The islands of Kihnu and Manija are home to a unique indigenous culture that has thrived off the coast of Pärnu County for more that six centuries. 2003. The Kihnu cultural space, which in 2003 was included by UNESCO in the list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, is fascinating for any visitor interested in learning about cultural heritage, exploring unique natural environments, and meeting friendly people.
Kihnu is the largest island in the Gulf of Riga and Estonia’s seventh largest island. The area of the island is 16.9 km², and it is 7 km long and up to 3.3 km wide. The closest point on the mainland, the cape of Lao on Tõstamaa Peninsula, is located at a distance of 10.2 km from Kihnu, while the nearest inhabited area, namely Manija Island, is located at a distance of 7.5 km.
There are four villages on Kihnu Island: Lemsi Village, Linaküla Village, Rootsiküla Village, and Sääre Village. Lemsi Village, located in the eastern part of the island, has a harbour which serves as the main connection between the mainland and the island during the navigation season. Linaküla, which is situated in the western part of the island, is home to a hospital, school, local history museum, church, and new community centre, which also houses the library and the rural municipality government. Sääre Village is located in the northern part of the island and contains a post office, several shops, and Kurase Centre. The airport is also located in the northern part of the island. Rootsiküla, in the southern part of Kihnu, is home to a memorial stone dedicated to the legendary seafarer Kihnu Jõnn, the island’s weather station, and its lighthouse.
Kihnu Island was first mentioned in writing as Kyne in 1386 and it was referred to as an inhabited island in 1518. Historical evidence indicates that fishermen and seal hunters visited Kihnu as far back as 3,000 years ago.
Kihnu has been an island of seafarers, fishermen and seal hunters since ancient times. Over the years, the men of Kihnu have spent much of their time at sea and have left the women in charge of the island’s affairs. As a result, Kihnu women have become the guardians and cultivators of the island’s cultural traditions, such as handicrafts, dances, games, and music. Self-made Kihnu folk costume skirts, called “kört” in the local dialect, are still used as an item of everyday clothing.
The rules that govern the lives of those living in Kihnu are changing with the times and people, but many still follow the wisdom handed down by their ancestors. The most ancient and unchanged traditions include the ceremonies related to marriage, including the three-day wedding celebration, but also many other traditions and rituals that are followed on Midsummer Day, St. Martin’s Day, St. Catherine’s Day, and other holidays that are considered important in the folk calendar. This means that the island is an especially interesting place to visit during celebrations arising from the folk or church calendar.
Due to the island’s seclusion, its culture and traditions that date back centuries remain viable to this day. The recognition of the Kihnu cultural space as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO is a great source of pride and obliges the island dwellers to take special care of their ancient customs.