Not all well known interpreters were icons of virtue. Some ended up as notorious criminals, having taken undue advantage of their ability to speak many languages. Here are three such infamous interpreters.

Alexander Burns ended up being killed by Afghani nationals. A Scotsman, he moved to Bombay in 1821, where he taught himself Hindustani and Persian. He rose quickly through the ranks, and was sent by the British government up the Indus River to open it to Western shipping. His success garnered him significant acclaim and knighthood. He was then sent to Afghanistan, Turkestan, and Iran. In 1836 he reconnected with Dost Muhammad Khan in Kabul on a commercial mission, but Khan was replaced by the British (being too independent) and someone else named chief envoy. Burns got bored, started throwing extravagant parties, womanizing (a no-no in Muslim society), and ruining his reputation. Eventually an angry mob surrounded his home and hacked and burned him to death.

Boubou Penda disappeared after being arrested by the French in Guinea, Africa. He started as a Senegalese servant of French administrator, Ernest Noirot. With him he moved to the Juta Fallon region of Guinea, which France had taken over. He became an invaluable interpreter and a close confidante of Noirot, acquiring great influence, which scandalized the European and African communities. Eventually Penda became involved in the slave trade, targeting aristocratic African women, even to raping and imprisoning them. When he became brutal enough that his activities were depopulating the area, the French reformed the government, replacing Noirot and arresting Penda.

Felipillo is rumored to have been killed by Diego de Almagro, a Spanish conquistador and rival of Francisco Pizarro. Born around 1510 on a Peruvian island, Felipillo learned Quechua from neighboring Peruvians. When Pizarro invaded Peru, he took young Felipillo into his home and taught him to speak Spanish. Felipillo eventually helped Pizarro capture the Inca king, Atahualpa, under false pretenses. In time he implied, through interpretations, that Atahualpa was scheming to kill Pizarro, while secretly Felipillo was having an affair with one of his concubines. Pizarro killed Atahualpa instead of freeing him, which devastated the Inca Empire. Pizarro and Almagro then traveled to Ecuador and Chile, where Felipillo started telling native people that the Spaniards just wanted their gold. When Almagro found out he had Felipillo torn apart by horses.

Unlike the interpreters in these bios, Dialog One’s interpreters can be trusted, not only to interpret faithfully and well, but also to be good people. Be sure to call us when you need someone.