After the spice prices had dropped (in the late nineteenth century), human labour became the main export product. This mainly involved the Christian part of the population. The Ambonese, as the Moluccans were called then, were employed all over the Dutch East-Indies as civil servants, teachers, assistant preachers or soldiers in the Dutch colonial army (KNIL). Moluccans within the KNIL held privileged positions for a long time. They fought alongside the Dutch against the Japanese during World War II. During the fight for decolonisation that followed, many Moluccans joined the KNIL.
After the transfer of sovereignty, the KNIL was disbanded. The Moluccan soldiers were offered a choice between demobilisation or a transfer to the new Indonesian army. Some chose the latter, while others refused to make a choice.