How the Moluccans could have been part of the Korean War

Exile stamps

These days the Korean alphabet is being exported abroad as a possible letterset for nations without their own set of characters. If that initiative is going to make it or not has to be seen, but the only minor success so far has been amongst a group in Indonesian, the Cia-Cia on the island of Buton. But this is not the only connection between Indonesia and South Korea in recent history. The Indonesian car industry was basically Korean for instance. But there is another story, which neatly combines exile stamps with the Korean war, two subjects of particular interest to me.

Example of stamp produced by RMS

When Indonesia became independent not all parts of Indonesia wanted to be part of the Republic. The part which really didn’t want to become part of it were the islands known as the South Moluccas, around the main island of Ambon. Therefore, after Indonesia declared full independence from the Netherlands, several islands in the Moluccas declared independence from Indonesia, the largest and best known island being Ambon. (This is incidentally why people from the Moluccas are often also refered to as Ambonese people in the Netherlands.) They formed their own nation which they called the Republik Maluku Selatan (RMS). At first the Moluccans were successful, since they had the only military presence on the islands. The Ambonese had always had a lot of soldiers within the colonial army and these soldiers simply had to do in the Molucces what they were best at.

What happened next, including the postal history of this short period, is described in the book “Philatelic Witnesses” by Wolfgang Baldus, about which I will write in the future. Whatever else happened, by March 1951 the resistance was put to an end by the battle hardened troops of the Indonesian army and many Moluccans somehow managed to get away to the Netherlands. In the Netherlands the Moluccans set up a government in exile which went by the name of RMS. This government produced stamps on its own, for various reasons, and especially in the Netherlands and the US they can be easily found and bought at low cost. They never had any postal validity however and so they essentially fall into the same category as the other exile government stamps on this (and other) sites.

However, this is not were the story ends. The Moluccans, even to this day, never gave up their quest for independence. Sometimes things went from bad to worse, with a train and a school being hijacked for instance in the 70’s, but most of the time the Moluccans simply used political pressure to keep their message alive.

One of the less aggressive ways the Moluccans per sued their goals was by means of producing a promise to the United Nations, offering able bodied men as soldiers for the UN army fighting in Korea. When times were desperate for the UN army, in the first few months, the Moluccans reasoned that any man would be necessary and so maybe with this offer they could get the UN to look at their plea for independence. The Moluccans had a lot of experience and they were both fierce and loyal fighters, so as soldiers they would have done an excellent job, but it didn’t work, the offer was completely ignored. This postal piece is however a reminder of what happened during that period, in which the Moluccans, it must be said, were sadly abandoned by the Dutch when they, for once, needed the Dutch to come to their aid.

This particular piece came up on Ebay recently and the two scans are from Ebay. I didn’t bid high enough to actually win this lot, so this is the only way for me to show this postal piece. The piece has a front and back side. On the front is the text: “To reaffirm the offers of July 1950 and February 1951 of two thousand valiant, trained and freedom loving soldiers of Ambon to take up arms alongside the United Nations forces in Korea against aggression.” This side shows the stamps made by the RMS and it shows the date the cover was launched (30 October 1951, well after the Ambonese had lost their short lived independence). It also comes with a stamp showing the logo of the endeavor.

Front side of cover
Front side of cover

The back side of this postal piece shows a lot more text, a part of the United Nations Charter text. It is signed by the representative of the RMS in New York, Karel Nikijuluw. The piece was actually postally used, given the fact that it sports two UN stamps. It was send to the editor of the Philatelic Magazine in the UK.

Back side of cover
Back side of cover

So, there is the connection between a government in exile, their stamps and Korea: the Moluccans offered themselves to the UN, hoping to gain their independence in the process. Alas, it didn’t work and the Moluccan islands are still, today, part of Indonesia, despite all sorts of problems and the unceasing efforts of the Moluccans themselves for independence.


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