BY KELA KAPKORA SIL BOLKIN
THE MINGENDE CATHOLIC MISSION, built by the Society of the Divine Word in the Simbu area, was already well established by the end of World War II.
A catechist training school had also been built a kilometre away down at Kupwai for any Simbu men who aspired to become catechists. Men who were able to learn and speak Tok Pisin well were sent out as catechists to the different Simbu tribes to tell them about Christ.
Early one morning, Dama and his father Kone checked their hunting traps and returned with some rats to prepare for a later meal.
‘Men, any big catches?’ asked Yaire, their mission friend who had entered their fence with his badge of insignia hanging on his hairy chest.
‘Oh, man! It’s too early. What brings you here?’ asked Kone.
‘I am here to take your son to Kupwai,’ said Yaire. ‘I think he will make a good catechist.’
After much sweet talking Kone was finally convinced and agreed that Dama could go to the catechist school. Dama was among the last batch of Galkope men who were trained at Kupwai as catechists in the early 1950s.
In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen is the main prayer in the Catholic Church. Prayers like Pater Noster, Ave Maria, Credo and Salve Regina with the commandments and the articles of the Catholic faith were taught and said in Latin.
The trainees learnt the Latin prayers by heart. The Latin prayers and Eucharistic celebrations were changed to the current form in 1965 by the second Vatican Council.
Dama’s first posting as a catechist was at Genabona. He settled at Genabona and taught the Dom people about the messianic age, incarnation and redemption. He also taught the people many of the basic prayers of the Catholic Church.
The catechumens followed both the words and motions in the In Nomine Patris but some of them would touch their right shoulders before the left and Dama would cut in to help until they did it correctly.
That is how the word of God was spread in the fifties and sixties in the Galkope territory.
The villagers envied the catechists because they were close to the European priests. They also equated them with wealth and access to young women. As a young catechist at Genabona, Dama had to manage the long queue of young women who admired him.
Finally, giving in to human weakness, he ended up in a relationship with one of the many beautiful young women at Genabona.
One fateful night he went to Morwai’s hut. He crept into her bed as he done before. He sprinkled white men’s salt on his lips every time they kissed. Morwai, never having tasted salt before, thought the catechist was sweet.
That night, in their madness, Dama somehow broke the crescent shell she wore on her neck. That was an error of the highest ranking. Shells came from a faraway land called the nambis. They were invaluable in the Galkope territory.
Tine, the father of the girl realized that the shell was missing from her neck the next day.
‘Where is the shell that I bought with a pig?’
‘The catechist broke it,’ his daughter replied timidly.
‘The catechist broke it.’
‘You mean that good for nothing dog’s off-spring that the white men call a catechist,’ yelled Tine.
The daughter did not respond.
‘I’ll summon him to the padre at Neragaima because of this,’ said Tine.
On the morning of the next day, Tine, his daughter and Dama stood before the German priest at Neragaima.
‘This catechist of yours has broken my daughter’s crescent shell which I bought with a pig. I am very angry and want you to sack him after he has paid me compensation,’ said Tine.
Kol, the interpreter, who happened to be Dama’s maternal uncle translated.
‘Father, Tine said two things. First, he wants Dama to pay compensation for the crescent shell that he broke and secondly he wants Dama to be posted elsewhere because his daughter is already betrothed to another man.’
‘We can arrange that. Tell him that I will do as he asks,’ the priest replied.
‘The padre agrees with what you have said,’ the interpreter told Tine.
The old man nodded his head with satisfaction.
‘You don’t ever talk to this man again. The Golin people want you and gave us food,’ Morwai’s father shouted at her.
‘Dama, did you bring anything to compensate for the broken shell?’ asked the priest.
Dama handed an unbroken shell to the priest. The priest took it and gave the shell to Tine. Tine took it with satisfaction.
‘Right, now go and move your belongings to Konteu which is your new posting,’ the priest said.
‘Yes, Father,’ said Dama.
