Between world wars, the uninspiring food at the Selangor Club Chambers in Kuala Lumpur earned that colonial pile the name “the Hash House.” When club member Albert Stephen Ignatius Gisbert organized other English expatriates into a loose running group, it took its name from the club. The Hash House Harriers were born.
Gisbert was fond of a running event known as a “paper chase,” which itself was modelled on schoolboy games of hare and hounds, in which a “hare” lays a trail–of paper or other material–for a pack of “hounds” to follow.
Groups of Hash House Harriers–“hashes”–sprang up and faded in British outposts in Asia in the next two decades. In the 1960s, more groups were established, but the ’70s and ’80s saw the number of hashes explode around the world. Today, there are probably close to 1,500–although, given the anarchic nature of hashes, there is no “official” count.
Wherever hashes exist today, they still owe a debt to English school boy traditions, right down to nicknames of borderline tastefulness, bawdy songs, and a partiality for alcohol and beer in particular–this is the “drinking club with a running problem.”
There are special terms for most aspects of the hash (many of them unprintable here): on on! (the shout when the pack has found the trail); shiggy (mud or nasty things you step in–this is good); on in (the site for beer at the end of the run); and down-down (the ceremony at the end of the hash, and also the penalty awarded for a variety of infractions).
The spirit of the hash is anti-competitive, so much so that any behavior or clothing that hints at a race (the “R” word, one hasher called it) earns the member a “down-down”–a penalty that involves chugging a beer (or a soda). Down-downs are also awarded to novices, for new shoes, or for any number of trail-laying or following offences.
Different hashes may be dead hare hashes, with the trail laid down by the hares ahead of time, or live hare hashes, in which the hares have a lead of only minutes before the pack of hounds set out after them.
Although the two schools of thought are passionate about the dead or alive hare question, they are in complete agreement on the soul of hashing. According to Stray Dog, author of the Hash Bible, “Hashing is a state of mind–a friendship of kindred spirits joined together for the sole purpose of reliv ing their childhood or fraternity days, releasing the tensions of everyday life, and generally acting a fool amongst others who will not judge you or measure you by anything more than your sense of humor.”
With thanks to Endangered Feces of the Sir Walter Hash.