Sunday, September 15, 2013

Stamps Tell the Story of a Place: Maldives

Stamp collecting is a hobby that takes you out into the world and gets you connected to other places. Stamps are more than just postage, they carry messages about people and what they are like and what they value. Most stamp collectors and clubs are ready to help young people get going in the hobby, so find one and have that collector show you how the hobby works.
To show this let me take the example of the Maldives. Islands just southwest of India, they are rather unknown by most people. What can be learned about them by stamp collecting?
They once were British colonies and would have some ties to Britain today. The stamp above is indicative of the method by which colonies picked up post offices. Early colonial stamps were often from other colonies (Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, in this case) or the colonial power with a new colonies' name imprinted on the top. Especially when using stamps from the colonial power they marked the outside influence, as in the King here.

This is the first local stamp from 1908. Note the Middle Eastern looking tower (Minaret of Juma Mosque) and the four languages on the stamp. This shows some cross-cultural nature to the islands. Obviously the colonial power is shown (by the English), but Arabic and other South Asian languages indicate involvement with India and the fact that the Maldives are Islamic. Islam arrived as part of the giant spread of the faith in the centuries after the times of Mohammed.  with Islam came Arabic.

The physical side is illustrated by this stamp of tropical fish. They have a number of fish oriented issues. Being islands fish are likely a major local food. Other elements show would be such as trees, butterflies, and birds.  The physical environment is important as tourism is a major business.  They have pristine beaches with wide ocean views.
Soccer on this stamp indicates a British time, or at least European. elements of culture show up on stamps. The major local game is taken from Europe. The culture was once dominated by the British.
On a different track is the fact that many small nations with limited industrial opportunities sell stamps to collectors on a wide variety of topics. Many of these have nothing to do with the Maldives or that other spots, but they are exploiting the topical interests of stamp collectors to raise money. Mickey Mouse is not theirs, but many collectors exist who buy anything Mickey. The same is true of Elvis, living presidents of the US, princess Diana, and a wide list of general things like, nude art, movie stars, birds, fish, and such.
So just by looking at a countries' stamps, you have a geography unit in the making. Some might find a lifelong hobby that puts foreign places right in front of you.  You can certainly find geographers who got their interest in the field by collecting stamps and learning where all those strange places were.

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