Rural decline threatens Estonia’s ancient isle of women

For centuries on a small, forested island in the Baltic Sea, women in headscarves and striped red skirts have done most of the work: from farming to lighthouse keeping, leading church services and even dressing up as Santa Claus at Christmas.

The men of Kihnu island, 10km off the coast of Estonia, are away at sea fishing for weeks or months at a time, leaving the women to run what is often dubbed one of the last matriarchal societies in Europe.  Gender roles may have blurred, but one job still lies squarely with the women: keeping Kihnu’s centuries-old culture alive.

   Tradition dictates that the Kihnu women must organise all of the island’s major events and festivals, as well as funerals and weddings.

Since the global economic crash hit Estonia hard that year, the island’s year-round population has halved. Kihnu life still revolves around ancient folk traditions and songs, a unique culture which Unesco describes as a “masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity”. “We are going to lose it if people don’t live here any more, ” Matas says. “We don’t know what to do.”

read more here @ The Star Online

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