Tobias Bin Tahal - Tobias Bin Tahal's Story

Torres News Column: A Torres Strait Islander in Brunei – Tobias Bin Tahal’s story

I write a weekly column for my local paper; The Torres News. The column is called Ailan Yarns (translates to Island Chats) and it focuses on sharing positive stories from within the community. It also shines a light on local issues to give the community a chance to voice their opinions. Enjoy.

Published in The Torres News
Printed: 6th July 2018
Author: Kantesha Takai

Tobias Bin Tahal JNR (a.k.a Bully) had always dreamt of travelling the world. But, he never expected to live overseas. Bully has visited over 20 countries and has also lived in Canada. For the past four years, he’s lived in Kuala Belait, Brunei on Borneo Island, with his wife Cindy and two children Marley Rose and PK.

“PK has lived half of his life overseas, but always talks about TI because our last trip home was very memorable for him. Now that he’s older, he was able to go fishing and crabbing and he enjoyed himself on our last visit.”

Bully and his children are believed to be the only Torres Strait Islanders in the whole country of Brunei. So, they proudly share their culture and stories of home with the locals.

“Before we left, I bought cultural books from Monas to bring with me. So, when people ask me about where I’m from, I show them the books and they learn a bit about my culture.”

Bully was born in Mackay, with his dad working on the railway, before being raised in the Torres Strait. He visits home as often as he can. But, living in a different country does make things a little harder.

“I get homesick often, but I’ve taken to carving to keep me occupied. The shells I use are from the Torres Strait and I collect them when I visit. I’m starting to run out, so I need another trip home.”

Bully used to carve the Dhari, Dugongs and other tokens from the Torres Strait, but he now carves flowers and Brunei symbols that the locals can relate to.

“When I carve the Dhari or other things from home, I keep them for me and my family, because I know that the locals here won’t understand their significance.”

However, Bully is very passionate about sharing his culture with the Bruneian people and he hosts stalls at local market days and other events.

“The International Day is very big here. It’s where the school gets involved and everyone does something to represent their base country.”

Bully’s stall flies the Torres Strait flag proudly and it’s where he displays the Torres Strait books and sells his carvings.

“People come up to me and ask me about TI and it makes me feel really good to talk about home and our culture. I’ve even had Bruneian people look through the books and say that our culture is very similar in some ways, especially around cooking.”

Bully’s family have been very open to learning the Brunei culture and traditions too. It’s a strong Muslim country and is under the rule of a Sultan. Being Muslim, the Bruneian people practice Ramadan, a time where they fast for a long period of time. And, at the end of Ramadan every family has a massive feast that’s open to the public.

“Even the Sultan opens his palace after Ramadan. We’ve attempted to visit, but the lines are so long. We left early, but everyone left with a little gift.”

One of Bully’s best moments in Brunei was when he gifted one of his carvings to the Sultan’s wife.

“Cindy was invited to Her Majesty’s birthday party. She was nervous, not knowing what to give them. So, I quickly polished one of my Dhari carvings and Cindy brought it along and presented it to the Sultan’s wife. So, I’m proud to know that one of my carvings – and a bit of Torres Strait culture –  is in the Brunei palace.”

When presenting the carving, Cindy explained what the Dhari was and about the Torres Strait and where it was. She also explained that Bully had carved it from a Torres Strait shell and the Sultan’s wife was very pleased with such a special, hand-made gift.

Today, Bully also weaves and shares these pieces at events as well.

“People here love the coconut leaf hats, so I’ve made quite a few of them. I also teach the kids how to weave too.”

Traveling and living overseas has been exciting for Bully, but the Torres Strait will always be his home.

“From a young age I knew that no matter where I go, TI will always be there. That’s my home.”

Despite being so far away from home, Bully carries his culture and home close to his heart.

Thanks for sharing your story Uncle Bully.

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