A Brief History of Hashing

An Abbreviated History of Hashing
adapted from motherhash.com,
the website of the Kuala Lumpur Hash House Harriers

The Hash House Harriers running club was registered as such in 1938 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This original chapter is now known as the Mother Hash. The Hash House Harriers, often abbreviated as HHH or H3, is now an international non-competitive running and social club, with chapters all over the world.

The philosophy, as stated in the objects clause of the constitution, is as follows:

·         To promote physical fitness among our members
·         To get rid of weekend hangovers
·         To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
·         To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

The template for a hash run is loosely based on the paper chase and known in the club as hare hunting.  One or more hashers (the ‘hares’) lay out a running trail that the rest of the club (pack or 'hounds') follows. The trail may include checks, which require the pack to scout the area to discern the true trail from alternative false trails and back-checks (a deliberate, initially-unmarked false trail), short cuts or splits.  These features are designed to keep the pack together regardless of fitness levels or running speed.  This is followed by a circle where the hares are assessed and rewarded with a drink, recalcitrant members are brought up and punished with a drink and announcements made, all in good fun.

Generally speaking, the organization of the Hash House Harriers is decentralized, with each chapter (also called kennels) locally managed and with no higher-level organizational hierarchy or central controlling organisation.  There are more than 1700 kennels with at least one Hash in most major cities in the world, yet practices are largely similar across chapters.  Hashing may be unique in the world, in that it offers worldwide camaraderie, familiarity and hospitality with no formal structure and few organizing principles.

Hashers frequently describe themselves as 'a drinking club with a running problem,’ and the social element of hashing is of equal importance to the running. The seriousness of the running and of the drinking varies with each chapter.  The length and difficulty of runs varies accordingly between each Kennel.

Every two years, an international meet is organised, referred to as the InterHash.  Members at one will vote for the next location and so on.  Attendance recently has been about 5000.  The traditional symbol of the hash is the outline of the foot, with often the words "On-On" written upon it.

Hashing began in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1938, when a casual group of British colonial officials and expatriates, Cecil Lee, Frederick "Horse" Thomson, Ronald "Torch" Bennett, and a British accountant of Catalan descent Albert Stephen Ignatius Gispert (A. S. Gispert, called “G”) would meet after work on Monday evenings to run, following a paper trail, through the environs of Kuala Lumpur to get rid of the excesses of the previous weekend. There was another member of the group, John Woodrow, who is rarely credited as one of the founders as he left Malaysia after the war to return home to his family in Scotland.

The Hash House before demolition to make way for a highway

Sometime late in 1938, nine Harriers were in the Hash House and it was proposed a formal name be adopted. According to Cecil Lee, G came up with the name; it was a jocular and alliterative allusion to the Mess (bachelor’s hostel) where the men lived.  As bachelors, they were billeted in the Selangor Club Annex, known locally as the Hash House, because of its monotonous food (hash being army slang for food).

Their runs were patterned after the traditional British paper chase.  A hare was given a head start to blaze a trail, marking his devious way with shreds of paper, all the while pursued by a shouting pack of "harriers."  Only the hare knew where he was going...the harriers followed his clues to stay on trail.  Apart from the excitement of chasing the hare and solving the clues, reaching the end was its own reward...for there these thirsty harriers would find a tub of iced beer (and, in those earlier, more forgiving days, ginger beer and cigarettes).
Marking The Trail:  Gispert and Cecil In An Early Recce

Hashing died out during World War II after the Japanese invasion of Malaysia, but started again shortly after the war, when the original protagonists, minus "G" who had been killed in the Japanese invasion of Singapore, re-assembled in Kuala Lumpur.  Apart from a "one off" chapter, formed in the Italian Riviera (now the Royal Milan and Bordighera Hash), hashing didn't take off until 1962, when Ian Cumming founded the second kennel in Singapore.  From then on, the phenomenon started to grow, spreading through the Far East, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as Europe and North America.  Hashing experienced a large growth in popularity during the mid-1970s.

By the end of the 20th century, there were thousands of Hash House Harrier clubs in all parts of the world, with newsletters, directories, and even regional and world hashing conventions.  This boom is owed largely to the power of the Internet to provide timely and accurate information on kennels and their events and points of contact.  As of 2003, there are even two organized HHH groups in Antarctica.

 Hashing hasn't strayed far from its Kuala Lumpur roots. A typical hash kennel (local chapter or group) today is a loosely-organized group of 20-100 members, aka Harriers and Harriettes.  Kennel members meet to follow a trail laid by a hare (the person(s) leading the trail who leaves the appropriate marks on the ground, trees etc. for the pack to follow).  While pieces of paper have previously been used to mark trail, especially in jungle or off-road areas, it has generally been replaced with flour or chalk, with toilet paper often being used in residential or town areas that would make it more environmental friendly. Generally any mark used to identify the trail is called a 'hash mark'.

Hash kennels in some locations, especially in cities, recommend that the hare call the local police dispatcher before the run as a courtesy to inform them of the run.  They also prefer the use of bio-degradable materials such as flour or sawdust to mark the trail in order to avoid unnecessary problems.  After the anthrax scares in 2001, many groups throughout the Western world had to change the way they marked trails by using colored chalk or other materials.  On August 25, 2007, a "bio-terror" alert was triggered in New Haven, Connecticut due to hashers using flour, and the two hares (who spread the flour) were charged with a felony in an event known as the Hamburger Hash Affair.  A similar incident occurred in Rome.

