Hashing: Born in Malaysia

  • Living
  • Friday, 14 Nov 2014

A 1938 picture of the original Hash House in downtown Kuala Lumpur. (Left) An AGM photo of the Hash House Harriers from 1959.

Malaysia has the distinction of founding one recreational and social sporting activity that has now spread to all corners of the world.

Yes, the cradle of hashing is right here in Kuala Lumpur. It was late 1938, in pre-war Malaya, when a bunch of British expatriates grouped together for a “hare and hounds” run, a traditional paperchase game popular in their home country. Granted, they had other, more liquid, reasons apart from mere exercise, but from such humble beginnings grew the sport of hashing.

This first club was named simply Hash House Harriers. The first two words were a nickname for their usual lodging place – the Selangor Club Chambers - which served repetitive, monotonous food (hash). Thus, a name proffered in jest, and also for its alliterative rhyme, was to become a popular recreational movement.

Hashing is unique, for it is non-competitive; in fact, in the course of the runs, obstacles known as “checks” are placed to impede the faster runners and allow slower ones to catch up. Hashing is essentially an off-road sport, and most runs are set in estates or plantations, jungles, orchards, or combinations thereof, allowing one the perfect opportunity to commune with nature.

An AGM photo of the Hash House Harriers from 1959.

Today, there are an estimated 4,000 hash chapters in more than a hundred countries worldwide, of which some 400 are found in Malaysia. The sport has no central authority, and no hard and fast rules, which accounts for its immense popularity among adherents. Social fraternising among members is an important element, which accounts for its infamy for boisterousness. Many hash clubs have whole families as members.

The founding hash is still very active today; last year, the Motherhash celebrated its 75th anniversary, and over 1,000 alumni came from all over the world for the occasion. For many, it was a pilgrimage, too, coming back to the bosom to experience the Eden of hashing.

Due to its simplicity, hashing can be held anywhere – be it in the jungles and plantations of Malaysia, the streets of London, the lychee hills of Guangdong, onboard an aircraft carrier in the open seas, in a copper mine deep in the Papua New Guinea jungle, or simply in the African savannah.

Come rain or shine, at the prescribed starting time, hashers will muster and set off to the call of “On On!”

History of hashing

“Tumbling” Bill Panton, the grand old man of hashing who first got involved with the sport innocuously in 1954, has finally retired after a continuous run of 60 years in his beloved sport. 

Panton joined the Hash House Harriers when it was still the only club of its kind, in the days before the movement spread its wings outside Malaya. As he fondly recollects, an invitation to join a hash run that started just outside Kuala Lumpur back in 1954 was almost turned down, and for good reason!

After all, his work as a soil engineer took him into the plantations, mines, and jungles almost daily, and he found it amusing that he should foray into the same territory for exercise after work!

Providence prevailed, however, and the hashing world is richer for it, for Panton relented and joined the hash. He also became founder of two hash chapters in Bangkok and Washington. In starting these hash chapters, Panton helped in the process of the hash’s diaspora around the world, for these two hashes further begot new chapters of their own.

Hashing would not be the same without the foresight and dedication of Bill in single-handedly initiating, collating, maintaining and updating the Hash Genealogy, a tracking project that traces the ancestry of each hash chapter and its linkages all the way to the founding hash chapter in Kuala Lumpur.

This is a mammoth task that only Panton, with his longstanding hash citizenship, extensive contacts, intense travelling and relentless pursuit of hashing, could marshal. 

May Panton find companionable harmony and peace in his retirement.

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Hashing: Born in Malaysia


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