Thankful for three loving fathers

Fr Philip Gibbs and Rosa Tand during the anniversary celebrations in Madang.

DWU Journalism student
EARLY missionaries to Papua New Guinea worked really hard to educate countless numbers of people to be successful in the professions, business, politics and in private life.
One such person is Rosa Tand, a veteran primary school teacher from Enga who has been teaching for 28 years.
“I wouldn’t be a teacher if it wasn’t for SVD Catholic missionaries who came to my village at Par and employed my father many years ago,” she said.
“I will keep supporting the church so long as I live.”
Tand made this bold declaration at Alexishafen in Madang on Aug 13 , 2021 during celebrations to mark 125 years of work by missionaries of the Society of Divine Word (SVD) in PNG.
Many people gave gifts on the occasion to show their appreciation for the tireless efforts put in by the SVD missionaries to contribute to the development of this country to the stage it is in today.
Rosa Tand’s present was a large pig. She explained at length why she chose the pig as a gift and not something else.
“The pig plays an important role in Enga culture. My people continue to domesticate the pig today. In olden times, it used to be housed in the middle section in traditional homes in the same quarters where women slept.
“The pig is not a good pet like cats and dogs. It easily walks into a family garden and destroys it. It doesn’t know that from this garden food is harvested to feed the family – and the pigs themselves.
“In order to restrict its movement, strong ropes are used to tie one of the pig’s legs to a stake.
“Enga people were preoccupied with killing and destroying each other for millennia. They never realised that life is precious and they were created in the image of God. They were meant to live in peace with their neighbours and enjoy everything God created.

Fr Tony Sohmorst in Wabag with an elder from the Sari Catholic mission.

“When the Divine Word missionaries came to Enga, the people settled down. They were sort of tamed and domesticated. They were tied down with a strong rope. That rope is the Word of God – the Divine Word that became man – Jesus Christ. His death on the cross to redeem mankind is celebrated at every mass.”
Tand believes she wouldn’t be teaching today if it wasn’t for two early SVD missionaries, namely Fr Tony Somhorst and Fr Philip Gibbs who preached the word of God to her people. She considers them her dads too because they greatly influenced her young life when she grew up.
Her success story actually stretches back to the time of her own father, Palus Pukae. Her dad’s early association with the missionaries ensured she went to school and trained as a teacher.
Palus Pukae was born at Par village unaware of the world outside until the missionaries arrived in his area. They established a mission station at Par among the Mulyo tribe of the Aubum valley in Enga. Two of the early Divine Word missionaries he worked with were Fr Tony Somhorst and Fr Philip Gibbs, the current president of Divine Word University.
The very first and most famous of early missionaries to come to the Highlands region was the American, Fr William Ross, SVD who had walked across the mountains from their base at Alexishaven in Madang to establish the first Catholic mission at Rabiamul in Mt Hagen.
In 1941 John Clarke established a government patrol post at Wabag but it was closed when war came. It was re-opened four years later in 1946.
That was about all the outside contact the people of Wabag had until 1948 when missionaries from many church denominations including Fr Jerry Bus SVD poured into the area. Fr Jerry Bus had just been ordained a priest that same year. He had been assigned to the Wabag area in New Guinea.
As Fr Jerry was still inexperienced, he asked and got a ‘wantok’ SVD missionary to help him. He was Fr Tony Cruysberg who agreed even though he was ready to go on home leave.
Fr Tony spent three months with Fr Jerry to give him a good introduction.
Fr William Ross had established a mission station at Pombopus in Wapenamanda and that is where the two Dutch missionaries headed first.
From Wapenamanda, they went west searching for land to establish a mission station in his assigned area in Wabag. Fr Jerry Bus and Fr Tony Cruysberg walked past Wabag patrol post to Kopen. There they met two local Nemane tribesman – Thadius Kaka Menge and Pupukaine.
They gave them land to establish a mission station at what is now Kopen Secondary School. Fr Jerry returned later to build the first church in the area but for now, the two Dutch missionaries turned back. The area beyond that point was restricted by the colonial government. But they had identified suitable sites to build new mission stations, one of which was Par where mission workers like Palus was recruited.
After restrictions were lifted many mission stations had been established in many parts of Enga. Fr Tony Somhost had been assigned to Paiela, a remote government outpost near Porgera.
One day Fr Somhorst came to Par to collect information and compile reports for his superiors in Mt Hagen. Fr Somhorst proposed to Palus if he could accompany him to Paiela Catholic mission. He accepted the invitation without any hesitation. When they arrived, he was introduced to Fr Philip Gibbs who worked there as a seminarian.
Soon, Fr Somhorst and Fr Philip Gibbs saw his potential and trained him as an aid post orderly at the mission aid post. That was in the late 1960s.
All this time, Palus was still a bachelor. When he was about 38 years of age, he married a young girl from Paiela. Her name was Josepha Lepa. She was much younger than Palus.
In 1973 Rosa was born to the couple. The missionaries noticed Josepha’s potential too and trained her as a primary school teacher. She was one of the first people from Paiela to train as a teacher. She worked for over 40 years before she passed on in 2018.
Rosa grew up under the watchful eyes of Fr Somhost and Fr Gibbs. At some stage Fr Gibbs went back to New Zealand for his ordination and came back to Paela to serve as a full-time priest. She regarded all three: Fr Somhorst, Fr Gibbs and Palus as her three ‘dads’.
Rosa said “I was raised by three of the most loving fathers in the world. I was loved and cared for equally by all three of my fathers.”
In 1985, she had to part ways from the two missionaries when her father decided to move back to Par to continue on with his work as an aid post orderly.
However, when she was in primary school, Rosa was still in close contact with Fr Somhorst and Fr Gibbs when they came regularly to Par to report or to collect supplies. Par was the new headquarters of SVD operations in Enga.
She did not lose contact when she attended Sir Tei Abal Secondary School and later when she trained at Gaulim Teachers college in Rabaul, East New Britain.
Rosa really wanted to serve her own community at Par Catholic mission so after she graduated with a Diploma in Primary Teaching in 1993, she applied for a position there and easily got accepted.
Ten years later in 2013, following her father Palus’ death her mother Josepha left Par and went back to Paiela. Rosa did not follow her mum but kept working at Par Primary School. She was by now married to Norbert Pingin Tand. They have three children.
Palus was dead but she still had her other two fathers – Fr Somhorst and Fr Gibbs.
Rosa said she would continue to serve the church and hold high regard for the SVD society in PNG because through them she was able to gain an education. Her parents worked with them which enabled them to pay for her school fees and a decent Christian home to grow up in.
“If my father was not brought up to Paiela by Fr Tony Somhorst and trained as an aid post orderly, he wouldn’t have met my mum who was later trained as a school teacher through the church. I am glad, I followed in my mother’s footsteps to also become a teacher.
“I owe the SVD missionaries a debt of gratitude for training my parents APO and community school teacher with no formal education. I hope my children will continue to serve the church for through the work of the missionaries, my family has been greatly blessed.”