There may be one or more "beer stops" or "beer checks" along the way, with the hare either pre-caching a stock of beer, or having the trail go to a prearranged meeting spot with the "beer truck", generally a personal vehicle that someone is using to transport a keg or cooler of drinks, snacks, and beer.

To make the run interesting, the hare can set the trail through literally any kind of terrain, with the hares' imagination providing the only limitation. Hashers may run through streets, back alleyways, residential areas, forests, swamps or shopping malls, ford streams, climb fences, explore storm drains, run through huge jungles and scale cliffs. The pack never knows where a trail will go or where it may lead.

Often the hare will employ several tricks in attempts to slow the pack and to keep runners and walkers together.  The hare may mark an intersection - generally called a "check" - that signifies that the trail continues within a 360 degree area from that point. Several false trails may lead from that check and it is up to the front runners to "solve" the trail by going out and determining what might actually be the correct path, or "true trail".  Once the true way has been determined, a runner should mark the check to indicate the proper direction so that anyone to come up it later (such as the walkers, other runners, or anyone arriving late) will not have to figure it out all over again.

The pack may carry whistles, horns, or other audible means of communicating in order to assist each other on trail and keep from getting lost. A member of the pack calling out "Are you?" means to know if another individual is searching for the true trail, typically near a check (or intersection), or is on the correct path.  Someone will typically call out either "Checking!" to indicate that they are looking for the trail or "On-On", or blow their whistle or horn three times, to signify that they are on the true trail and that the pack should follow them.  Otherwise, the member may shout "Flying!" or give a couple of "wing flaps" with their arms indicate that they have abandoned the true trail in search of a short cut in which case, others should only follow at their own risk.

Every Hash House employs its own set of marks and the names for these marks may vary widely, so Hashers visiting another pack should check the local signs before the run.  Traditionally, new runners or visitors will have the local markings explained to them before the run at a "chalk talk".   In some chapters, the hares are present at the start of the run.  They will give some trail-specific advice, too, such as rare markings used, or particular encounters such as potential danger points to be avoided.

A Peek Into The Past And How The Name Came About
An Interview With Cecil Lee, An Original Hash Founder Member, by Fuch
adapted from motherhash.com

Fu Chee Cheng, commonly referred to as Fuch, is a long-time hasher, having joined the Mother Hash and Petaling H3 in 1978, before which he joined the Petaling Jaya H3 and the Petaling Jaya Harriettes in 1977.  “I so enjoyed hashing that I ran four times a week until I was assigned to Shell Centre, London, in 1979, for two years. Then I kept running there with the London H3, the Surrey H3 and occasionally the Cambridge H3.”

Through the London H3, Fuch was introduced to Cecil Lee and Eric Galvin, founders of the Hash House Harriers (HHH) in 1938, who played pivotal roles in its management pre-WW2 and its revival postwar.  Fuch says that they were happy to meet a hasher from Malaysia where they had spent some 30 years of their lives before retiring back to their home country.  Over the two years they became quite good friends, and inevitably talked about hashing in Malaysia, which inspired Fuch to record an interview with Cecil Lee on the history of the Hash.

Cecil Lee in uniform during the war
In an interview with Cecil in London in May 1981 (now available on YouTube; part one is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJ_yQApBW-s and part two at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGXfMBKJuks), Cecil discussed naming the HHH.  He credits Gispert, or G as he was known to all, with the inspiration.  G was an English Chartered Accountant with Evatt and Co. (which became Pricewaterhouse Coopers).  He was a roly poly, jovial person and a typical specimen of the Raj, according to Cecil.

A. S. Gispert, called G
Some ten of them lived in the Selangor Club Chambers, which had a dining room on the ground floor and rooms on the first floor. The residents referred to it as the Hash House, hash being a slang word for food, usually of low quality.  (Cecil admitted that the food was actually very good.)  There already were a few paper chase groups running in parts of the country, but there is no record of their frequency and they never survived for long.  G had been working in Malacca, where he ran with the Springgit Harriers.  When he came to KL, he decided that he would form a Hash group with the help of another resident, Bennet (Torch Bennet), who was quite an enthusiast himself.

Sometime late in 1938, with nine Harriers in the Hash House, the group decided to adopt a formal name.  G came up with the name, which Cecil says was a jocular and alliterative allusion to the Mess (bachelor’s hostel) where they lived.  “There are many other versions (as to the origin of the name), but this is the correct one,” said Cecil.
Despite G’s strong commitment to the HHH, he was not exactly the perfect athlete.  Cecil explained that he lagged behind and in one situation when the pack was caught in a falsie, he was able to finish first, and was very excited to have his moment.

They used to run around KL, and Maxwell Road came to his mind as the point where the jungle started.  They would drink beer mixed with ginger beer and ice out of tin bath tubs. He even recalled they ran once a week, initially on Friday.  Runs would be kept to about 1.5 hours, after which they would stand around talking and drinking.  The running was interrupted by World War Two, but when they returned to KL around March 1946, they restarted it.

There were ten of them in the original group of runners, but Torch Bennett missed the day when it was named as he was away on leave.  Therefore, only the following nine are known as the founding members:
1.      A.S. Gispert – G
2.      Cecil Lee
3.      Frederick ‘Horse’ Thomson
4.      Eric Galvin
5.      M.C. Hay
6.      Arthur Westrop
7.      Morris Edgar
8.      John Barret
9.      Harry Doig

No comments:

Post a Comment