Indonesian Stamps: Pictorial Coins of the Realm: Part Two by Bill Dalton

There are few better ways to fathom the scope and breadth of Indonesia – a treasure house of art, cultural artifacts, ethnic traditions and natural wonders – than through the nation’s stamps. Stamps are a wonderful way to learn about the unique gamelan orchestra, colorful wayang theater, remarkable flora and odd and misunderstood wildlife.

Examples of subjects range from great painters like Affandi and Raden Saleh to a 1967 stamp series showing 11 images of unusual musical instruments: Dayak harp (petik hape) and Javanesegangsa gong. Wage Rufolk Supratman, who composed the music and lyrics for the national anthem “Indonesia Raya,” was honored in a stamp issued in 1997.

Distinct ethnic architecture is another dominant feature: Torajan high-peaked houses, Bandung’s magnificent art-nouveau Gedung Sate, the stately structures of University of Gadjah Mada, the great rambling wooden palaces of Nusatenggara, the stolid swooped-roofed tribal houses of the Batak as well as the graceful Minangkabau traditional rumah adat.

Indonesia is one gigantic natural history museum, so it’s only to be expected that its stamps highlight phenomena like Lake Toba – the largest volcanic lake in the world – the iconic Bromo-Semeru massif, the Mondolika coastline, the beautiful natural harbor of Labuhan Bajo and extraordinary endemic fauna and flora: the Bleeding Toad, Water Snowflakes, Pangolin and the Slow Lori.

A whole series of stamps celebrate the kancil mousedeer, Papua’s Birds of Paradise, Borneo’s hornbill and orangutan, NTT’s Komodo Dragon, the spectacular Ikan Raja Laut fish; an orchid-themed postage stamp as part of the Bogor Botanical Garden’s 200th anniversary and the one-of-a-kind plant species, the parasitic Rafflesia Arnoldii, the world’s largest flower.

Indonesia has more volcanoes than any other country, thus stamps mark two of the most cataclysmic eruptions in world history: Tambora on Sumbawa in 1815 and Krakatoa off west Java in 1883. This geologically unstable country’s stamps also warn of the dangers caused by natural disasters (bentjana alam) like earthquakes.

In the republic’s early years, getting the economy on its feet after the war of independence was crucial. To spur tourism, regional stamps highlight the rich culture of Bali and the many attractions and cultures of the Dayaks and the pristine Derawan Islands of Kalimantan that promised to fulfill everyone’s dream of a tropical paradise. Handicrafts like pottery and rattan weaving are frequent themes of stamps.

The government stamp office has never been shy about showing off historic milestones. Commemoratives were issued to honor press freedom day, the 100th anniversary of Java Man’s discovery’s (1889-1989) and the Borobudur Ship’s Expedition of 2005. As the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, Islamic traditions hold a special place in Indonesia’s philatelic repertoire. The Muhammadiyah religious movement’s founder K.H. Ahmad Dahlan (1868-1923) is the subject of one stamp. The Hindu epics in Javanese puppetry are often the subject of stamps: a dragon devouring the sun, characters from the Mahabharata, the story of Monkey General Hanuman, etc.

Postage stamps even serve as propaganda in Indonesia’s heritage culture wars with Malaysia. Though the origin of the angklung bamboo musical instrument is claimed by its neighbor, it undoubtedly belongs to Indonesia. A postage stamps of a child playing angklung was in circulation as far back as 1952.


Stamp Dealers, Associations, Museums

A dwindling number of businesses in Indonesia serve the waning global hobby known as philately. In one year alone, the 401 million letters and postcards sent in 2013 dropped to 322 million sent in 2014. It’s not easy to find stamp dealers in Indonesia and Bali is no exception. I couldn’t find one stamp shop on the island.

Pos Indonesia’s website doesn’t announce new stamp issues. Likewise, the uninspiring website of the Indonesian Philatelists Association (Perkumpulan Filatelis Indonesia or PFI) mostly lists its rules and regulations rather than display many of Indonesia’s beautiful and distinct stamps. Stamps are for sale on the association’s Facebook page, though they tend to be a bit overpriced.

Postal employees are helpful in explaining symbolism and themes on stamps. Larger post offices offer philatelic sales. One post office in Seminyak and the one in Ubud keep folders on hand of mint Indonesian stamp issues. The island’s main Denpasar Post Office on Jl. Raya Puputan in Renon in Denpasar has a philatelic counter. Starting at 9:30 am on the second week of every month, the PFI holds a Philately & Numismatic Bourse here with an auction, philatelist coaching and mini-exhibition. Contact Surya 081-755 -4032, email:

Last August, a major event that lured new collectors was the World Philatelic Exhibition (Pameran Filateli Dunia) hosted in Bandung, West Java. Attended by 52 delegations and 60 stamp dealers from 82 countries, there were presentations, bilingual historical exhibits, blown up portraits of national heroes, a Pos Indonesia booth and old artifacts like post boxes, delivery bicycles and vehicles. Hundreds of sets of special-edition stamps were printed to celebrate the occasion.

The venerable old Gedung Felatali in central Jakarta, built between 1912-1929 by Dutch architect John van Hoytema, is located on Jl. Pos, known as Post Weg in colonial times. Listed as a cultural heritage site, the PFI has made the building its base since 1997.

The Indonesian Stamp Museum (Museum Perangko Indonesia) in Jakarta’s Taman Mini Indonesia park houses stamp collections and dioramas highlighting postal history: a replica of the 1847 “Penny Black,” the world’s oldest stamp; events that inspired the designs of various Indonesian stamps as well antiquated means of transport used to carry mail such as VOC warships, pacalangvessels, horse carriages and two wheeled carts.


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