Carrying a Covered Hammock, Bahia, Brazil, 1712-1714


Amédée Frézier, Relation du voyage de la mer du Sud aux cotes du Chili, du Pérou, et du Brézil, fait pendant les années 1712, 1713, & 1714 . . . (Amsterdam, 1717), vol. 2, plate 35 (facing p. 526). (Copy in Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library)


Two slaves transporting a merchant or planter in a covered hammock; on the right, another slave (?) carries the European's sword and an umbrella to shield him from the sun when he alights. The author describes this scene: Rich people, even if it is inconvenient, hardly ever walk. They are always industrious in finding ways to distinguish themselves from other men. In America, as in Europe, they are ashamed to use the legs that nature has given us for walking. They are gently carried in beds of woven cotton, suspended at both ends on a large pole that two blacks carry on their heads or on their shoulders. And being hidden there so that the rain or ardor of the sun cannot make them uncomfortable, this bed is covered with a fringe of gold hanging from curtains that one can close when one wants. There, comfortably laying down, the head supported by a bolster of luxurious fabric, they are carried comfortably . . . These cotton hammocks are called Serpentin and are not Palanquins, as some travelers call them (Frézier, p. 526; our translation). The Brazilian scholar, Gilberto Freyre, writes: Within their hammocks and palanquins the gentry permitted themselves to be carried about by Negroes for whole days at a time, some of them travelling in this manner from one plantation to another . . . . Nearly all [slaveholders] travelled by hammock . . . (The Masters and the Slaves [New York, 1956], pp. 409-410, 428); see also, other images of hammocks in this website. The same illustration appears in the Paris edition of Frézier, but as a fold out spreading over two pages (1716).

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