Tine learnt later that Dama had been posted to Konteu and not sacked as agreed. He was furious but could not tell the priest because he couldn’t speak Pidgin.
Late one evening after a catechumen class Dama left Konteu for Bemal to see his Catechist friend, Alua. He walked quickly but dusk had engulfed him by the time he passed Apakoa.
He crept on in the darkness for Bemal occasionally frightened by screeching owls. At the Dil Kopil and Bemal junction of the track he was stopped by a charming young girl standing beside a smoky fire near her hut.
‘It’s late. Where are you heading to in the pitch darkness?’ she asked.
Dama was startled by the beauty of the girl in the light of the flames.
‘I am trying to hurry in the darkness to Bemal to see a friend,’ said Dama.
‘Is it urgent?’ asked the girl with a shy smile.
Dama was captivated by her charm.
‘Not really. It is just unfortunate that I have to travel in the dark. I didn’t mean to but time caught up with me,’ answered Dama.
‘If you like, you can spend the night with me and go on your way tomorrow.’
‘You are very kind. I am very fearful of spirits in the dark. I will not refuse your offer.’
Dama jumped the fence into her yard. The girl led him inside her newly built hut. All the items inside the hut were new. The air in the hut smelled of fresh herbs.
‘Your parents must have built you a new hut and stocked it up with these lovely items,’ Dama said.
‘My parents are very kind. I am proud of them.’
‘Where do your parents live?’
‘They live some distance away up the hill. You can see the huts from here.’
Dama looked up the hill at the huts. ‘Your parents built your hut away from theirs. Wouldn’t it be better if your huts were closer?’
‘Oh, yes. I agree,’ the girl replied.
As they conversed it got late and Dama showed signs of fatigue.
‘You must retire to bed. I know you are tired,’ said the girl.
Dama crept into her lovely made bed. The girl buried the embers of the fire with ash and crawled into the bed and lay beside him. They embraced each other as all couples do.
It was very cold at third cockcrow and Dama felt it penetrating the marrow of his bones. He shifted closer to the girl and went to wrap himself around her to generate some heat but he couldn’t feel her.
He lifted his left hand and stretched it in the direction of where he thought she was lying but his hand only touched the cold earth. He opened his eyes. Dawn mellowed. He removed the cobwebs from his eyes.
‘Aaaaaaah!’ he yelled. He was extremely terrified to realise that he had slept outside on a mound of red soil and not in a hut with a young girl. Then he spotted some girls’ garments all covered in fungi and cobwebs under a wooden cross where he had slept.
‘Aaaaaah ah!’ he yelled again and ran for the nearest hut up the hill.
The occupants of the hut heard the yells. They ran out and looked down in the direction of the noise. Dama ran up to them with ochre skin and exhaustion.
‘What’s up man?’ asked an old man.
Dama, puffing said, ‘I was deceived by the spirit of a dead girl.’
‘Simna died a month ago and we buried her on the hill below. She must have seen you and invited you for the night,’ said the father.
Dama was engulfed with both fear and rage. He was unsure whether to pray to God or to his ancestral spirits for help. The testing time had come. He shivered as if he was at the top of Dik Pe.
‘I will surely die at any moment now,’ he cogitated. But death never came as he anticipated. His heart was still beating and he walked in the morning dew on towards to Bemal and his Bari land without greeting any passersby on the way.
‘I am already dead. What you see now is my spirit,’ bemoaned Dama when he arrived home.
‘Did you escape a tribal fight?’ asked the people with curiosity. Dama shook his head and reported the affair with the girl to the men in the men’s hut.
His father, Kone, swiftly tied a huge pig by one of its legs. They hurriedly took it to the girl’s grave site and killed it. A lump of soil was also collected from the site as a way of imploring Dama’s spirit to separate from the girl’s and return to him.
The pig was cooked in an earth oven. Its heart was prepared with ginger and special leaves. A traditional serenading chant was recited to beg for the help of the ancestral spirits.
Then Dama was given the pig’s heart to eat. He was reluctant to recite the In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen when the meal was served to him.