The two interpreters – Palnge and Simbil 


According to stories by my deceased mum, Agatha, of what had transpired before her eyes in the late 60’s and early 70’s, this story starts in her recalling of first and pioneer Catholic missionaries namely Father William Ross, Father Misik, Father Peter Van’ Andrichen, Sister Rose Bernadette and other pioneer Catholic missionaries who set foot into the Waghi Valley in establishing mission stations and first schools in various parts of the  Waghi area and further into Jimi and other places.

Mum still recalled fond memories of first Catholic missionaries paying seldom visit to our village, Ambang, another Catholic outstation located east of Banz town in the Waghi Valley. The visits were for multiple purposes, such as to conduct literacy training for illiterate and uncivilized locals in our community, or to conduct church service and for other reasons as to setup new developments, see the operation and affairs of the church and the operation of church agency school in our village.

According to mum, at that time there were no local PNG trained teachers around so most of the teaching jobs were taken up by white volunteers and missionaries including few first local teachers from down the coast.

At that time, mum recalled two young village men namely Palnge and Simbil being drafted by Catholic missionaries to undergo training so they could help out with their workload and into doing other things. Since most natives were living a primitive and stone age lifestyles.

The early missionaries tried their utmost best by teaching them Pidgin English so they could have communication link among the local natives to enable easier interactions and the flow of everything else for their convenience as well as for the local natives’ convenience.

Fortunately Palnge and Simbil were picked out of the native men-folk to undergo training for the interpreter, catechist and church helper job.

After Palnge and Simbil underwent training, mum said, these two men in fact played a more pivotal role and were more influential in getting as many jobs done as catechists, interpreters and helpers in our local church and school. While doing their jobs the two men also had to look into the operation of the church agency school as part of their added responsibility.

So, in taking pride of their job as agents of the white missionaries and acting as middle men the two men were never at one time absent from their job or showed complacency towards church or school work.

According to mum’s further account Palnge and Simbil were treated with respect and looked up to as two important men in the community by everyone. That was as a result of a significant role they played for the local church and school.

Mum could remember one thing as significant about Palnge and Simbil. They were more charismatic and feared because of their shout of commands and orders in Pidgin language which sounded every time as frightening to members of the congregation and school kids.

If any church member or a school kid is found to be absent for class, community work or church service this would bother the two men (Palnge and Simbil) and they would go out to hunt down the absentee and bring him or her into class or church area. Or they would severely punish the misbehaving person.

For a church member who misbehaved they would order him or her to recite the Holy Rosary for a number of times. For a school kid they would belt him up or in giving him a job to do as a form of punishment.

While overseeing the growth of Ambang Catholic Mission and its agency school developing and gradually taking shape over the time under their watchful eyes mum could remember these two energetic and faithful servants were then tasked with extra responsibility by taking turns at manning the church canteen as storekeeper from time to time.

With not as many educated people were around at the time the simple job as storekeeper seemed another difficult job. But for Palnge and Simbil they couldn’t find it hard as they were taught simple math calculations by early missionaries. So they managed the job of a storekeeper at the church canteen whenever required by the priest in charge.

One thing mum recalled as very harsh for the school kids was when the two men found out during school assembly time if someone had not taken a full shower in the morning. They would order that person to dive into the nearby Banz River for a full bath.

Another punishment, for someone who forgets to bring to school requested items or tools, the two men would order the kids to go back home and return with the item or tool.

The two men’s harsh punishment and strong words of command at that time were helpful for the expatriates and few local teachers from down the coast in making their job a lot easier.

What the two men did indeed had great impact in changing the bad and primitive behavior, attitude and character of people. So, reflecting on these two men and their work in the late 60’s and early seventies, as interpreters, catechists’ and helpers in the two institution of Ambang Catholic Church and community school, I would say the two men were  pillars in the development of our community in one way or another.

By the way, according to further history, Palnge’s interactions with Father Misik deepened when he and his wife named their second child ‘Misik’ after the birth of a baby boy. Misik junior is now a middle age man in our village.

Anyway, hearing the story of these two deceased gentleman, I would say, they were in fact also great nation builders. As the saying goes, ‘life as a leaf must fall but memories as a tree lives on’, so though these two gentlemen are gone their legacy still remains in our community.

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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