An island matriarchy – in Europe


Fabian Weiss

❝ A four-hour ferry ride off the coast of Estonia, the sunlit conifers and coastal meadows of Kihnu Island rise gently from the Baltic Sea. You can bike from one end to the other in half an hour. Its four villages house around 700 people—only two thirds of whom live there year-round—and there is no hotel. Yet the island receives 12 times more tourists per resident than some of the most visited places in the world.

These tens of thousands of visitors don’t come for landmarks or amusement parks. Instead, they’re here to experience the unique culture of a place often touted as Europe’s last matriarchal society.

❝ “Kihnu women have a very important role: to keep the cultural traditions,” says Mare Mätas, president of the Kihnu Cultural Space Foundation and a driving force in many community projects. “They are taking care of the human life [cycle].”

Historically, Kihnu’s men left the island for weeks or months at a time, to hunt seals and fish and, later, to crew ships on international voyages. In their absence, women became the ones who tended farms, governed, and maintained traditions—traditions which have survived both time and turmoil.

Worth a visit.

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