On, on! Hashing in the Caribbean

For some, the attraction of being outdoors is the fresh air, the scenery, the healthy exercise. For others, it’s the booze. Denise Chin on the attractions of the “sport” of hashing

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There’s a group of mainly goofball types, plus a few odd normal people, who spend every other Saturday afternoon chasing chalk marks or paper on the ground through a (usually) forested area, on trails left by “hares.” These runs are prefaced, punctuated by, and concluded with copious amounts of beer and other alcoholic beverages. They are deliberately set to mislead and confuse the participants into taking wrong turns. These intrepids are called the Hash House Harriers.

First, a little history. Hashing got its start in Malaysia in 1938 — when a group of British colonial officers and expats founded the Hash House Harriers, named after their clubhouse, in an attempt to combine exercise and alcohol. There are now around two thousand arms of the original group, in countries around the world.

The objectives of the Hash House Harriers, as recorded in 1950, say it all:

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

And the method of the game is still much the same. A week before the run, a group of hares set the course (a recce), then lead the pack at the start of the hash. They’re followed by the front-runners (the show-offs), then the semi-runners (the wannabes), and lastly the walkers (the losers or flower-pickers) bringing up the rear — or sometimes on an alternate path. Shouts of “On, on!” all through the hash tell the pack if they’re on the right path.

Here in the Caribbean, there are Hash House Harriers in almost every island — a quick Google search will send you directly to a website or Facebook page. Everyone is welcome, and the camaraderie and friendliness are both phenomenal and legendary. Visitors who are able to show up for only one run before flying back home are greeted like old friends. Here in Trinidad, we have expanded our talent circle to include an annual cross-dressing football tournament and a very solemn kaiso competition. Every year the hashers also take their special brand of crazy overseas, as an annual tour is also a must.

 

Hashing was first brought to Trinidad in 1984 by a gentleman named Peter Frearson, the founder of POSHHH (the Port of Spain Hash House Hariers), and initially it was a Saturday run. Since then, other runs have been born, such as the Monday evening road run (the HHMMM) for the over-achievers and the Thursday evening run (the Alzheimers Posse) for the old and downtrodden, who just really want to start drinking earlier in the week.

My own first hashing experience was in the hills of Paramin, north of Port of Spain. I foolishly thought this would be a breeze, as I considered myself relatively fit, and I was prepared to leave these unathletic-looking people in the dust. Two hours later, with legs screaming from those devil hills (and, I’m pretty sure, tracks of tears on my cheeks), I arrived back at the starting ground. As is the custom, I was identified as a virgin and “forced” to guzzle a beer (what sort of penalty is that, anyway?). This was my introduction to an amazing group of people whom I consider friends and allies, and who welcomed me with open arms right from the get-go.

Our beloved “Down-Down” after-run song captures the camaraderie:

Here’s to the hashers, they’re true blue
They are hashers through and through
They are hashers so they say
And they’ll never get to heaven in a long, long way
So drink it down, down, down

Here’s my advice. If you enjoy a little adventure, don’t mind some heckling, can keep up with the pack, have a Saturday afternoon free for fun, and can drink (or else they’ll whisper behind your back . . .), look up a Hash House Harriers club in your area. Your legs may not thank you, but you’ll make some friends for life.