Welcome to the Estonian vald of Kinu, a land of distinctive traditional clothing and smoked seal as a gourmet treat

  • 2024-01-30
  • Linas Jegelevicius

Well, believe it or not, one Estonian vald (municipality) can be just extraordinary – welcome to the Kihnu municipality (vald) which consists of the Kihnu island, as well as its surrounding islets located in the Liivi Lahe strait. “Being separated from the mainland limits interaction with outside influences. This isolation gives a sense of self-sufficiency, which allows the local traditions of Kihnu to flourish and traditional ways of life are left undisturbed,” Silvia Soide, a Communications specialist of the Kihnu municipality, told The Baltic Times Magazine, adding: “Kihnu’s isolation creates a strong sense of identity and community among the islanders and they view themselves as guardians of a heritage that sets them apart from other communities.”

What are the distinguished traditions you have?

Kihnu is renowned for its rich cultural heritage and distinctive traditions, which are deeply rooted in the island's history. One of the most iconic aspects of Kihnu's cultural identity is its traditional clothing. Both men and women wear colourful handmade garments and the women's skirts are particularly notable for their vibrant stripes. Kihnu also has a unique musical heritage with its own style of folk songs and dances, which often reflect the joys and challenges of life on the island.
Given Kihnu's location, maritime traditions are also integral to the island's identity. Fishing and seafaring have been vital to the islanders' way of life.

Understandably, most of the activities must relate to the marine environment and tourism. Is every second man a fisherman on your island? Am I right?

Kihnu islanders have traditionally relied on the sea for sustenance and transportation, and fishing continues to be a very important activity amongst islanders. Although not every man is a fisherman per say, the majority of men, and even many women, find leisure or work at sea.

Many of the island’s festivals celebrate Kihnu’s connection to the sea. These festivals often feature sea-themed competitions and demonstrations of traditional maritime skills.

Because of Kihnu’s rich culture and exciting activities, Kihnu is an extremely popular tourist destination in the summer. Most islanders offer accommodation services and earn their living from tourism on the island.

Is it easy to reach Kihnu?

Getting to Kihnu is quite simple. The ferry “Kihnu Virve” departs a couple times a day from Munalaid harbor (about 40km from Parnu). A coach bus traveling from Parnu-Munalaid and back makes it easy to get to Munalaid harbour if you're traveling without a car. There is also a taxi service available for the ferry departures that do not match up with the bus schedule. More information on how to get to Kihnu can be found on our website www.visitkihnu.ee

What is the best season to visit you?

Ultimately, the best time to visit Kihnu depends on your preferences and the type of experience you're looking for.
Summer, when the weather is warm, is the most popular time to visit Kihnu. This is the time when the majority of cultural events and outdoor activities take place. The island is lush and vibrant, providing a picturesque backdrop to be explored.
On the opposite end, winter is ideal for those seeking a tranquil escape, offering a different perspective of the island. It may be suitable for those seeking a more authentic look into the daily life of the islanders. However it is important to be prepared for colder weather and possible ferry departure disruptions. Always make sure to check the weather forecast before planning your visit.

Tell me off the top of your head five must-see destinations in Kihnu?

There are so many amazing places on the island to see and it all depends on what you are looking for. The best way to discover Kihnu is by bike (we have many rental places that offer bikes for rent). However, there are a few popular destinations, which would be a disappointment to miss out on. 

- Kihnu Lighthouse, located on the southernmost tip of Pitkana peninsula, it is a wonderful place to enjoy a birds’ eye view of the island and bask in the beautiful sunsets by the sea.

- Kihnu Museum, located in the island’s centre by the church, the museum offers a close look into the history of Kihnu culture, handicrafts and traditions. This is an absolute must see destination when visiting.

- Local handicraft shops and cafes - During the summer season, there are some local handicraft shops and cafes open, that offer authentic dishes or handmade souvenirs.

- Rock City beach - A popular tourist destination, where many enjoy campfires by the seaside or go swimming.

- Mannimets - A forest, which is situated between the city centre and island harbour that is full of tall pine trees, making it a wonderful place to relax and enjoy the tranquil beauty of Kihnu nature. 

In what way are the Kihnu-anians different from other Estonians?

What separates Kihnlased (Kihnu islanders) from other Estonians would be their strong connection to and preservation of their traditions. Due to the isolation of the island, they have been able to protect their traditions more so than on the mainland and even practice ancient customs in their daily life. It’s common to see the women wearing their folk skirts daily and singing songs that are hundreds of years old.

Kihnu also has its own unique dialect and a strong oral culture full of runic songs, myths and legends, and gossip, which have all been passed down through generations.

What are the unique gastronomic experiences that Kihnu is proud of?

Seal hunting, while controversial to many, has always been a part of Kihnu history. Although not everybody likes it, most Kihnu islanders consider seal to be a gourmet treat, especially when smoked. A wonderful time to visit and experience the delicacies of Kihnu is the first weekend of June, when Kihnu pop-up cafe days take place. During this weekend, many farms open their doors to tourists and offer tasty delights.

How many people there are in Kihnu?

There are about 700 people registered in Kihnu but those who live on the island all year round is closer to 300-400 people. 

Do you believe there are some traits characteristic only to the people in Kihnu?

Kihnu people have characteristics that are quite similar to those of people who live in a small community. Kihnu people are friendly and enjoy a simple life and are very passionate about their culture. Although some can seem reserved or cold to tourists, this is more of a protection against outsiders, who could come and affect their way of life. 

By the way, what doe “‘Kihnu”’ mean in Estonian?

Kihnu does not have any specific meaning but the first mention of Kihnu was in 1386 under the name Kyne. Historical evidence suggests that fishermen and seal hunters had already visited Kihnu as far back as 3,000 years ago.