Burru: Combs from the Strait’s Past
When christian missinoaries firstcame to the islands of the Torres Strait, they brought the first real introduction to western culture with them. Ordinary household objects to the missionaries were foreign to the Islanders, who attempted to take on aspects of the western lifestyle.
“The first missionaries brought hair combs with them, but they were designed for fine European hair, and would stick in the Islander’s thick, curly hair,” NPA Artist Brett Aniba said.
“So the Islanders designed their own combs, with thicker teeth, designed for their own hair.”
Brett Aniba, a master carver, painter and craftsman from Seisia community in the NPA, has begun carving beautifully designed traditional style combs, based on the combs created by his Torres Strait Ancestors.
“They called them Burru Island Combs, to describe the sharp teeth” Brett explains, “from the Torres Strait language word ‘burru‘, which means sharp.”
The comb’s large teeth are spread widely to accommodate for thick hair and curls, and finished with a large, ornate handle.
On the handle, Brett carves stories and images from his ancestors of Saibai Island and the Strait.
“It’s a new medium for me to share my culture,” Brett said, “the comb itself tells a story of our history, and the carvings make it beautiful for women’s hair, while sharing the stories of our ancestors.”
Within days of creating the first comb, Brett was approached by a number of community members requesting combs with specific designs for special gifts and hair accessories.