How Palnge & Simbil built a new community
30 September 2021
| Ples Singsing
PORT MORESBY - My late mum, Agatha, would tell me stories of what transpired before her eyes in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
It was a time when pioneer Catholic missionaries established mission stations and schools in various parts of the Wahgi Valley and further into the Jimi and other places.
Agatha recalled the names of these missionaries - Father William Ross, Father Misik, Father Peter Van Andrichen, Sister Rose Bernadette and there were others.
The missionaries seldom visited our village, Ambang, a Catholic outstation east of Banz in the Wahgi Valley.
When they did visit, it was for multiple purposes: literacy training for illiterate and uncivilised locals, to conduct church services, setup new developments, and to see the operation and affairs of the church and the church agency school in our village.
At that time there were no trained Papua New Guinean teachers around so most of the teaching was done by white volunteers and missionaries, although there were a few local teachers from the coast.
The missionaries tried to teach the people Pidgin English so they could communicate with the local natives.
Mum recalled two young village men, Palnge and Simbil, being drafted by the missionaries from the native menfolk to undergo training as interpreters, catechists and church helpers.
When Palnge and Simbil returned from their training, they played a pivotal role and were influential in getting many jobs done in our church and school. They also had to look after the operation of the school as part of their responsibilities.
They took pride in their job as agents of the white missionaries and acting as middlemen. They were never at the same time absent from their job and they were never complacent about their work.
Mum said Palnge and Simbil were treated with respect and looked up to as two important men in the community.
They were charismatic and feared because of their shouted commands in Pidgin which always sounded frightening to members of the congregation and the school kids.
If any church member or school child was absent from class, community work or church service this would bother Palnge and Simbil, and they would hunt down the absentee and bring them into class or church.
Sometimes they would punish the misbehaving person, ordering them to recite the Holy Rosary a number of times or, for a school kid, give them a job to do or even belt the boys.
The growth of Ambang Catholic Mission and its agency school gradually took shape under their watchful eyes.
Mum also remembered these two energetic and faithful servants tasked with extra responsibilities by taking turns at running the church canteen from time to time.
With not many educated people around at the time, even the simple job as storekeeper seemed difficult to villagers.
But Palnge and Simbil didn’t find it hard as they had been taught simple mathematics calculations by the missionaries, so they managed just fine whenever required by the priest in charge.
If the two men found out during school assembly that 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. Mum recalled that as a very harsh punishment.
Other punishments were meted out to school kids who forgot to bring to school the required items or tools. The punishment was to walk back home and return with them.
The two men indeed had great impact in changing the primitive behaviour, attitudes and character of our people.
I would say Palnge and Simbil were the pillars in the development of our community in one way or another.
Palnge had a close relationship with with Father Misik and he and his wife named their second child, a baby boy, Misik. Misik Junior is now a middle aged man in our village.
Palnge and Simbil are now deceased and they were great nation builders. As the saying goes, ‘life as a leaf must fall, but memories as a tree live on’.
So although these two gentlemen are gone, their legacy still remains in our community of Ambang.
Colonial mission workers, especially catechists, were dedicated workers with discipline. They felt pride in their work and never ask for anything.
God has rewarded them for their sacrifice, humility and the love they have shown for their people.
Posted by: Philip Kai Morre | 06 October 2021 at 12:06 AM
Not by graphite sticks alone, Michael, but with sticks more steely?
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 01 October 2021 at 11:33 AM
The colonial times provided some folks with authority, power and privilege they might never have attained in the traditional setting.
Much the same way as a steel axe or a machete provided to a simple village transformed its building - and butchering - capacity.
I wonder if we have perpetuated this in the post colonial era.
Posted by: Michael Dom | 30 September 2021 at 05:35 PM