and expresses by implication his strong disapprobation of the introduction of that unsatisfactory word "Hades" into the revised edition. Children who have read Capt. MARRYATT'S novels and have thus learned that one of the principal duties of a Midshipman in former days was to place a pile of cannon-balls on the deck immediately under the hammock of a fellow-Midshipman and then to cut the hammock lashings, frequently practice this feat of seamanship upon their brothers, sisters, and grandmothers, substituting piles of stones for cannon-balls. It is, perhaps, a beautiful but certainly a demoralizing sport, and the hammock is plainly responsible for thus affording lessons in cruelty and murder to the rising generation.

The worst feature of the hammock is, however, its agency in producing what are usually called malarious fevers. In former days physicians believed that in warm, damp countries, where a lack of drainage existed, an invisible poison, called malaria, developed itself and produced disease among men. This theory has not endured the test of time. Year by year malaria is spreading into districts where what were formerly considered the necessary conditions of malaria do not exist. It is found in the Rocky Mountains and among the granite hills of New-England. Dr. CHADBOURNE was recently asked to explain why malarious diseases have latterly appeared in Berkshire County, Mass, and he has just written a long letter in which he lucidly explains that neither he nor anybody else knows anything about it, and all that can be said on the subject is the old theory of the causes of malaria is untenable.

Now, in the growing use of hammocks we have a full and sufficient explanation of the cause of so-called malarious fevers. They exist only where hammocks are found. The home of these diseases was originally in the tropics, where the entire population spends its time in hammocks, if the pictures in the primary geography are to be believed. All over Central and South America the women never get out of their hammocks, and the men only rise from theirs at intervals of a week or two, in order to take part in a revolution. In our Southern States malarious fevers are only less common than they are in the tropics, and it is notorious that hammocks have been popular in the South for generations. In New-York and Philadelphia the spread of alleged malaria has kept pace with the spread of hammocks, and in New-Jersey, where the natives have long used the hammock as a place of refuge from the ferocious mosquitoes that lurk in the grass, chills and fever is the normal condition of these people. Summer boarders from the cities have carried hammocks and malarious diseases to New-England country towns, and miners who sleep in hammocks in order to avoid the company of rattlesnakes have introduced the same diseases into the Rocky Mountain regions. It is the hammock and not an imaginary malaria that is undermining the livers of our fellow-citizens.

Why is it that the hammock produces a class of diseases all of which are intimately connected with a disordered state of the liver will be evident if we remember the attitude in which the hammock compels its occupant to lie. It forces his body into a curve, thus compressing the liver between the diaphragm, the waist-band of the trousers, and other contiguous organs. The consequence is that the liver, squeezed and bruised, declines to perform its functions, and some one of the various fevers hitherto called "malarious" attacks the unhappy victim. Where hammocks are used "malaria" exists; where hammocks are not used "malaria" is unknown. Instead of dosing people with quinine and arsenic, let us adopt the prophylactic measure of casting our hammocks into the fire, and we shall preserve our health and our morals.

Published: July 12, 1881
Copyright © The New York Times


Oliver & Serena said...

Hi. I am an American, living in Panama, and I make hammocks for a living, the string kind. I really enjoyed reading your post about hammocks. It is nice to see that someone else enjoys them as much as me. Its almost all i think about, trying to projects... And yes.... the Hammock Chair is awesome for reading books!

Linda Dorton said...

Thanks for your comment. I just reread that article. It seems so ridiculous, but it also shows just how the hotshots saw the hammock dwellers. men stay in their hammocks for weeks until they go out for a revolution. say what?

I am interested in your hammock making. if you want to send photos, use

thanks again