By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer
Hashing traces its origins back to the 1930s, when a group of British civil servants organized a series of fun runs in Kuala Lumpur. Those harriers viewed running as a way to socialize in between drinks. They started and finished their runs at the Royal Selangor Club Chambers, nicknamed the Hash House for its tasteless food, thus referring to themselves as the Hash House Harriers.
After the end of World War II, the practice of hashing spread throughout SouthEast Asia, and was brought home to the rest of the world by returning soldiers. The close relationship between hashing and drinking brought a new definition to a hash club as a "drinking club with a running problem."
Hashing is loosely modeled after the English game of hares and hounds. Before the start of a hash, a runner receives the designation of hare, and is given a reasonable head start. The hare is expected to mark a trail with flour or chalk for the hounds to follow. The hounds follow the trail, usually a few miles long, and always ending at a tavern. There, the runners celebrate by drinking, which is their reason for running in the first place.
The only rule of hashing is that there are no rules. The hare can trace a trail through city streets, shopping centers, parks, swamps, cow pastures, and even storm water tunnels. The hounds follow because there may be beer on the way, and there is always beer at the end.
As the hounds in the chase pack follow the trail, they shout their distinctive cry On-On. That cry indicates that they have found the trail, and alerts the hare of their approach. The hare's goal is to reach the finish tavern before the hounds, to avoid the embarrassment of getting caught.
If the hounds catch up with the hare, tradition requires him to sit bare butt on a block of ice in the tavern while the victorious hares celebrate and drink. The hare gets a larger lead and another chance to plan a trail the following week at the next hash. If, on the other hand, the hare makes it back to the tavern safely, then the last finisher among the hounds assumes hare duties.
The run itself is a community effort, with the whole group working together on finding the trail and catching the hare. A clever hare plans a trail that goes through several taverns, giving the hounds additional beer stops and himself more time to avoid capture. When a route forks and the flour marks are unclear, the hounds split in two or more groups to search for the next mark, and reassemble at the shout of On-On when one group finds the mark.
Often enough, a hasher makes the news by being arrested on suspicion of possessing a controlled substance. Concerned citizens observing a man throwing handfuls of white powder rush to lock their dogs and cats indoors, and call the police, mistaking the flour for rat poison, or worse. Invariably, the hasher is released, after diverting the hash trail through a public safety building or a police station.
Each Hash House Harriers club has its own character that evolves with the character of its members. Some clubs use live hares exclusively, meaning that the hare must mark the trail on the run. Other clubs allow the hare to plan and mark the trail in advance, then run it without the burden of flour sacks.
Another of the rituals of hashing involves the selection of a hash name, used to conceal the identity of hashers in news reports and club newsletters. A hasher gets a hash name after completing five runs, although some hashers qualify sooner by doing something really stupid. Hash names may refer to prominent body features describing the hasher, such as Hot Buns or Stick Legs, or describe a hasher's unusual stupidity, as in Cow Brains.
In Syracuse, hashers have organized as the On-On-Dog-A Hash House Harriers. They hold occasional hash runs at unusual times and odd places. Look them up on the web, if you care to join them, or just keep an eye for flour marks at your neighborhood corners.
Kamal Jabbour prefers computer code hashing. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at firstname.lastname@example.org.