SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE. Sao Tome: The Portuguese colony of Sao Tome and Principe gained independence on July 12, 1975. Since then, as a free Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe, the island nation has been issuing postage stamps in large numbers on a variety of themes and countries.
The first postage stamps made their appearance in Sao Tome and Principe in 1869. The stamps were basically colonial types that were issued by Portugal for its colonies.
The country has also been issuing topically oriented, colourful and interesting stamps primarily for stamp collectors.
The themes of the stamps have a mind boggling range – flora & fauna, butterflies to prehistoric creatures, space to battlefields, natural wonders to music, cultures and customs to Japanese nude paintings, world personalities, milestones and commemorative events.
The bilateral engagement between India and Sao Tome is growing. However, there is only a small Indian community (less than 30) in Sao Tome and Principe. Besides, India’s resident Mission was opened just a year ago. And yet, far away Sao Tome has issued more than 50 stamps in celebration of India’s culture, personalities, achievements and milestones.
It is no surprise that a universal personality like Mahatma Gandhi figures prominently in several special stamps issued by Sao Tome.
A stamp on the occasion of International Year of Peace was issued in 1986 featuring Mahatma Gandhi.
On the occasion of 60th and 70th anniversary of India’s Independence, Sao Tome issued four stamps – one each on Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Gautama Buddha and Indira Gandhi.
In 2008, four special stamps were issued under the International Year of Reconciliation, which featured Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi along with Pope and Dalai Lama.
Gandhi was also included under their ‘Humanities Series’, along with Mother Teresa and other world figures.
It is clear that Sao Tome holds Mother Teresa in high esteem. In 2019, Saotome issued a special stamp to commomerate the 40th anniversary of Mother Teresa receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.
A very interesting stamp series was issued in 2014 that portrayed Jawaharlal Nehru with other important world personalities like Mother Teressa, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi and Queen Elizabeth in separate stamp issues.
The life and achievements of India’s first women Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi have also been honoured by Saotome in their 2007 issues.
However, out of all the stamps, one of the most heart-warming commemorative stamp series issued was the one recognizing the success of the Indian space program, especially INSAT 1C.
Another stamp glorified the achievements of noted Indian space scientists, including former President Abdul Kalam, Mahatma Gandhi, Vikram Sarabhai and Rakesh Sharma (Chandrayaan 2009).
A 2019 stamp was dedicated to the Nobel Prize winners of 2019, which included Abhijit Banerjee.
Another 2019 stamp highlighted the achievements of Chess Grandmasters which included Indian-origin Grandmaster Anish Giri. Anish Giri is a Russian born Dutch Grandmaster with Indian roots.
There is also a stamp commemorating the arrival of Vasco da Gama in Vasco and the Portuguese-Goa connection. Vasco da Gama often shortened to Vasco, is a city in Goa named after the Portuguese explorer.
Both Goa and Sao Tome being former Portuguese colonies, it was expected that Sao Tome Philately would underline that connection.
It is also gratifying to note Sao Tome published two iconic stamps in 2013 to celebrate the success of Bollywood cinema featuring Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan, Veteran singer Asha Bhosle, Indian nightingale Lata Mangeshkar, Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, and some actresses.
The stamp series on Indian Railways is also significant as it is an acknowledgement of its contribution to Indian economy.
But two special stamps might evoke immense interest among most Indian readers.
Perhaps an indication of international interest in the Indian festivals of Navratri and Durga Puja, Sao Tome issued a special stamp on 21 May, 2015 on Goddess Durga.
The limited edition collectors’ stamp commemorates both Navratri and Durga Puja. The stamp depicts Goddess Durga sitting atop a tiger and includes special features such as a velvet effect and Swarovski crystals. Only 1,500 copies of this odd shaped miniature sheet with a round stamp, were issued.
The stamp about the commemoration of 390th Anniversary of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj issued in 2011. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was the founder of the Maratha Empire in western India. He is considered to be one of the greatest warriors of India.
It is inexplicable that several obvious themes and ideals that exemplify India’s soft power (Yoga, Ramayana, Diwali, Tea medicine, etc) have been overlooked.
But Sao Tome Philately has done well to publish some iconic stamp series that does capture important milestones and achievements of Independent India.