We often wonder what life could be like without men, well on this little Baltic island its a reality, however, it’s colorful and joyful existence is threatened by a population in decline…
Dressed in matching striped skirts, the elders in the Kihnu Museum on the tiny Estonian island, reflected on a favorite thought…
What hasn’t a Kihnu woman done?
While sipping coffee, the Kihnu women, in the absence of men, are fixing tractor engines, performing church services, when of course the Russian Orthodox priest wasn’t available.
So far, there has been only one single job no one can claim…
It was during the 19th century that men began to melt away into the past, because of their jobs at sea, fishing and hunting seals, they were away months at a time!
Kihnu women ended up being in sole charge of the island. Traditional female roles began to include anything their society needed to thrive and get along normally.
Eventually, this started to be ingrained in Kihnu heritage too, as Unesco noted when it inscribed aspects of the culture on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008, amazing!
Sadly though the population is now shrinking as islanders begin to slowly move away, mainly because of the lack of jobs, logically…
As well as that changes in the fishing industry are bringing a new problem, the men are coming home for much longer periods of time, so don’t even leave anymore.
Mare Matas, the president of the Kihnu Cultural Space Foundation, said:
“We will have to commercialize eventually, but the question is which way is best for us”
She is very keen on promoting and protecting the islanders’ history and traditions through events, festivals and educational initiatives, this is super important for the island too.
Like many Kihnu women, Ms. Matas is a dynamic and multitasking as well as fierce about preserving her heritage. In addition to many other island issues, she is the current lighthouse keeper and an island tour guide too!
An apron worn over a Kihnu skirt signifies a married woman and Ms. Matas’s husband, a fisherman, was away at sea, of course!
When asked how many of the island’s estimated 300 year-round residents are men, Ms. Matas paused to count in her head.
Kihnu society gets along on the whole as a tight-knit family, that does come with all of the typical big family behavior too.
There is a clear hierarchy in Kihnu, it goes like this:
…children, community and, lastly, men!!
A resident, Ms. Aav, said:
“We have totally different mentalities than people on the mainland. Kihnu women always want to do what is best for the family, especially the children”
Ms. Aav also said:
“Mass tourism is not good for Kihnu …We want cultural tourism, people who are really interested in our culture, our lifestyle, how we are living. If they’re interested, they’re welcome, but they must accept it.”
As a woman on Kihnu, there is a great and powerful sense that everything is absolutely possible. If something needs to be done, a woman on Kihnu has done it, not only that, another woman will probably do it again very soon.
One woman said:
“People think we are making some statement with the women being in charge, but that’s our culture …It works. We can’t imagine it any other way.”
Well, we think its truly wonderful, don’t you agree?