Its all about “girl power” on the island of Kihnu, located just off the coast of Estonia. Here, the women do everything from raise the children to raising the livestock to taking care of the house. It’s been like this for years you see, as men typical took off to sea to become sailors and fishermen. That left the women home alone to take care of business. What was once a fully populated island has seen a decrease in population from 600 people in 2007 to just over 400 currently. What remains true here though is the culture and traditions that are passed down from generation to generation. In a world that is full of the latest technology and gadgets, superstores and online shopping it is hard to imagine that Kihnu has survived so long on its own.
Today the women and men still wear the traditional dress, and for the women that means hand sewn blouses and skirts, along with headscarves and adorable moccasins. The skirts have different meanings, Mare my tour guide tells me. The bright red ones with the most colorful stripes are for young girls and women who are happy. As the skirts get less colorful, it means the woman is perhaps a little bit older. Feeling sad? Make sure to put on your skirt with the blue stripes so those around you know that you are mourning a loss. I hold one of the traditional skirts in my hand, weighing it from one hand to another and I wonder out loud, “isn’t this thing uncomfortable to wear”? Mare grasps my hand and leads me inside her home with a cheerful “let’s find out”! As she ties up the headscarf around my neck, adjusts my skirt and makes sure my top button is done up, she spins me around to the mirror for a final look. “Perfect” she exclaims, “you fit right in. Now let’s go get on the motorcycle and take a ride”.
Wait. What? A motorcycle ride? In a skirt?
As I said before, women clearly do everything around here. As she jumps onto the motorcycle with considerable grace, kicks it into gear and motions for me to jump on behind her, I still somewhat think she is joking about going for a ride. Without further ado, she takes off with a roar and I am left holding onto her for dear life. As we traverse across the dirt paths, winding roads and over the hills I am transported back to a time before technology, that is until Elena’s cellphone starts ringing in her pocket. You see, hear on Kihnu technology isn’t avoided, it’s embraced. Although they farm their own food, make their own wine, raise their own livestock and boot around on motorcycles, they still know what’s going on in the world. Flat screen TV’s adorn the walls in their houses, saunas and hot tubs are a regular addition and they sure have plenty of opinions on the presidential campaign.
What they don’t do here on this island though is let go of their traditions, instead they pass them down by music and dance. Children as young as 4 and 5 are taught how to play the accordion and the violin. A music program has been implemented so the folk songs can be taught to every child, as the songs are used to tell the story of Kihnu and its people. Women are handicraft experts, sewing clothing and slippers as well carving wood and knitting scarves. Girls as young as six years old put my dancing to shame, as I bumble over my feet trying to keep up to the music as they glide by me with ease. Young girls play the accordion, better than some professionals in North America and I feel ashamed when asked what instrument I play, and the answer is none.
You see, on this island women are empowered. They are taught that they can be anything they want to be, whether they want to stay on the island or go travel the world. Recently more and more women have been returning to Kihnu, working remotely for companies as the Wi-Fi here is just as good as that on the mainland. Young girls are taught skills and crafts, encouraged to practice and become good as what they like to do, whether that is math or art or music.
One must wonder if only the island of Kihnu is like this, encouraging women to get out there and explore, or perhaps the entire country of Estonia is like this. After all, they do happen to have a female president making decisions in a bright pink house.