The Secret Life of a Caribbean Hariette


For those of you who are wondering what kind of leaf I might be smoking, the definition of hashing is thus:

Hashing originated in December 1938 in Kuala Lumpur, then in the Federated Malay States (now Malaysia), when a group of British colonial officers and expatriates began meeting on Monday evenings to run, in a fashion patterned after the traditional British paper chase or “hare and hounds”, to rid themselves of the excesses of the previous weekend.

The objectives of the Hash House Harriers as recorded on the club registration card dated 1950:

  • 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

Hashing died out during World War II shortly after the Invasion of Malaya, but was restarted in 1946 after the war by several of the original group, minus A. S. Gispert, who was killed on 11 February 1942 in the Japanese invasion of Singapore, an event commemorated by many chapters by an annual Gispert Memorial Run.

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

That’s what it’s about. But here’s what it’s actually LIKE:

You get a message on Facebook, telling you what time to show up. You strap on your well-worn hiking and/or running shoes, and pack a bottle of water. Then, you drive or take a bus to said location. When you get there, you’ll most likely encounter a veritable melting pot of milling hashers (male) and hariettes (female), laughing and joking like old chums regardless of whether or not they’ve met before.

Note: back home (in Oregon), I was used to a much smaller group. Hashing in the US, after all, is somewhat of a niche activity practiced mainly by those who are 18-40 years of age and in prime physical condition. That is not the case with foreign hashers.

In the Caribbean, hashing is a sport for all ages, nationalities and levels of physical prowess. Last week, I personally lugged a 75-year-old Pakistani woman from the Peace Corps up and down several large, jungle-ridden hills, because she’d never hashed before and wasn’t prepared for our tropical definition of a “walkers trail.” (Note: back home, there was only one trail interspersed with beer stops along the way.) Here in the Caribbean, there are at least 3 trails: the “runners” trail–on which there is always at LEAST one vertical climb assisted by rope…or not, and on which you’ll probably die if you haven’t attempted one before–the “walkers” trail, which is more of a very strenuous hike up many, many hills and valleys and sometimes through graveyards and various sketchy alleyways, and the “iron man” trail–which is basically suicide, unless your name is Kirani James. In other words, a Grenadian hash is NOT for people who just like to drink beer. You have to LOVE to drink beer, and be willing to traverse 3-6 miles of treacherous terrain in order to even REACH said beer.

So. Once you’ve reached the melting pot, and you’ve milled around for a while…there will probably be a speech of sorts, wherein the Hash Master will regale all the virgins (aka first time hashers) with tales of his entirely made up exploits and/or the upcoming perils of the day’s hash. At the end, there’s a war cry that goes a little something like this: “On, on!” And then everyone takes off into the brush, at various speeds ranging from an all-out sprint to a leisurely stroll.

For the next several hours, depending on which trail you’ve chosen, you will attempt to trudge/rocket along a predetermined path which will often be marked very badly with bits of trash (i.e. shredded paper) or faded lines of chalk. Sometimes–like today–the hare (or person who pre-ordained the route) will get drunk beforehand and decide to mark the trail with enigmatic one liners or obscene pictures, instead of arrows. And you won’t know where you’re going until you’ve gotten there. Or you havent.

At the end of the trail(s), if you haven’t yet died of exertion, heat stroke, or been irrevocably lost in the brush, you’ll arrive back where you started. (Slightly worse for wear, if you’re lucky.) Only now, the ragtag assembly has become an all-out Bacchanalia of drunkenness and self-congratulation. With dogs, and kids. And an awards ceremony that knights people with ridiculous nicknames, but only if they’ve f****ed up in some epic way. It’s a very bizarre hobby, steeped in even more bizarre and off-putting traditions. It’s difficult as hell, and can be extremely dangerous if you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.

So at this point, you might be asking, WHY do I take part in this malarkey?

Because, after it’s all over, it’s actually REALLY FUN. Seriously. (You might have to take my word for it.)